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Connecticut’s Congressional delegates greet Team 26 on their arrival in Washington (peter urban / ctnewsjunkie)

Monte Frank and the rest of Team 26 rolled up to the U.S. Capitol this week, completing an annual 400-mile cycling trek to memorialize the twenty children and six educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.

A Newtown resident, whose children attended the school, Frank started the annual ride in hopes that it would lead to stronger gun safety laws across the nation. The goal remains elusive even as more deadly mass shootings have occurred in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida.

Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Representatives Elizabeth Esty, John Larson, Rosa DeLauro, Joe Courtney and Jim Himes greeted the cyclists and vowed to continue fighting in the halls of Congress for bans on assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines as well as stronger background checks they say will help curb such violence in the future.

“The US Congress has blood on its hands because it has not fulfilled its constitutional responsibility to the citizens that we are sworn to serve. Our obligation is to vote and we have not taken a vote in this chamber to create the change that Monte and Team 26 are all about,” Larson said.

“Overwhelmingly, what the American people want us to do is pass laws that would prevent tragedies like the one that happened in Newtown,” DeLauro said. “That’s what they want us to do – ban assault weapons, ban high capacity ammunition, ban bump stocks.”

House Panel Reports Out 2019 Defense Authorization Bill

Katherine Welles via shutterstock
A sign at the entrance to a House Armed Services Committee hearing room in Washington (Katherine Welles via shutterstock)

The House Armed Services Committee completed a $716 billion military spending blueprint for the next fiscal year after 14 hours of debate that saw them wade through more than 400 amendments from the 62 lawmakers who sit on the panel.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which cleared the committee 60-1, sets out how the Pentagon can spend its funds as well as establishing other policy changes for the armed forced next year. Representative Joe Courtney, the ranking Democrat on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, supported the bill in no small measure because it supports an increase in the Navy’s fleet of submarines.

“This year, the NDAA will seize an opportunity identified by the Navy and industry to increase production to three submarines per year in 2022 and 2023. Specifically, it makes a down payment this year on the long lead-time materials we will need to build those additional submarines in the future,” Courtney said. “It also builds on a provision I pushed for in last year’s NDAA to authorize the Navy to procure these additional submarines in the next block contract currently under negotiation between the Navy and Electric Boat.”

Courtney said the bill would benefit many of the large and small defense contractors in Connecticut. Here’s his breakdown:

Three Attack Submarines in 2022 and 2023 – The bill adds $1 billion above the Administration’s budget request for long lead-time materials, supporting a third Virginia-class submarine in each of fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

Virginia-class Fast Attack Submarines – authorizes $5.3 billion for Virginia-class submarine procurement, including two Virginia-class submarines in 2019.

Columbia-Class Ballistic Missile Submarines – fully supports the $3.0 billion requested for the development and design of the Ohio Replacement submarine, with an additional $150 million added for development of the supplier base.

Pier Construction at New London Submarine Base – the bill includes planning and design funding for future Navy military construction projects. The Navy testified to Courtney in a Readiness subcommittee hearing last month that it plans to use a portion of those funds this year to prepare for future pier modernization and construction at Submarine Base New London.

Academic Partnerships for Undersea Research – authorizes $20 million to support partnerships with academic institutions that conduct research on undersea unmanned warfare and energy technology, such as the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology, a collaborative program between the University of Connecticut and the University of Rhode Island.

Joint Strike Fighter – fully authorizes the Administration’s request of $10.6 billion for 77 F-35 procurement and includes additional flexibility to procure additional aircraft within the authorized amount if production savings are found.

Long Range Strike Bomber – fully supports the requested $2.3 billion for continued development of the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, which will be powered by Pratt & Whitney engines.

Blackhawks – authorizes $1.2 billion for 54 Sikorsky-built UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, including an additional 5 aircraft above the Administration’s request for the Army National Guard.

CH-53K – authorizes $1.1 billion for the new Marine heavy-lift helicopter, the procurement of 8 aircraft, and $327 million for continued research and development.

Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter – supports the budget request of $1.1 billion for procurement 10 aircraft and continued development of the HH-60W Air Force search and rescue helicopter.

KC-46A Tanker – authorizes $2.0 billion for 12 KC-46A tanker aircraft. Establishes a floor of 479 air refueling tanker aircraft in the Air Force inventory, subject to the results of a new Mobility Capability and Requirements Study.

