UPDATED: Murtha, Carter Meet.Murtha Declines Comment Through Spokesman..
Northrop Grumman's threat to withdraw from the KC-X tanker competition is a "blow to the program," but the House's top defense appropriator believes "there must be competition" in the ageless battle to buy a new airborne refueler.
Rep. Jack Murtha would not be drawn on whether Congress would step in to require competition, but he did not reject that option. He is meeting Wednesday with the head of Pentagon acquisition, Ash Carter. "I'd rather talk to Carter first," Murtha said in the Capitol's ornate appropriations committee room.
In broader budget news, Murtha fought a rearguard action in his attempt to impose some sort of new tax to pay for the Afghan surge. He acknowledged that President Obama had been pretty masterful in defanging Democratic opposition to more troops in Afghanistan, but said Congress must consider and vote on a supplemental for war spending to ensure oversight. "We want to know, how do you plan to spend this money," he said, adding that the subcommittee would be taking a very close look at how many contractors the administration wants to hire. The $40 billion supplemental would probably come up in April or May, Murtha said. That's $10 billion more than the $30 billion cited by the president in his Tuesday night speech.
The administration could not roll the bill for the troop surge into the 2011 budget because those expenses for personnel and operations must be paid for cash on the barrel, according to appropriations staffers. And President Obama said most troops will be in Afghanistan by May.
Also, Murtha -- who clearly believed Obama had outflanked those who oppose more troops -- said the president has "a pretty good plan... but we just want to see more detail."
But Murtha also said he told the president's top advisor, Rahm Emanuel, last night that Obama "was real good but he didn't impress me. Emanuel said, you've got be support us...," Murtha told reporters.
As part of his effort to understand just why the U.S. needs to send more troops, the chairman said he needs proof that the country faces a significant national security threat in Afghanistan. To that end, he is meeting with Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, first thing next week.