Lawmakers step up efforts to save Electric Boat jobs
By ANDREW MIGA
Associated Press Writer
March 1, 2007, 1:03 PM EST
WASHINGTON -- Connecticut and Rhode Island lawmakers are renewing their push to convince the Navy to double submarine production to two ships per year.
Such an increase, they said Thursday, would bolster national security and prevent more layoffs at submarine maker Electric Boat, which has facilities in both states.
"We're going to fight this battle," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said at a submarine industry group breakfast on Capitol Hill. "This matters a lot to me. This matters a lot to our country."
Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics Corp., is teaming up with the Connecticut and Rhode Island congressional delegations to mount an aggressive lobbying push for additional funding for the Virginia-class subs as Congress tackles its annual spending bills. They have made the same push in recent years without success.
President Bush's new spending plan calls for only one sub per year. Lawmakers say the defense budget is strained by spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., the freshman lawmaker whose district includes the Electric Boat shipyard and the Submarine Base New London in Groton, said he plans to be front and center in the effort to win support for more subs.
"This is a program that is ready to raise its game to a higher level of shipbuilding," Courtney said.
Courtney last fall narrowly defeated Rob Simmons, a Republican with a military background who had been a strong advocate for submarines in Congress. Courtney is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. The panel's Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee will hold a hearing on submarines next week featuring top Navy officials.
Courtney and other lawmakers backing Electric Boat have already begun lobbying Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs a subcommittee that oversees defense spending. They are hopeful they can win his support for doubling sub production.
"Our local delegation has been working with him and trying to get him familiar with our concerns and issues," said John Casey, president of Electric Boat. "We all view him to be a strong supporter."
The Navy has set 2012 as a target date for doubling its sub production. But lawmakers worry that the Navy seems determined to pull back from submarines in favor of other weaponry, a move they say could imperil national security as the U.S. fleet shrinks and foreign nations such as China press ahead with sub production.
Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., said submarines are vital to New England's struggling manufacturing economy.
"We obviously in New England have a strong, proud tradition of supporting the building of submarines," Langevin said. "We have to do more to protect that industrial base."
Casey said doubling annual sub production would help to reduce the cost for each sub, something the Navy has been pushing for. The increase would make it cheaper to buy materials while making it easier to keep workers and equipment in place.
"The sooner we get to that build rate (of two subs per year) in 2012, the more stable our business will be," he said.
Casey cautioned, however, that there are "huge demands" on the Pentagon budget, given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There's a long path between now and when this year's budget comes out," Casey said.
The upcoming House hearings will be a prime opportunity to convince Navy officials that submarine builders have made substantial strides in driving down costs, Casey added.
Electric Boat shares construction of subs with Northrop Grumman Newport News.