WASHINGTON — A congressional conference committee meeting to reconcile differences between U.S. House and Senate versions of the defense appropriations bill has included funding to keep the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center operating through 2014, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said Tuesday.
The bill includes $136 million for upgrades to the M1A2 Abrams tank, the Ohio Republican said.
“This is the tank plant for America. We need to ensure that it continues to operate, that it’s not mothballed, it would be, in my view, the wrong thing for the taxpayer as well as for our national security because of the huge expense in getting it back online again,” Portman said. “It’s better for the taxpayer to keep the line operating and with regard to national security we have to have a place where we can do the tank upgrades and begin to prepare for the next generation of tanks.”
Portman said it’s been an uphill battle ever since the Pentagon said it had enough tanks and proposed shuttering the program until 2017. Portman acknowledged there is still work to do, especially since President Barack Obama has previously threatened to veto the bill.
“I would hope the president wouldn’t veto this legislation. I know he has threatened a veto because he believes the Lima tank plant, the JSMC, ought to be mothballed,” Portman said. “Gosh, this is something that is bipartisan. We had a great debate on this in the Senate Armed Services Committee. We were able to make our points the other side made their points. The same thing happened in conference. We ended up with a number that enables us to keep the production going. We’re not expanding the production, we’re just ensuring that we’re not losing this capability.”
Portman said the issue comes down to efficiency and trying to restart the program would be more costly.
“If the president were to look not just at the short-term budget but his mid-term budget he would see that over the next few years the Army has said they need to upgrade their tanks,” Portman said. “You can’t just turn off the industrial base and turn it back on in a few years. That’s not how it works. We need to have the supply chain and we need to have the facility and we need to have the skills of those workers.”