WASHINGTON: Election fears ruled the day on Capitol Hill when the full House of Representatives voted to stop the Air Force from retiring the venerable and venerated A-10 aircraft in the chamber’s version of the defense appropriations bill.
While we heard little of the backroom chatter and didn’t see the emails that doubtless flew as the bill’s sponsors urged their colleagues to vote against the Air Force’s attempt to save $3.7 billion by retiring the A-10 fleet, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to ascertain why members voted as they did.
While the bill’s principal sponsor Rep. Candice Miller spoke warmly of the A-10 as the best Close Air Support plane on earth, all you had to do to find ground truth was look at the district she represents in Michigan. Miller didn’t exactly vote on the merits of the Air Force’s argument. Instead, as a statement on her website made clear, she’d done this before for what most of her colleague’s would regard as one of the most fundamental reasons to vote for anything — jobs in your district and protection of the role of the National Guard:
“In 2012, Rep. Miller successfully defeated the Administration’s attempt to eliminate and/or reduce the Air National Guard personnel and assets, including the A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.”
Now there are actually very few jobs at stake across the country should the A-10 be retired, as we’ve reported. But a vote for retirement would give any canny opponent considerable ammunition during a campaign. You know: “Candice Miller voted to kill the A-10, the best close air support aircraft in the world and one that means X jobs here.” But this vote was all about the November elections and the Guard.
It’s also a very interesting fact that the House overrode its own appropriators, who voted to retire the plane. That may not bode well for the chairman’s authority — or it may just be another indicator that no one wants to hurt a colleague’s chances for reelection.
So, now we’ve got both authorization committees voting against retirement as well as the whole House. It looks like our prediction that retirement won’t happen til next year is on track. The question that remains, as Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James noted at a Defense Writers Group breakfast earlier this week, where is Congress going to find the money the Air Force must now replace.
As Rep. Pete Visclosky, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee put it simply during the HAC-D markup of the defense spending bill: “We’ve got to pay for stuff… Staying the course and hoping for some fiscal relief next year is wishful thinking.”