From Les Blumenthal in our D.C. bureau:
Eighty degrees, sunny skies, the red bud and dogwoods are in bloom, the Metro is packed with nuns and people carrying pope pennants – it was a perfect day today to discuss Boeing tankers in the Senate swamp.
“I continue to be shocked by the Air Force decision to award a lucrative, taxpayer funded contract to a European company,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “It’s an insult to our workers.”
Thundered Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, “this is not a Democratic issue, this is not a Republican issue, this is an American issue. We can, we must, we shall do better.”
Murray, Roberts and their colleagues cranked up the rhetoric over the Air Force decision to use a European plane built by Airbus for its next-generation aerial refueling tankers rather than a Boeing plane built in the U.S. of A. The $35 billion to $40 billion contract for 179 planes was awarded to a team composed of Northrop Grumman and the European Aerospace Defense and Space Co. (EADS). EADS is the parent company of Boeing’s arch-rival Airbus.
Boeing appealed the decision to use an Airbus A-330 rather than its 767 to the Government Accountability Office. While waiting for a decision due early this summer, both sides are engaged in a public relations war.
“We want answers,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. “The decision by the Air Force just doesn’t add up.”
Kansas Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt said, “I’m outraged we are outsourcing our national security to the French.”
Lawmakers weren’t the only ones at the Senate Swamp to talk about Boeing tankers.
“The nerds who build the birds,” Cynthia Cole, the president of Local 2001 of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), said of her union.
About a dozen or so members of SPEEA and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers were on the Hill to lobby Congress on the Air Force decision.
Some of them carried signs which read “Tax $$ For USA Not France.”
Explained Debbie Logsdon, who grew up in a Wichita, Kan., aerospace family and is Midwest chair of SPEAA, “we will be sending our tax dollars to Europe to energize their economy, while ours goes in the tank.”
Lawmakers promised to do something about the contract if the Government Accountability Office doesn’t. But it’s unclear exactly what.
“It’s called the appropriations process and that’s where you will see some activity," suggested Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair. Dicks, along with Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kansas, is a member of the House defense appropriations subcommittee.
For the record, the Senate swamp in a park across from the Senate Russell Office Building is where senators hold press conferences on nice days. It is also across the street from where the late and very powerful Washington state Sen. Warren Magnuson used to park his car. Maggie, of course, was involved in one of the greatest Boeing battles on Capitol Hill, the one over the Super Sonic Transport (SST). Boeing lost.