Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Efforts to Save Kennedy Dimming; White House, Powerful Lawmakers Oppose Efforts to Keep Carrier

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Efforts to Save Kennedy Dimming; White House, Powerful Lawmakers Oppose Efforts to Keep Carrier

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP

An effort to stave off the shutdown of the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier has met potentially crippling resistance from the White House and key lawmakers opposed to including it in a major spending bill.

A committee in Congress is putting the finishing touches on an $81 billion emergency funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate added a provision April 21 that stopped the Pentagon from mothballing the Mayport-based carrier at least until a review of military forces is done next year. The House didn't pass the same protection, forcing members to write a compromise bill that cannot be amended.

The finished bill could be released as early as today for a House vote this week, but it was uncertain whether it will include the provision, which was sponsored by powerful Sen. John Warner, R-Va., as well as Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., among others. The amendment also required the Navy to keep money for a $378 million overhaul of the Kennedy that was previously scheduled but stymied now.

Its failure would mean Florida lawmakers would have to find another way to keep the aging ship in Mayport -- and their chances are slipping. Another bill to keep the fleet at 12 ships has slept in a House subcommittee since February.

President Bush's budget chief singled out the amendment for criticism last week.

"We urge the conferees not to include this provision in the final version of the bill nor any requirement to obligate funds for the maintenance and repair of a ship the Navy believes is no longer essential," White House budget director Joshua Bolten wrote to key lawmakers. He added the Bush administration opposed any mandate to keep a 12-carrier fleet.

The Pentagon included decommissioning the Kennedy this year in its proposed budget to save $1.2 billion over six years. But some Florida lawmakers have sought to keep the ship operating, saying reducing the fleet would risk national security. The Kennedy, which is expensive to operate, was previously going to run until 2018.

Several influential senators, including Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss. …

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