The House Armed Services Committee last week cut about $24 billion from the president's 1991 defense budget, but you wouldn't know it from talking to Rep. Herbert H. Bateman of Virginia, a Republican member of the panel.
Bateman, whose district is home to the vast Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., came away with a plum -- a provision that all but assures that the yard will get a share of the $36 billion the Navy plans to spend by the year 2000 acquiring a new generation of deep-diving nuclear-powered attack submarines called Seawolf.
"I think my workers should be just as eligible to work on submarines as the workers in Connecticut," an ebullient Bateman said during a brief interview in the Speaker's Lobby, just off the House floor.
But Newport News's rival in Groton, Conn., the General Dynamics Electric Boat Division, got something, too, as part of the package that committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) put together. The committee authorized the Navy to acquire an 18th, and final, Trident nuclear missile submarine later in the decade. Approval of the additional submarine, which is made by Electric Boat at Groton and Quonset, R.I., fell short of the administration request for a 19th and 20th Trident. But committee sources said approval of the 18th vessel had not been a foregone conclusion.
"The president of Electric Boat called and was elated," said Rep. John G. Rowland, the 33-year-old Republican who is Connecticut's only representative on any of Congress's four major defense committees and who is also running for governor. Connecticut ranked eighth in 1988 in defense contracts and fears the economic impact of defense cuts.
As those examples suggest, the defense package that was assembled over the last few weeks by Aspin represents a mix of high policy and grass-roots patronage. While slashing procurement programs such as the B-2 bomber to take account of changed international conditions, the bill also protects priority programs of key committee members.
In the final vote in the House Armed Services Committee, the Aspin package was approved 40 to 12, with only 11 of the committee's 22 Republicans voting "no." The bill goes to the House floor after Congress's summer recess.
In an impressive bit of juggling, Aspin managed to keep happy two factions in his committee that were bitterly divided over the Army's scout/attack helicopter of the future, called the LH. Rep. Larry J. Hopkins (R-Ky.) wanted to kill the $45 billion project, which is being sought by two teams of competing contractors. Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.), head of the House's informal "Army caucus" -- and a close ally of Aspin's -- wanted to move into full-scale development. So did Connecticut's Rowland, who represented the interests of one of the most eager contractors, Sikorsky Helicopters of Stratford.
The compromise, which was agreed to on a 32 to 22 roll call vote, provided 1991 funding of $300 million but prohibited full-scale development until a prototype had been built and flown. It enabled both McCurdy and Hopkins to claim victory. Rowland, who had his 18th Trident, dutifully voted for the Aspin compromise.
The bill also provides $403 million in research, development and advance procurement money for a program the administration wants to kill -- the Marine Corps' V-22 tilt-rotor, the Osprey.
The Osprey, which is being developed by Boeing Helicopters and Bell Helicopters Textron, has influential friends on House Armed Services. They include Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), whose district is close to Boeing's helicopter plant in suburban Philadelphia; Rep. Marvin Leath (D-Tex.), a forceful advocate of the interests of Bell Textron in Fort Worth; and Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.).
The engine for the V-22 is made near Indianapolis in McCloskey's home state, by the Allison Gas Turbine Division of General Motors. An Allison official described McCloskey as supportive, and added that the company was "ecstatic" about the V-22 endorsement from House Armed Services.
Meanwhile, the bill and report drafted by the committee sidesteps one touchy issue that could have caused the Aspin package major problems on the House floor. It took no action on the question of what to do about several naval homeports that were begun or planned in the 1980s when it appeared the Navy was going to be larger than now envisioned.
"The truth is, we don't need any new homeports, but the political pressures are too great," said Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.), who chairs the committee's seapower subcommittee.
Bennett described one of the homeports -- at Everett, Wash., once seen as a possible aircraft carrier base -- as "questionable." Bennett also wants to abolish a homeport in Staten Island, N.Y., on which tens of millions of dollars have been spent. The battleship destined for it, USS Iowa, is being mothballed. The powerful Mississippi and Texas congressional lobbies, meanwhile, would fight efforts to do away with homeports at Pascagoula, Miss., and Ingleside, Tex.
Committee sources say the Aspin package could have unraveled without a deal between rival New England and Virginia factions, which were vying for a decade of work at their yards on the Navy's SSN-21 nuclear-powered attack submarine, the Seawolf.
Neither the Newport News nor Groton yard is about to close down. The Virginia facility has two aircraft carriers under construction and another on order -- notwithstanding administration plans to reduce the U.S. carrier force from 14 to 12. Electric Boat in Groton is working on the 11th Trident and is years away from laying the hull for the 18th. Both yards have long backlogs of orders for SSN-688 "Los Angeles" class subs.
But the congressional delegations lobbied for the Seawolf work as if layoffs could happen tomorrow. Electric Boat is the prime contractor for Seawolf and is building the first one now.
Shortly before the House Armed Services Committee marked up its bill, Electric Boat got a boost from Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney's panel reviewing the future of U.S. warships. The reviewers reportedly suggested that consideration be given to a money-saving option of building all future Seawolfs at a single yard.
Faced with that threat, Virginia used its political muscle to assure a piece of the action for Newport News.
The committee authorized $1.457 billion for construction of the Navy's second Seawolf, and provided $649 million in "long lead" funds for two ships a year after 1991. More important, the bill included language supporting a "second source" of Seawolf procurement for the Navy.
"I.e., Newport News," explained Bateman.
According to a news release, the committee took its action on Seawolf because "the greatly improved capabilities of the SSN-21 are essential in light of the steadily improving performance of new Soviet submarines."
However, committee sources acknowledged that politics was a factor. The Senate Armed Services Committee, which had access to the same classified information about Soviet submarines, withheld procurement money in fiscal 1991. The Senate committee wrote that the program could "benefit from a more cautious acquisition process." Specifically, it said more time was needed to complete development of the BSY-2 computer system for detecting and locating enemy subs.
The Senate instead approved two more 688s -- the older, proven generation of Los Angeles subs -- rather than rushing into the Seawolf program in 1991.
Three Virginians -- Bateman, Rep. Norman Sisisky (D) and Rep. Owen B. Pickett (D) -- all serve on House Armed Services' seapower subcommittee. In 1988, Newport News was the leading recipient of defense contracts among all U.S. cities. All three Virginians voted for the overall Aspin package.
So did Rowland, who had been worried about the 18th Trident. Bennett, chairman of the seapower subcommittee, had favored sliding that authorization over into 1992.
"I'm very happy with the outcome," said Rowland.