Rep. Jack Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said today that his plan to buy tankers from both Boeing and Northrop Grumman will save taxpayers billions of dollars, principally by retiring the aging tanker fleet more quickly.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and most DoD people dealing with the issue have said repeatedly they believe buying from both companies would be wasteful and greatly complicate the Pentagon's logistics train. But Murtha told me and another reporter today that he thought the plan could save billion of dollars money by "retiring the old fleet" as quickly as possible, apparently by increasing the number of tankers bought each year. He acknowledged the reservations many have had about his plan, noting that even his "staff, at first they were hesitant about it." He spoke with most of the staff standing next to him.
Murtha also said he "has the votes" on the HAC-D to pass his tanker plan, though he admitted it was not unanimous.
The Pennsylvania Democrat said he and the staff had found it very difficult to get technical and cost information about maintenance and related costs from the two companies but had gradually overcome the corporate resistance.
In other budget news, Murtha laid out a schedule for the coming supplemental and budget bills. He is expecting the supplemental to hit the Hill next Thursday. It will be considered in some detail during an April 22 House Appropriations Committee hearing with Central Command's Gen. David Petraeus. Then the bill will be considered by the full committee on April 30. and should make it to the House floor on May 5, Murtha said. "We hope to have it done by Labor Day," he said.
The full defense budget request for 2010 should make it to the Hill on May 4, he said. Word around the Pentagon and Capitol Hill is that the budget will only include fiscal 2010 numbers. There will be no Future Years Defense Plan with this budget. Several experts noted that when the recently departed President Bush took office his administration did the same thing. "There just isn't the time to put together an entire FYDP. The administration is still getting into place," noted one congressional staffer. The defense spending bill should be ready for markup on May 30. However, Murtha acknowledged this may be pushing things, noting it is "a very ambitious schedule."