May 17, 2011
LIMA — Plenty of legislators have signed on to support the Abrams tank program, but for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, the real test will come when it's time to sign the checks.Ryan, D-Youngstown, has every intention of voting to fund the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, he said during a tour of the plant Tuesday. He just hopes all the other politicians who have voiced their support will hang in as long.“We'll find out when it comes down to appropriations,” Ryan said. “It's one thing to say you support something, it's another to stay with it through appropriations.”Ryan, a fifth-term congressman and member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Budget Committee, spent the afternoon taking the tour and even riding in an M-1A2 Abrams tank. He left impressed with the facility, the tank and the men and women who build it.“It's amazing. The level of manufacturing that's happening here, the level of skill in the workforce, it's just amazing,” Ryan said. Ryan's comments are exactly what leaders at JSMC and the local leaders working to keep the Abrams in the federal budget for the coming years wanted to hear. Since Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced plans to mothball tank production, those leaders have been working to get congressional support by inviting legislators to the plant. So far, the plan has worked. In April, Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, toured the plant. He returned to work a week later and inserted $272 million into a defense spending bill to keep the tank in production.Like Bartlett, Ryan makes the case that a temporary shutdown of the plant would ultimately cost more than keeping it running. General Dynamics estimates it would cost $1.6 billion to restart the plant if shuttered. That's $300,000 more than the $1.3 billion saved by closing it down temporarily.“It would be ridiculous to shut this down frankly. There's no way to reclaim the talent you lose from here,” Ryan said. The congressional support and defense spending insert is good news, but Ryan has no doubt the final battle is still ahead.“I think it's going to be tough. The budget is going to be tight,” Ryan said. “The issue is, everything is on the table. But when you look at what it's going to cost us in the long term, it makes sense to keep this going.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.