VH-92A Presidential Helicopter – supports the Administration’s request for $649 million for procurement of 6 aircraft and continued development of the next-generation presidential helicopter as well as $24 million for upgrades in support of the existing Presidential Helicopter program.

C-130H Modernization – the measure continues Congressman Courtney’s efforts to accelerate the modernization of the C-130H cargo aircraft fleet. In addition to fully supporting the efforts to upgrade the avionics of the fleet to meet new airspace requirements, the bill authorizes $129 million for additional upgrades for engines, propellers and other systems on the aircraft beyond the President’s request. 

DOD Impact Aid – authorizes $50 million for the DOD supplemental impact aid program, which provides support to local school districts with high proportions of military children, including Groton public schools. This program is in addition to the primary Impact Aid program funded through the Department of Education, which does not fall within the jurisdiction of the House Armed Services Committee.

Procurement Technical Assistant Program – The bill follows a Courtney request to increase support for Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs), which help small businesses jump through the hoops and check all the boxes in order to do business with the Department of Defense.

Iran Nuke Deal

Evan El-Amin via shutterstock
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton attends a joint press conference between President Trump and Chancellor Merkel of Germany in Washington (Evan El-Amin via shutterstock)

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal drew howls from the Connecticut delegation who had supported the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump’s decision was akin to a soccer player deliberately kicking the ball into his own team’s goal.

“There is nothing but downside for the U.S., especially since Trump has zero plan for what comes next,” he said.

Murphy had spoken in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal, when it was struck in August 2015. At that time, he said, that without the deal he feared Iran would obtain a nuclear arsenal.

Murphy said that the withdrawal would further isolate America from European partners and could give Kim Jong Un reason to distrust America’s commitment to its word – potentially jeopardizing negotiations to convince the North Korean leader to give up his nuclear weapons.

Senator Richard Blumenthal called it a “serious setback” for national security.

“The President has destructively discarded the Iran deal instead of seeking to strengthen and enforce it—– trashing instead of tightening it – and eroding our position in stopping a nuclear-armed North Korea as well,” he said.

Representative Joe Courtney noted that the decision ignores recommendations from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and close foreign allies to remain in the deal. “This isolates our nation at the very moment we should be rallying international support to denuclearize North Korea,” he said.

Representative Elizabeth Esty called it an “unwise decision” saying that the Iran deal has significantly diminished Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.

“It is better to have an imperfect, yet a verifiable agreement in place that allows us to confirm Iran’s compliance with measures that prevent the development of a nuclear weapon than to have no agreement at all,” she said.

Representative Rosa DeLauro said she was “extremely disappointed” by the decision. “The JCPOA successfully reduced Iranian uranium by 95 percent, and because of it, Iran dismantled roughly two thirds of its centrifuges. That is real progress towards peaceful denuclearization, all potentially undone by one misguided campaign promise,” she said.

And, Representative Jim Himes turned to social media to tweet that: “We are now closer to a world in which centrifuges are spinning again in Iran and people are explaining to me why a military attack is the only way to stop an Iranian weapon of mass destruction.”

Trump’s decision did draw support from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been a vocal opponent of the initial agreement.

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton laid out his support for Trump’s action in a column published this week in the Washington Post in which he blasted the Iran nuclear deal as having an “abysmal track record over the past two years.”

“President Trump acted prudently. He spent more than a year studying the deal, soliciting information and assessments from within his administration, and consulting with our allies. He decided that this deal actually undermines the security of the American people he swore to protect and, accordingly, ended U.S. participation in it. This action reversed an ill-advised and dangerous policy and set us on a new course that will address the aggressive and hostile behavior of our enemies, while enhancing our ties with partners and allies,” Bolton wrote.

Murphy Promotes Cheesy Idea

Senator Chris Murphy this week introduced legislation with Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey to establish a $5 million grant program to assist small-scale cheese producers.

Murphy says the grant program would give preferences to cheese producers who use local or regional milk to make cheese, and provide opportunities for experienced cheese makers and other experts to get funding to provide technical assistance and training to beginning cheesemakers.

The bill, he said, was inspired in part from visits to Connecticut cheesemakers including Sankow’s Beaver Brook farm in Old Lyme and Cato Corner Farm in Colchester.

The bill will provide grants that small cheesemakers can apply for to assist with purchasing equipment, renovating or repairing production facilities, developing business plans, marketing products, and paying for financial literacy or food safety training. The bill will also set aside 10 percent of funding to allow land grant universities, experienced producers, and nonprofit organizations to establish cheese making resource centers and to provide assistance to new producers.

Keeping Score