Al.com: Senate politics in Alabama surfaces in Austal warship funding
Differences between Senate and House funding plans for warships built at Mobile’s Austal USA plant have wedged their way into the U.S. Senate race in Alabama.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, is criticizing the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Sen. Luther Strange is a member, for authorizing its version of a 2018 national defense budget that would fund only one littoral combat ship.
The House version, which was set to be approved by the full chamber Friday, pay for three LCS ships, in effect providing a certain future for thousands of workers. The LCS is constructed at Austal’s Mobile plant and at a Lockheed Martin facility in Wisconsin.
Strange, on Thursday, said he remains committed to three LCS vessels, and added that the “fight to fully fund three LCS is far from over.”
Strange wrote to President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis in April advocating for a budget that includes three LCS ships.
“Along with Representative Bradley Byrne, I look forward to passing a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that reflects the priorities of Alabama and our nation’s Navy,” said Strange in a statement.
Brooks, who is making a strong bid to unseat Strange, said he was pleased that the House version of the NDAA delivered on three LCS vessels, and praised Alabama Reps. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, and Mike Rogers, R-Saks, for their work.
The GOP primary for the Senate race is Aug. 15, with a runoff scheduled – if needed – for Sept. 28.
Brooks did not criticize Strange by name, and said he was hopeful that the two chambers could get together and “resolve this disagreement” about the NDAA.
He said that he’d received “no explanation” of the Senate Armed Services Committee thinking in the matter. Brooks said, “The littoral combat ship is important to America’s national security and the Mobile Bay area economy.”
“This is the number of ships necessary to keep the Austal shipyard in Mobile operating at full speed and to keep the cost of the ships down,” said Seth Morrow, a Byrne spokesman, in defending the three-ship spending plan.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is chaired by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been a frequent critic of the LCS program. McCain has claimed that the LCS has not lived up to combat expectations.
The White House, shortly after the Senate Armed Services Committee approved its funding program, came back with a proposal to add about $500 million to build two ships.
Trump, as a presidential candidate, promised to increase the size of the military and to bolster the number of U.S. Navy ships.
Congressional Republicans have backed the “Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas” Act, better known by its acronym: SHIPS. That act would establish a 355-ship benchmark for the Navy fleet, significantly exceeding a 308-ship goal released by the Navy in 2015. The Navy’s present fleet stands at 274.
Byrne believes that funding for three LCS vessels will help reach that goal. “We hope the Senate will also do their part to ensure we grow toward a 355-ship Navy and to support the over 4,000 men and women who work at the shipyard in Mobile,” said Morrow, Byrne’s spokesman.
SHIPS has bipartisan support from lawmakers with shipbuilding yards within their states. Those include Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington.