Thank you for the invitation to be here. Anytime I can be in a room with more people than my margin of victory that’s a good time for me.
The first thing I did when I came in was I checked with Tim Oliver. It looks like I’m the last thing standing between you and dinner, so I’m going to try and obviously respect that because that’s not a good place to be when people are hungry and you’ve worked hard with the symposium the last couple of days. I did see the news clips and it sounds like there have been some really good exchanges of ideas.
Admiral Caldwell, it’s good to see you again. I know you are off to a great start at NAVSEA 08. I see your predecessor there, Admiral Donald, who took me on my first submarine underway, under the ice, a number of years ago it seems like.
I had never been on a submarine before that trip. Mike Bernacchi, I think his wife has helped organize this event, was there to greet us. We flew up to Alaska and then met the sub. We were in the control room, as we were descending, and I was doing my best to get out of the way of everybody in the room. I’ll never forget, I was standing there as we were submerging, and all of a sudden I started to feel these drops of water hitting me on the head. So I was standing there going, is that supposed to be doing that? One of the sailors, who was standing behind me, took a lot of pleasure in informing me that it was condensation. Anyway, that was my welcoming to the great work that people do on submarines. What I thought I’d do really quickly this evening is talk a little
bit about a view from the Hill in terms of where the priorities are that you’ve been discussing here these days. When I first came to Congress—now that I’m ranking member on Seapower, I discovered that guys on my staff work and talk to a lot of you.
The Virginia-class program, as John Padgett alluded to, was kind of limping along at one sub a year at that point. It was a pretty daunting challenge to be involved as a freshman trying to boost the build rate up to two subs a year. We checked our notes on the way over here and if you looked at the budget for Virginiaclass in what was submitted for 2008, it was $2.7 billion for one sub a year.
There was no advance procurement money. We were looking at 2012 before we were going to be at two a year. There were zero dollars in terms of any design work for a new class of submarines. That was the first time in 50 years that had actually been the case. Again, there was certainly some design and engineering work being done on existing Virginia programs, but nothing in terms of a new class of submarines.
We were successful in terms of kick-starting that process in that first year with Congressmen Taylor and Jack Murtha who came up and visited. We had good bipartisan support from Bill Young and Roscoe Bartlett and others. But if you fast forward to where we are today in terms of the National Defense Authorization Act that cleared through conference—and it’s got a bit of a bumpy ride as we know in terms of the Overseas Contingency Operations issue—but in terms of the submarine piece, which has zero controversy in today’s politics, it’s $5.3 billion in terms of Virginia-class for two subs a year. We got a very healthy number for design work for Ohio Replacement. It’s well over a billion dollars. Virginia payload has the amount that we know we need to hit to try and get that critical—keep that critical program going. Rather than having members of Congress come up to me and say, what do we need submarines for, now it’s a pretty much a consensus issue in terms of the fact that this is a priority that people understand better. A good sort of measuring stick of that is that when we were doing both the Defense Authorization Bill and the Defense Appropriations Bill, we actually had some votes in the House on the push to try and create a separate account for the Ohio Replacement Program, which again is an issue that has been sort of bubbling up in front of the committee for a number of years. Looking at the Navy’s shipbuilding plan and the clear spike in cost that the Ohio Replacement is going to create, and the pressure that’s going to put on all of the rest of shipbuilding, including Virginia-class, a lot of us believe that this is a mechanism that has clear precedent in the past and is a smart way to protect Navy shipbuilding. So there was a floor vote to basically strip that program from the Defense Authorization Bill, which was brought by a member of Congress from Oregon. The vote total was 375 opposed and 43 in favor of that measure. A few weeks later there was an amendment that Randy Forbes, the Chairman of the Seapower Committee, as many of you know a Republican from Virginia, and myself brought to the floor to protect that program when we were doing the defense spending bill.
And again, number one, an amendment to the defense bill is a bit of an uphill battle, particularly when authorizers are bringing it and you’re running into the catechism of the appropriators. Again, the Submarine Caucus, the Shipbuilding Caucus, really lit up the emails. The vote total on that was 321 in favor of protecting the ORP account, and only 111 opposed. Again, there’s kind of an interesting story about the balance of power between authorizing committees and appropriating committees in terms of what has happened to the degeneration of the budget process and how that, in a sort of interesting way, has pushed up the significance of authorizers.
What I think is even more interesting is that if you look at those vote totals and the breakdown—and Neal kind of checked it out afterwards—if you look at the two caucuses the vote breakdown was 74 percent in terms of the prevailing side in the Republican Caucus and 74 percent in the Democratic Caucus in favor of the prevailing side. I mean, you don’t see that very often in Washington these days. Anyone watching TV today got a pretty good taste of the sort of scorched Earth environment that this is all happening inside of. So I think that’s a pretty impressive little factoid for people to sort of think about in terms of the work of this symposium and really how in Congress right now we’re in a pretty good place in terms of trying to not have to start from scratch in terms of educating people regarding the priorities of these programs.
But obviously, there’s a lot more work that lies ahead. The conference report that came out did pretty well preserve the structure of the ORP account. But as Robert Work said when he was up in Groton a couple of weeks ago, there’s still a high degree of skepticism within the administration about trying to actually fund that account.
We gave it, I think, some good tools on incremental funding, which we know is a really smart way to run these programs. But the challenge in terms of trying to deal with a priority that everybody from Secretary Gates to now Secretary Carter has admitted and stated repeatedly is the number one priority of this country in terms of a sea-based deterrent that fits into the New START Treaty, is if we don’t do this there are just so many repercussions in terms of our national defense. But, that still begs the question of how do you pay for it and whether or not the rest of shipbuilding is going to take the hit in terms of absorbing that cost? So that certainly is going to require a consistent, diligent, vigilant effort by all of us to keep reminding people on the Hill that this is something that is just going to be a real challenge over the next 10 or 15 years or so.
The second, and I know this was in the press today, is that there’s obviously a lot of new initiatives to try and extend the strength of our undersea force with unmanned developments and ideas, which again frankly, I think a lot of members aren’t wellversed in right now. I think the job is to educate people, particularly on what’s happening in the Asia-Pacific and now with a resurgent Russia. Even with the two a year build rate we’re still going to see an undersea force that is going to dip in the next 10 years or so. Trying to get a force multiplier with these new ideas is really critical in terms of maintaining what I think is something that is so important, which is to maintain our domination of the undersea domain.
Again, we are so lucky to have some of the people in this room here. I see my friends from southeastern Connecticut that are here, and a lot of good friends from the Navy that are here. I even have a few friends from Virginia, these days.
But again, I’m very bullish on our submarine programs. I think the threats that are out there right now are such that on a bipartisan level they really raise people’s curiosity and concern about these challenges. Obviously maintaining this incredibly important advantage that we have in the world today generates a real appetite and a receptivity to members of Congress. But we can’t do it alone, obviously, not even Two Sub Joe. We need to really work together as a team and settle our issues amongst ourselves and then really pivot from there to the incredibly competitive environment that still exists in Washington with the Budget Control Act and other challenges. But again, I think that at the end of the day the merits of the argument are so incredibly strong that I think we’re going to prevail and obviously our country is going to benefit from it. So thank you very much and have a great dinner this evening. The door is wide open if you’re ever up on the Hill. Thank you very much.
ADM. PADGETT: Just as an aside, this week marks the 100th anniversary of submarines coming up the Thames River to the base at Groton. So southeast Connecticut is very, very pleased with that as well.