Court­ney poised to get more sway over ship­build­ing

Demo­cratic law­maker may get chair­man­ship of key sub­com­mit­tee

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By JU­LIA BERGMAN Day Staff Writer

With the Demo­cratic takeover of the U.S. House, Rep. Joe Court­ney, D-2nd Dis­trict, is in line to chair the sub­com­mit­tee that makes key de­ci­sions about mil­i­tary spend­ing, put­ting him in a bet­ter po­si­tion to advocate for in­creased sub­ma­rine spend­ing and pro­duc­tion.

Court­ney has been a mem­ber of the Seapower and Pro­jec­tion Forces Sub­com­mit­tee of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, which has over­sight over Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force pro­grams, for nearly 12 years and cur­rently is serv­ing as the rank­ing mem­ber, the No. 2 in charge of the com­mit­tee. He eas­ily won re-elec­tion Tues­day to his sev­enth term.

He said he will pur­sue the chair­man­ship when the new Congress con­venes at the start of next year. He’s likely to get the job, given Democrats will be in con­trol of the House for the first time in eight years.

As chair, Court­ney, whose dis­trict in­cludes sub­ma­rine builder Elec­tric Boat, would have a cru­cial role in set­ting the agenda of the sub­com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing pri­or­i­tiz­ing Con­necti­cut’s

de­fense in­dus­try. He’s al­ready eye­ing a fight over mil­i­tary spend­ing.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said he will cut the 2020 de­fense bud­get by 2.2 per­cent to $700 bil­lion as part of a larger ef­fort to de­crease fed­eral spend­ing. Trump re­port­edly asked his Cabi­net sec­re­taries, aside from Sec­re­tary of De­fense Jim Mat­tis, to cut 5 per­cent from their bud­gets.

“That’s go­ing to make the de­ci­sion-mak­ing for next year’s de­fense bill very chal­leng­ing,” Court­ney said in a phone in­ter­view this past week. “In terms of try­ing to make pri­or­i­ties in the bud­get, it’s im­por­tant there’s a strong voice about the fact that the un­der­sea fleet is a pri­or­ity.”

At the same time, Congress will be faced with fund­ing re­quests as part of an es­ti­mated $128 bil­lion sub­ma­rine pro­gram. The Navy plans to buy 12 new bal­lis­tic-mis­sile sub­marines, known as the Columbia class, which pri­mar­ily will be built by EB. The first sub­ma­rine is ex­pected to cost $8.2 bil­lion to build.

“Over the next few years, the grow­ing cost of that pro­gram is re­ally go­ing to im­pinge on the (Navy’s) ship­build­ing ac­count, so that needs ad­vo­cacy in the coming years,” Court­ney said.

He’s also hop­ing to con­vince his col­leagues to ap­prove the build­ing of more at­tack sub­marines. The Navy is ne­go­ti­at­ing its next sub­ma­rine con­tract, and Congress has given the ser­vice the op­tion to buy up to 12 at­tack sub­marines over a five-year pe­riod, as op­posed to 10.

Other key con­gres­sional com­mit­tees are ex­pected to get new, Demo­cratic lead­er­ship, and that likely will lead to ef­forts to push back against what the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has done over the past two years, and against the pres­i­dent him­self.

Vot­ers elected the in­com­ing House ma­jor­ity as “a check on the pres­i­dent,” Court­ney said.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., al­ready has said he will ask Trump to re­lease his tax re­turns, if named as chair­man of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. The com­mit­tee has the author­ity to re­quest the pres­i­dent’s tax re­turns, but Neal said there would likely be a le­gal chal­lenge.

Af­ter Trump fired At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions last week, House Democrats be­gan strate­giz­ing how to pro­tect spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The best way to pro­tect Mueller is for us to pass leg­is­la­tion that has al­ready got­ten through the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee in the Se­nate, which cod­i­fies that he could only be re­moved for cause,” Court­ney said by phone last week af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in a Demo­cratic cau­cus call to dis­cuss Ses­sions’ fir­ing.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., told re­porters in Ken­tucky that such leg­is­la­tion is not nec­es­sary be­cause he doesn’t think Trump will fire Mueller.

In the in­terim, Democrats will move to pre­serve records from the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion, to make sure there’s “no ac­tion to elim­i­nate files or in­ves­tiga­tive notes,” Court­ney said.

“Even though it’s a lame­duck Congress, we’ll still have high ten­sion,” he said.

How­ever, he sees ar­eas, such as in­fra­struc­ture, where Democrats and Trump can work to­gether. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who is in line to lead the Com­mit­tee on Transportation and In­fra­struc­ture, will be push­ing for a big in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing bill, Court­ney said, which has the sup­port of busi­ness groups like the Cham­ber of Com­merce, and the agri­cul­ture and mar­itime in­dus­tries.

“The door is go­ing to be open for the pres­i­dent in that re­gard,” he said.

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