Rep. Jack Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said the Navy must find some way to recoup the $3.2 billion spent on the first tranche of the cancelled VH-71 presidential helicopter.
Murtha made his remarks to reporters after yesterday's hearing on the Navy and Marines 2010 budget request. He said we have to "take some of that $3.2 billion to build something cheaper." He admitted he didn't know how to do it, but the old appropriations bull has support from some of his fellow subcommittee members to do something. "It is just unacceptable that we would waste this much money," Murtha said during the hearing.
The plain-spoken chairman said he had had a group of people from the Navy and White House in his office earlier this year and asked them why the president needed an escape helo, especially since he would "all alone out there" after an attack since no one else would be evacuated: "I said, 'what about the rest of us?' There was a long silence..."
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), whose district includes the plant where the helo is built, argues that "an entire new fleet of modern, Increment 1 presidential helicopters can be completed within the original budget constraints, but the administration is dismissing this possibility for political reasons. While trying to claim that the helicopter project should be terminated to save taxpayer money, the administration is ignoring the fact that it would be far more costly to cancel the program and rebid it than it would be to continue the construction of the helicopters currently being produced by Lockheed Martin."
Hinchey said at the hearing that the program closure will lead to the loss of some 2,000 jobs and program termination will run around $550 million, not the $85 million included in the 2010 budget. "None of this seems to make any rational sense," Hinchey said.
And Murtha hammered the Navy and Marine leaders at the hearing about the likely costs of extending the life of the current presidential helo fleet, saying his staff reckoned it would cost $4.4 billion to refit them. When the Navy and Marine reps began to question this, Murtha said his staff knew what they were doing and were usually right.