Chairman Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) stormed out the House-Senate conference on the controversial defense authorization bill this summer rather than agree to add millions to buy executive aircraft for the Pentagon that the armed services did not request, according to participants.
The plane at issue was a twin-engine turboprop, called C12 by the military and Super King Air by Beech Aircraft Corp., which builds it. Rep. Dan Daniel of Virginia, the sixth-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, insisted on adding $56.9 million to the Pentagon's fiscal 1986 budget so that the Army, Navy and Air Force could buy 24 of the executive jets.
Goldwater exploded in the secret session, according to conferees. He said the C12s had no military value but were used instead by National Guard and Reserve officers to go hunting and fishing. He said it was time to stop buying the planes.
The House conferees, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.), stuck with Daniel and refused to budge on the addition. They received mild backing from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy Jr. (D-Mass.), sources said. The Raytheon Co., parent of Beech Aircraft Corp. of Wichita, Kan., has its headquarters in Kennedy's home state.
Confronted with a solid front of House conferees, Goldwater said that at the least the conference should require the military to hold a competition for the executive aircraft contract, rather than continuing to hand over millions of dollars to Beech.
The House conferees huddled. No, they told Goldwater, they wanted C12 money added without any strings. At this, Goldwater stomped out of the conference session, stunning everyone around the table, sources said.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) sized up the situation, saw the whole conference bill threatened and announced that he was not going to continue the markup without his chairman, sources said. Then Nunn also walked out, forcing the conference to adjourn.
Eventually, the conferees agreed to include Senate language in the final report to placate Goldwater. The conference report, which has been passed by the Senate but is hung up in the House where members are rebelling against the concessions made to the Senate, includes this language:
"None of the funds appropriated pursuant to authorizations in this title may be obligated or expended for procurement of C12 aircraft unless such aircraft are procured through competitive procedures, which shall be restricted to turboprop aircraft."
Critics in the Pentagon said that the turboprop restriction makes Beech almost a sure bet to win the competition.
Daniel, in confirming to The Washington Post that he pushed funds for the C12 into the bill, denied Beech was a shoo-in. He said he had added the money because he thought it was important to military readiness to enable commanders of Guard and Reserve units to get in the field and see what was happening.
Daniel also acknowledged that he often calls Beech when he needs to fly between Washington and his home district in the south-central part of the state. The company furnishes a plane for this purpose on occasion, Daniel said, and also flies him and other lawmakers to charity golf tournaments.
Although the Navy requested C12s at the beginning of the budget process, it notified Congress before the conference ended that it would rather buy the bigger and faster C20 Gulfstream executive jet, originally built by the Grumman Corp. of Bethpage, N.Y., but now produced by Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. of Savannah, Ga. The Senate Armed Services Committee went along with the Navy's request, deleting the $26.9 million earmarked for C12s and providing $22 million to buy one C20 Gulfstream.
The House, in marking up its version of the procurement bill, not only approved the $26.9 million for 12 C12s for the Navy but added $44 million to buy two C20 Gulfstreams, even though the Pentagon did not request them. Under the championship of Daniel, the House added $12 million to the Army budget for six C12s and $18 million to the Air National Guard budget for another six stretched versions of the C12 Beech aircraft. The Pentagon sought no money for Army or Air Force C12s, and the Senate did not authorize any.
As the conference bill now stands, there is $56.9 million added by the House for 24 C12 executive jets for the Army and Navy, which Goldwater, a retired Air Force major general, has said amount to recreational vehicles for the brass.