U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a powerful congressman with authority over the nation's military spending, came to check out Electric Boat's riverside submarine factory on Monday.
He left promising to use his considerable political weight to persuade Congress to start buying more subs.
This is a piece of the puzzle that the submarine construction delegations could never get together. He seems to be coherent on this, perhaps having just been coached on the right things to say by the GDEB President.
He said Navy budgets have been losing out because of the expense of the ground-based war in Iraq. He wants more subs, not just to keep up with China's rapidly growing naval fleet but to keep an irreplaceable American sub-building industry afloat.Now, we'll have to see if it happens and if it comes with "top line relief":
And when Murtha says something is going to find its way into the House's defense budget, people believe him.
The two Connecticut congressmen who took Monday's tour with Murtha - Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and John Larson, D-1st District - were smiling big and nodding beside their fiscal champion, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. They see his promise as largely locking down the House side of the submarine budget question.
"Jack Murtha's word is his bond," Larson said. "That's why we feel so optimistic."
But can Murtha push it through a conference with the Senate?
He answered that he doesn't like to predict the actions of that other body, but "it'll be up to me to convince the Senate that we can work this out."
At a recent congressional hearing on the subject, the commander of the U.S. submarine force, Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, said he supports the Navy's plan because he wouldn't want an increase in sub construction to jeopardize the rest of the ship-building plan. But he preached about submarine versatility and agreed he'd like to have more of them if more money were available.
The president's 2008 defense budget proposal would pay for one sub. Because decommissioning of the old Los Angeles-class subs is outpacing new construction, the fast-attack fleet will soon fall below the number 48 that the Navy sees as a minimum for full operations.
The sooner two-per-year construction begins, the fewer years the fleet will spend below 48.