WaPo’s David Ignatius on Congress and the A-10


a-10_2The A-10 Warthog is a political issue in Tucson because: (1) the A-10 mission is stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB and is an economic benefit to the City of Tucson, and (2) Tea-Publican congressional candidate Martha McSally flew the A-10 while in the Air Force, and she is trying to make the A-10 into a single-issue campaign (it’s the only thing she knows) against Congressman Ron Barber.

Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment by Tucson Congressman Ron Barber to retain funding for the A-10 mission in the defense budget, over objections from the Department of Defense. Key House panel OKs plan to save A-10 for at least a year:

The nation’s fleet of A-10 close-air-support aircraft — including a major contingent at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — would get a one-year lease on life under a plan approved by a key congressional committee late Wednesday.

During a marathon markup session on the National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee adopted a bipartisan amendment proposed by Rep. Ron Barber, a Tucson Democrat, that would continue to fund the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” through fiscal 2015.

The legislation also calls for a study to determine the cost and effectiveness of other aircraft performing close-air-support missions.

The committee voted 41-20 in favor of the amendment before unanimously approving the panel’s full bill.

The bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and supported by latecomer Sen. John McCain (me too!) Senators working on plan to save the A-10.

The White House is standing behind the budget of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. White House objects to House plan to save A-10, Guard Apaches:

It will be some time before the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act reaches President Obama’s desk. But in a rebuke to the current House version of the NDAA, the White House is backing the Pentagon’s plan to retire the A-10 close air-support aircraft, as well as a plan to transfer all of the Army National Guard’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to active-duty Army units.

In a policy statement posted Monday on the Office of Management and Budget website, the administration listed the A-10 and Guard provisions among numerous parts of the House’s committee-passed version of the NDAA that are deemed unacceptable.

The measure is expected to reach the House floor this week, as the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up its version of the NDAA. The final version will be hashed out in conference committee before being voted on by each house and sent to the president.

The provision to overturn an Air Force plan to retire the A-10 — a mainstay of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — was added in an amendment to the House Armed Service Committee version of the NDAA sponsored by Tucson Democrat Rep. Ron Barber.

The policy statement said: “The Administration strongly objects to provisions that would restrict the Department’s ability to retire weapon systems and aircraft platforms in accordance with current strategic and operational plans. These divestitures are critical and would free up funding for higher priority programs.”

The document noted that divesting the A-10 would save over $4.2 billion through fiscal year 2019.

The House today passed the National Defense Authorization Act with the Barber Amendment. House rebuffs Pentagon on defense spending:

The House on Thursday overwhelmingly backed a $601 billion defense authorization bill that spares planes, ships and military bases in an election-year nod to hometown interests.

Ignoring a White House veto threat, Republicans and Democrats united behind the popular measure that authorizes spending on weapons and personnel for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The vote was 325-98 for the legislation which now must be reconciled with a work-in-progress Senate version.

* * *

Working within spending limits, the Pentagon proposed retiring decades-old aircraft programs, including the A-10 Warthog, a close air support plane, and the U-2 spy plane of the Cold War era. The Defense Department also sought congressional approval to close military bases deemed unessential and slightly increase out-of-pocket costs for housing and health care.

Not this year, said Republicans and Democrats alike. They left popular personnel benefits untouched despite repeated warnings that the skyrocketing costs of Pentagon entitlement programs come at the expense of modernizing and training the military.

The Washington Post’s  Pentagon columnist David Ignatius is appalled by the self-serving parochial interests of members of Congress. This is a sober perspective that you are unlikely to see expressed in the Tucson media market, which is singularly focused on parochial interests. Congress not letting military get rid of outdated A-10s:

One of Washington’s recurring idiocies is the way members of the congressional armed services committees, who profess to revere the U.S. military, insist on imposing their own judgments to preserve outmoded systems the military wants to cut.

The latest example of this military pork-barrel phenomenon is the House Armed Services Committee’s campaign to stop the Air Force from retiring the aged fleet of A-10 “Warthog” ground support planes, whose most recent models were built 30 years ago. Cutting the A-10s would save $4.2 billion over the next five years, allowing the Air Force to invest in systems that can protect America in the future.

But no. The House committee members, led by California Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon, think they know better. So it has approved language that will prevent the Air Force from retiring the 283 A-10s in the fleet, forcing the Air Force to cut other programs that have less political patronage. The Senate Armed Services Committee is now marking up its version of the bill.

The A-10 fleet that Congress is determined to protect includes 143 planes assigned to active duty units, while 85 are assigned to the National Guard and 55 to the Air Force Reserve. In other words, about half this fleet is for the Guard and Reserves, perennial congressional pets. “All are fiercely protected by their Representatives and Senators. Apparently, much more fiercely than they protect the capability of the US toachieve its national security objectives on the world stage,” laments a top Air Force general.

What’s depressing about this process is that the military’s budget recommendations were the process of careful deliberation up the chain of command. The recommendations were made by the services, reviewed by the combatant commanders and then sent to Congress. They represent the military’s best judgment about how best to protect the nation given limited budget resources. But this analytical process has blown away, as so often in the past, by a congressional beauty pageant that preserves the status-quo programs and the benefits they provide for members and their districts.

What else is the House insisting on? It rules out any study of closing additional bases in a new “BRAC” round. It protects spending and perks for the sacrosanct Guard and Reserves. It refuses the pentagon’s pleas to slow the growth of military pay and allowances. The list goes on, but you get the point: If members of Congress can protect popular, vote-getting programs, they will do so, regardless of the Pentagon’s arguments about what’s best for the national security.

“It’s baffling,” says the senior Air Force general, who explained the budget mess in an interview this week. “It seems that local politics trumps and Air Force or military leadership trying to build a force that can defend the nation.”

The White House says that if the spending bill that emerges from Congress prevents the administration from directing scarce resources to where the generals and admirals say they’re needed most, President Obama will veto the bill.

This actually has more to do with another provision in the House bill:

The bill imposes limits on President Barack Obama’s handling of terror suspects at Guantanamo, barring him from transferring detainees to maximum-security prisons in the United States.

The White House late Wednesday said the president would veto the bill if it “continues unwarranted restrictions regarding Guantanamo detainees.”

American combat forces in Afghanistan are supposed to end their combat mission by the end of this year. The war in Afghanistan is finally over for America. Closing down Guantanamo and repatriating detainees — many of whom were cleared of any terrorist activity and ordered released years ago — should be a top priority. They are no longer “enemy combatants;” they cannot be indefinitely detained  forever.

Congress apparently knows better. See Steve Benen, Why Guantanamo remains open .

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  1. What Rep. Barber needs to do is ensure that the troop support mission that the A-10 is designed for can be accomplished by some system and that Davis-Monthan is used to support that system. It might be drones, it might be the F-35, it might be some other system that I’m not aware of or is not yet developed but sooner or later the A-10 is going to be phased out. It’s time to look forward!

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