"The chairman has a little amendment," Warren G. Magnuson announced as his Senate Appropritions Committee was working on the defense money bill the other day.
It turned out to be not so little.
Magnuson is determined to have the Navy build two frigates in his hometown of Seattle instead of building one in Democrat Edmund S. Muskie's home state of Maine and the other in California. And until the Navy agrees, Magnuson is holding the $132 billion defense appropriations bill hostage.
The Navy plan for fiscal 1980 calls for building three of the FFG7 frigates at the Todd Los Angeles yard and three at the Bath Iron Works yard in Maine, a move Navy leaders contend would save money, rather than keeping a third yard in the program.
But Magnuson wants the $1.2 billion for the six ships to be spread around three yards, giving Todd's Seattle operation a slice of the money pie. He sought to do this by adding such language to the fiscal 1980 defense appropriation bill.
Magnuson hoped to have the language approved last Thursday, just before the Appropriations Committee was set to report out the defense bill. His move took colleagues by surprise.
"Well, I didn't know anything about it," complained John C. Stennis (D-Miss.) chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee that drafted the bill the full committe was considering. "I really think there should be some notice about it."
"This is just to keep the program as it is, that's all," Magnuson replied.
"You say keep it as it is," Stennis responded. "That's not the way it sounds to me. . ."
Stennis told Magnuson that Muskie and others interested in the Bath shipyard should have a chance to discuss the language Magnuson was trying to add. That led us to this exchange:
Magnuson: "Bath -- they've got their ships," but the Navy is "threatening to close the Seattle yard. . . It's a little like the Mississippi situation." [The Navy is buying destroyers from the Litton yard in Pascagoula in Stennis' state.]
Stennis: "My position is not to try to assign into the bill here. . ."
Magnuson: "It's just language. . . There will be no trouble in Congress."
Stennis: "Well, I don't know if it would be trouble or not."
Magnuson: "We're just distributing them the way they have been distributed" among the three shipyards in the past.
Stennis: "Well, I don't know. . . I want people to know about it."
Magnuson: "Well, who are you going to let know? . . . Muskie and company? Naturally, they want to get these extra ships away from us."
Stennis: "Well, I haven't mentioned it to him."
Magnuson: "Well, it's just keeping the program as it is. He can move to take it out of the bill if he wants to; see how many votes he gets. Keep it in the bill and talk to him."
Stennis: 'Well, I really think he ought to have a chance to say something, senator. . .".
Magnuson: "Well, who's he going to talk to? Have another committee meeting?"
Stennis: "Talk to you."
Magnuson: "Talk! If he talks to me, he'll say we would like to get the third ship."
Stennis: "He deserves a chance to be heard. . ."
Sen. Milton R. Young (R-N.D.): "Could you offer the language spreading the ship contracts among the three yards "on the floor?"
Magnuson: "No, I want him [Muskie] to offer it on the floor. He's taking away from me. . .".
After Stennis refused to accepted the Seattle language, Magnuson said, "I'm not going to report the bill," and gaveled the committee into recess.
Last night, Senate staff members trying to break the impasse wanted Navy Secretary Edward Hidalgo to send the Senate a written commitment that the service would try to safeguard the future of the Todd yard in Seattle. But Hidalgo was in Hawaii, leading staff members to predict that the issue might hang fire until Friday or so, holding up the Pentagon's $132 billion bill.