WASHINGTON: Sen. Susan Collins blasted the “highly politicized” nature of Congress, questioning whether lawmakers can resolve any of the major problems facing it, including the threat of sequestration.
Collins, one of the few surviving Republican moderates on the Hill, noted the positive results for the Navy in the fiscal 2012 defense appropriations during her speech today at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference in Arlington. While congressional appropriators did fund 11 new ships in the legislation, that “came against the background of a harsher partisan environment that continues to get worse,” the Maine Republican said. “I’ve never seen a more polarized environment, which is accompanied by huge challenges to national defense,” Collins said.
Congress needs to get past the pattern of Democratic and Republican proposals, “which both sides know will never pass” and get to “more American proposals,” she said, drawing long applause from the audience of service members and defense industry representatives.
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and champion of the Bath Iron Works shipbuilders, Collins worried about the prospects for the Navy and the shipbuilding industrial base due to required defense budget cuts which could double if sequestration kicks in next January. She noted the new national security strategy announced last week should be favorable to the Navy with the emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, which requires more sea and air forces. But Adm. Mark Ferguson, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, dashed any prospects for a larger Navy
during his speech later that day.
Asked about the Navy’s long-standing goal of building to a 313-ship fleet, from the current 285, the number two officer said new CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert has asked for a detailed force structure review that will be released with the new budget. The 313-ship fleet, is “a great force structure that we all would like to have,” Ferguson said. “But we have to go back and look at that. Ferguson also said the Navy was studying the need for another base closure round
, something the Air Force has been urging. He noted that the 2005 BRAC round was based on “certain force structure assumptions” that may no longer be valid.
Collins argued that the defense funding reductions required by the Budget Control Act, were unfair, because defense already had been cut by the actions of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The deeper cuts that sequester would bring would be “devastating,” she said.
Asked about the prospects that Congress will handle the major issues, such as the Social Security tax break, the Bush-era tax cuts and avoiding sequestration, Collins recalled the old song “High Hopes,” adding: “I don’t” have any.