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Saturday, October 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Tanker contract fuels Senate campaign

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 Senate campaign in Washington state.

An amendment to next year's Defense Authorization bill would have banned Airbus from getting a $35 billion contract to build the first round of replacements for the aging KC-135s, a move that would essentially seal the deal for Boeing. That amendment, co-sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, crashed and burned along with some other high-profile amendments like an end to the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy when threat of a filibuster blocked the authorization bill.

Back in the airplane giant's native state, Murray is clashing with Republican campaign rival Dino Rossi over whether a World Trade Organization ruling against Airbus should be considered when the Air Force decides which plane is best. In a joint appearance in Tacoma Monday, Rossi was asked about the WTO rulings should be a factor in awarding the contract, particularly if Airbus got hit harder than Boeing did.

His short answer was "No."

That prompted the Murray campaign to hit Mach One in record time, saying that Rossi essentially didn't care if the next generation of tanker was built by the French instead of good old American workers in the Puget Sound. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee and a longtime Murray ally, pronounced himself stunned with the answer and contended Rossi "clearly doesn't understand the issue."

"Does Rossi want to make Bastille Day a national holiday, too?"  Sadie Weiner of the state Democrats asked sarcastically.

By late morning, however, the Rossi campaign said he intepreted the question differently than others are. He thought the TNT was asking if about Boeing sanctions, not Airbus sanctions, when saying they shouldn't be considered.

Just Rossi trying to cover his tracks because he doesn't understand the issue, the Murray camp responded. Just Murray trying to distract attention from her record, the Rossi campaign countered.

Beyond the political back and forth, there was a question as to whether Rossi would have supported the Defense Authorization amendment to require the Pentagon to take unfair advantages into account.

Jennifer Morris, his campaign spokeswoman, said yes: "The Brownback amendment? He would have supported it."

(Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, is another cosponsor of the amendment.)

So after about 24 hours of back and forth, Murray and Rossi are essentially in the same position on whether Airbus should have a chance to bid on the new tankers if it got unfair subsidies.

How did all this start? A look at the tape shows Rossi was asked two questions about the sanctions, the first of which was prefaced with a statement about how sboth sides are getting adverse WTO rulings and assumed the Airbus sanctions would be worse, and a follow-up when the questioner apparently felt he hadn't answered the question. It was to the second question that he answered "No. Not a factor as far as I'm concerned. No."

Murray quickly responded that she believed the sanctions should be a factor and , was introducing the amendment today to make the Pentagon take them into account. The editorial board then moved on to another topic, so Rossi didn't follow up to clarify.

You can read the transcript of the questions, the Dicks' and Rossi press release inside the blog, and decide for yourself who's right (or at least who's more right):

From the TNT editorial board interview found here, from about 21:13 to 24:21

Q: On the issue of trade, I wanted to ask Mr. Rossi about WTO rulings that have come out,  both against the EU and the US, and I realize we're still sorting out the US and how bad that may be, but if it does come out as it appears, at least from the US side that Airbus got hit harder than Boeing did, do you believe that should be a factor in the awarding of the tanker contract?

Rossi: We need to fight for the tanker contract no matter what and the ruling, however it comes out, the reality is that in Washington state the Boeing Company has lost 30,000 jobs in our state, and we have to make sure that we fight and fight hard for those jobs. I've had a family member working for the Boeing Co. since World War II -- and I come from a Boeing family, you want to talk about a Boeing family. And unfortunately, and this is where I divert from Sen. Murray on a number of different things, they don't things like Sen. Murray is sponsoring, such as card check, that is eliminating the secret ballot for unions, they don't want the $150 million tax increase that they calculate is going to be coming from the health care bill. These are the sorts of things that are going to hurt the Boeing Company. I will be there, I will fight for the, obviously fight for jobs. The reality is, we have to make sure that we have the right playing field to do that. I will be, you know, strong on those issues.

Q: When you say fight for it and you want a level playing field, I'm not still understanding if your saying that WTO ruling should have a factor in the tanker bid?

Rossi: No, not as far as I'm concerned. No.

Murray: Do I get to answer that question?First of all, I take a back seat to no one in fighting for our folks who go to work every day at a very important employer, Boeing. And I've been there every step of the way to make sure we have a fair shot at this tanker deal and to make sure that tanker is built here in the United States. I have been briefed on the WTO finding and I can tell you very clearly -- it won't become public until next June or July -- but I can tell you clearly it shows a strong, uneven playing field that we have had to compete in which allows Airbus to sell their platform, their airplane platform, at a much lower price than we can here. And I think it's absolutely critical that the Pentagon take that into account when they're awarding the tanker contract particularly at a time when our economy is struggling and people are out of work, we need to make sure that American taxpayer dollars go to build a tanker here in the country, our country, and that we have a competitive playing field. That is absolutely essential and I will go this week to offer that amendment on the Defense Authorization bill because I feel that strongly about it.

Norm Dicks statement Tuesday on Rossi comments at TNT editorial board:


 After reviewing statements made by Senate candidate Dino Rossi Monday regarding the European government subsidies that represent an unfair advantage to Airbus in the Air Force tanker competition, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks called the Republican businessman “terribly unprepared on one of the most important jobs issues for our state this year.”

 The congressman, who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, said the World Trade Organization (WTO) has now concluded definitively that every Airbus aircraft –including the A330 model involved in the tanker competition—has received illegal and unfair launch subsidies that could allow the European consortium to undercut Boeing in its bid for the $35 billion Air Force contract.

