Meridian Star

Columns

June 17, 2014

Ingalls’ next ship depends on Cochran’s clout

MERIDIAN —

Who knew the House Appropriations Committee would rush to load the gun for Jackson County voters?

    Last week I wrote that Jackson County voters played Russian roulette with their economic future by voting for challenger Chris McDaniel over Senator Thad Cochran, the only member of Mississippi’s congressional delegation with enough seniority to fund ships for Ingalls Shipbuilding.

    Days later, the House Appropriations Committee – going against the House and Senate Armed Services Committees – dropped funding from its 2015 defense appropriations bill for the next amphibious warship (LPD 28) to be built by Ingalls.

    That puts approximately 3,000 Ingalls’ jobs on the firing line.

    Saving these jobs now depends on Cochran’s ability to revive funding in the Senate next month, then having the clout to push funding through a House-Senate conference committee later this summer.

    That would take significant clout in usual circumstances. If Jackson County and other Mississippi voters shoot down Cochran in the June 24th runoff, he may not retain enough clout to get it done. You saw how quickly House Republican Leader Eric Cantor lost his.

    This is a case study for all counties with military-related jobs.

    The Navy and Marine Corps drastically need more amphibious warships as older ships retire faster than new ones get built.

    “If you asked me, ‘What’s your biggest shipbuilding concern,’ it’s ‘get the amphibs out,’” Navy CNO Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert told reporters after testifying before Congress, BreakingDefense.com reported.

    The Navy is already planning next generation amphibious warships, labeled LX(R)s, that would use a variant of Ingalls’ LPD hull. “It’s a very flexible hull, particularly from the main deck on down, [that] can easily be transitioned to LX(R),” said Brian Schires of Rolls Royce-North America, chairman of the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition.

    The House and Senate Armed Services Committees included LPD 28 in the 2015 Defense Authorization Act last month as “an industrial base bridge” to LX(R) production. Building ships on an uninterrupted schedule provides stability and predictability “that allows you to keep your costs down and your quality up,” said Schires.

    The House Appropriations Committee action would interrupt production and supply chains, eliminate jobs, and cause significant delays and costs to start-up LX(R) production. Worse, it would destroy Ingall’s competitive advantage to land the contract for the new warships.

    Jockeying among senior Republicans on the House Armed Services and Appropriations Committees on what to fund and what not to fund demonstrates the great value of seniority.

    McDaniel appeared in Jackson County last week boasting he would “fight for Ingalls.” His willingness to fight would mean nothing until he could gain meaningful seniority 12 or more years in the future.

    For several years yet, Thad Cochran is the only one with enough clout to get ships funded and protect Ingalls jobs.

 

Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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