The nation’s nine-year debate on how to replace Air Force tankers became a talking point in two places Tuesday: the floor of the U.S. Senate and the campaign trail in Washington state.
U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington co-sponsored an amendment to next year’s defense authorization bill that could have banned European-based Airbus from getting a $35 billion contract to build the first round of replacements for the aging KC-135s. That could have sealed the deal for Boeing to replace aerial refueling tankers like the ones flown at Fairchild Air Force Base.
That amendment, along with the high-profile amendment to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, never got a vote because the threat of a Republican filibuster kept the entire authorization bill from being debated.
Back in Washington state, Murray clashed for the second day with Republican rival Dino Rossi over who can best represent the aviation giant as the Air Force decides which plane is best.
In a joint appearance Monday at the News Tribune of Tacoma, Rossi was asked whether the World Trade Organization rulings should be a factor in awarding the contract if Airbus got hit with stronger sanctions than Boeing did. Rossi replied that he’d fight to get “the right playing field” for Boeing, particularly against things he believes hurt the company, like new rules for union elections or higher taxes to pay for health care reform.
When asked to clarify whether the WTO ruling should be a factor in getting the right playing field for the tanker bid, Rossi replied: “No, not as far as I’m concerned.”
Murray countered that Airbus has such an advantage that it was “absolutely critical the Pentagon takes that into account” and was introducing the amendment to require that.
The Murray campaign went to full throttle right after the joint interview, saying Rossi doesn’t care if the next generation of tankers is built by the French. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee and a longtime ally of Murray, said Tuesday he was “stunned” by the answer and contended Rossi “clearly doesn’t understand the issue.”
The Rossi campaign said he understood the question to be whether any sanctions against Boeing – which have been cited in an unreleased finding – should be considered by the Pentagon. That’s what he was saying no to, and he believes Airbus subsidies should be taken into account.
Just Rossi trying to cover his tracks because he doesn’t understand the issue, the Murray camp responded. Just Murray trying to distract from her record because she’s desperate, the Rossi campaign countered.
Dicks and other congressional Democrats backing Murray “should grow up and do something that will help Washington’s economy, like extend the 2001 and 2003 tax relief, repeal and replace the health care bill” or give up on removing secret ballots on union elections, Rossi added.
With Rossi taking essentially the same stance on subsidies as Murray, his campaign was asked if he would have supported the amendment introduced Tuesday to make the Pentagon take them into account. He would have, said spokeswoman Jennifer Morris, although she referred to it as the Brownback amendment, after one of its other co-sponsors, Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican.