WASHINGTON: Is 13 the Navy’s lucky number? That’s how many ships the House Armed Service Committee wants to buy in 2018, five more than President Trump requested, the seapower subcommittee announced this afternoon. The problem: no one knows where the money’s coming from.
The increase is part of a bipartisan push towards the 355-ship fleet the Navy says it needs to counter China, Russia, and other threats, a fleet the Navy itself says it can’t begin to build under Trump’s current budget plans.
HASC wants to add a destroyer, an amphibious ship, an Expeditionary Support Base vessel, and two Littoral Combat Ships to the Trump budget’s request for eight. (After rolling out the budget, the administration promised to add a ninth ship — an additional Littoral Combat Ship — but how they plan to fund that ship also remains unclear).
“It takes the necessary first big step down the road of getting to 355,” said House seapower chairman Rob Wittman this morning. “We can’t get there overnight,” he added, noting a Congressional Budget Office estimate it will tale 20-to-25 years.
This year, though, the great unanswered question is how to pay for those extra ships — or whether they can be bought at all. The ranking Democrat on the seapower subcommittee, Rep. Joe Courtney, told me frankly yesterday he’s never seen so much uncertainty about what the final budget will be.
“Not having a Budget Committee report out, even a suggestion” — he laughed — “is unprecedented in my time,” said Courtney, who’s been in Congress since 2007. “The (GOP-led) Budget Committee has not given us a number to mark towards.”
Nor is there clarity from the House Appropriations Committee, the final authority which writes (or refuses to write) the checks for programs other committees authorizes, Courtney said: “Every time I talk to the (appropriations) members to find out what they’re marking to, it’s still very fluid.”
“The committee is marking towards a much larger number than $603 billion,” the amount Trump requested for defense, said Courtney. That said, he continued, “I think everyone understands (that HASC number) is not written in granite…. It’s not the final word.”
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