 In a video recording of an editorial board interview Monday at The News Tribune in Tacoma, Rossi appeared unaware of the final release in July of the WTO conclusion about launch subsidies, which found that “actionable” and “prohibited” subsidies gave Airbus planes an unfair advantage in the global marketplace. 

 “I was stunned to hear Mr. Rossi refer to this WTO conclusion by saying ‘however it comes out’, implying that there is still some doubt about Airbus subsidies,” the congressman said.

 “Mr. Rossi clearly doesn’t understand the ramifications of this issue, replying ‘No. Not as far as I’m concerned. No’ when asked if the WTO issue should be a factor in the tanker competition,” Rep. Dicks said.    

“On one of the biggest issues involving the fate of thousands of Boeing jobs in our state, Mr. Rossi appeared to be wholly unprepared, and it is clear to anyone who sees this editorial interview that Senator Patty Murray demonstrates a much better understanding and approach to keeping our jobs at home,” Dicks said. 

 Rossi campaign statement Tuesday clarifying his Monday comments:

Dino was referring to the recent WTO ruling that Boeing has received illegal subsidies which has been in the news of late. This is just another example of an 18-year incumbent who is more desperate to distract from her  record of passing job-killing legislation. Sen. Murray's vote for the health care bill will cost Boeing $150 million, she supports eliminating secret ballots from union elections, and she has done little to push through trade agreements which have been languishing in the Senate.
Dino Rossi will be a strong advocate for Boeing on the tanker and on issues like health care, card check, and opening new foreign markets through trade.

Here’s a quote from Dino: “I absolutely believe the illegal subsidies received by Airbus should be taken into account when the Air Force makes its decision on the tanker contract.  We don’t need a WTO ruling to know that Boeing makes the best plane at the best price and, absent unfair foreign subsidies, would win the tanker contract hands down.  That’s what I’ll fight for in the Senate.”
The campaign later amended its statement to take a shot at Dicks and two other congressmen who criticized his "No" response:

“On the very day when the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Washington State lost another 9,300 jobs, it’s disappointing Representatives Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee and Rick Larsen would take time out to falsely attack me rather than admit the course they’ve started us down is a failure, for our nation, our state, and companies like Boeing.  It started with the corporate bailouts, then continued on with the failed stimulus, and the health care bill which cost Boeing alone $150 million.  

“Rather than waste time with partisan political games to bail out Senator Patty Murray, all three of them 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 with something that actually lowers costs and increases access, or announce they’ve given up trying to remove secret ballots from labor union elections or enact a cap and trade energy tax.

“On Representatives Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, and Rick Larsen, as well as Senator Patty Murray’s watch Boeing’s footprint in Washington State has shrunk.  We’ve lost the headquarters, lost the Dreamliner, and lost jobs.  At some point, they have to understand that what they’ve been doing isn’t working and it’s time for a change in direction.

“I’ll fight for the tanker, and I’ll also make sure Boeing doesn’t face punitive taxes, massive new health care bills, and the ramifications of eliminating secret ballots from labor union elections.”

The Murray campaign then accused Rossi of "being silent" on her amendment to take unfair subsidies into account: 

Constant candidate Dino Rossi found himself in political hot water yesterday when he failed to stand up for Washington state workers at Boeing.  Today, Rossi doubled-down on his anti-worker position by refusing to support United States Senator Patty Murray’s amendment to put Boeing workers on a level playing field.

“Fighting for Washington state’s workers has been a top priority of Senator Murray’s since she’s been in the Senate.  She has been a fierce advocate of making sure Boeing workers were treated fairly,” said Julie Edwards, Communications Director, People for Patty Murray.  “Dino Rossi has now refused to stand with Washington state Boeing workers, not once but twice.  He is not on the side of Washington workers or Washington jobs.”

Today, Senator Murray offered an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill that would require the Air Force to take WTO rulings into account in awarding the tanker contract.  Airbus has received tens of billions in illegal, job-killing subsidies from the E.U. that have unfairly placed Boeing at a competitive disadvantage.

Consideration of the Murray amendment was blocked by Senate Republicans.

When asked by Publicola where Rossi stood on the Murray amendment, his campaign refused to say that Dino would stand up for Washington state workers and support the Murray amendment – even though similar legislation in the House has gotten the support of every member of the Washington state congressional delegation - including Republican Representatives Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Asked his opinion of Murray’s Boeing bill and today’s defense appropriations bill, Rossi’s campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Morris would only say the “cloture on [the] defense [vote] failed.”

Rossi first took the side against Boeing workers at a Tacoma News Tribune editorial board meeting yesterday.  When asked if the WTO ruling should be taken into account, he answered, “No, not as far as I’m concerned, no.”  

“There is a pattern emerging here:  Mr. Rossi has been running for statewide office for seven years and in that time never took a moment to learn about the importance of the WTO rulings in the tanker contract.  Until, that is, he landed in hot water by refusing to stand up for Boeing jobs.  Even though this is a bipartisan issue for the entire Congressional delegation, Rossi's campaign put politics ahead of Boeing workers by refusing to support Patty Murray's amendment to keep jobs here in Washington state,” said Edwards.  “Washington state voters never have to wonder if Senator Murray is on their side because she always has been and always will be.”

Asked whether he would have supported the amendment on unfair subsidies being taken into account on the tanker contract, Rossi said he would:

“I absolutely believe the illegal subsidies received by Airbus should be taken into account when the Air Force makes its decision on the tanker contract.  We don’t need a WTO ruling to know that Boeing makes the best plane at the best price and, absent unfair foreign subsidies, would win the tanker contract hands down.   That’s what I’ll fight for in the Senate.”



Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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