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EADS Tanker Rises Again?

The tanker competition has grown so baroque that it's easy to sometimes wonder what's real and what's delusion. The latest twist is that EADS and some of Europe's governments are reportedly lobbying for a deadline extension on when tanker bids can be submitted.

Boeing's brethren on Capitol Hill, sensing a possible threat to $35 billion for the company that means so much to their states, swung into action with little delay.

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said any "Delay is unacceptable." Why, aside from the fact it might imperil all that money and all those Boeing jobs? "Changing deadlines would undermine the Department of Defense’s effort to make this competition fair for all parties involved. We cannot have different sets of rules for foreign and domestic competitors. EADS can either choose to bid or not, but it should not expect the United States for help in entering the competition." How this became about EADS getting "help" is unclear, unless extending a deadline would be construed as help.

Brownback hammered away at the European angle, saying, "It is particularly egregious that Europe needs help to bid a heavily subsidized plane in a U.S. competition. It is even more ironic that France expects special treatment from the United States in this matter, even as it rejects U.S. and NATO protests of its pending sale of a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship to Russia, a move that will undermine the security of Georgia [eds. note: that's the European country sending thousands of troops to Afghanistan]." Brownback's fellow Kansan senator, Pat Roberts, joined in criticizing any possible change to the competition.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a member of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and a fellow Kansan, noted without any apparent irony that, "Changing the rules in the middle of the competition is what got the Department of Defense in trouble last time." {No mention of Boeing's various tanker shenanigans over the years, of course.} And he called on DoD to "keep its word" and go ahead with the competition.

So far, no one is confirming any actions by anybody. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy is raising the tanker deal March 30 when he meets with President Obama and it probably isn't just because he's going to tell his NATO friend that they are sad that Northrop pulled out, leaving EADS high and dry.

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