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Trump administration drops opposition to 2nd Virginia submarine, giving a boost to a defense spending bill in Congress

The Virginia-class nuclear submarine USS John Warner. (U.S. NAVY)

The Trump administration has dropped its opposition to a second Virginia-class submarine, giving a boost in Congress to the multibillion-dollar Connecticut project and a Pentagon spending bill that includes it.

The Office of Management and Budget asked Congress to fully fund a second Virginia Class submarine in the 2021 defense appropriations bill. General Dynamics Electric Boat builds the submarines at its Quonset Point, R.I., and Groton shipyards.

“I’m pleased that the Trump Administration has finally recognized what the House of Representatives and the Department of the Navy already knew—the decision to fund a second Virginia-class submarine and to sustain the two-a-year build rate is in the best interest of our national security,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn.

President Donald Trump proposed in his budget in February $4.2 billion for the Virginia, which would fund just one submarine in 2021. He acted despite the Navy ranking as its top priority the fully funded restoration of the second Virginia-class submarine.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation denounced the decision, saying it reverses defense policy and could jeopardize a part of the state’s manufacturing base.

The House and Senate differed on a measure restoring the money. The House of Representatives in July approved defense spending that includes $6.8 billion.

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved $472 million more than Trump’s request, for a total of $4.6 billion for long lead materials for a future additional submarine.

Both versions must be combined in one piece of spending legislation, which is being drafted by a congressional committee. A government-wide spending measure expires Dec. 11, but could be extended, said Courtney, who is chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Abandoning its previous position will be helpful in getting support in Congress for the second submarine, Courtney said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration’s support “should enable a final push over the finish line.”

Mark Esper, who was secretary of defense until Trump fired him Nov. 9, said in a September speech that increased spending on shipbuilding with a larger submarine force must be a priority. Citing the speech, Courtney said the administration’s opposition to a second Virginia class submarine was a “huge contradiction” that has now been corrected with the administration’s backing of the sub.

It was not known what OMB Director Russell Vought told Congress in his letter requesting the funding. The OMB did not immediately respond to an after-hours request for the letter.

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(c) 2020 The Hartford Courant

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