Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

TOP STORY>> He's upbeat on C-130Js, Berry says

IN SHORT: Ignoring the White House, Congress is pushing for more transport planes to help fight wars, although Berry complains of rising deficits without saying how they could be cut.

Leader editor

Cong. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, told a citizens group on Friday that Congress will provide funding to build more C-130Js, even though the Bush administration wants to kill the program to save money.

“We need more C-130Js,” Berry told members of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council. “We’re in the middle of a war requiring more of them.”

He said that after members of the Arkansas congressional delegation had contacted the leadership of the appropriations and defense committees, “we were assured they’ll make more of them. We’ll get a fair share of them at Little Rock Air Force Base.”

The base has two C-130Js and five more will be assigned to the base this year. The third C-130J is scheduled to arrive here next month.

The updated cargo plane costs $66 million each, far higher than previous estimates of what the new planes would cost and nearly twice what the old Hercules cost.

The Bush administration is trying to eliminate the C-130J to control spending, Berry said, but there’s enough support for the plane in Congress to save the program.

“The White House wanted low numbers in the budget, but they knew we were going to put them back in,” the congressman said.
The military has bought about 50 C-130Js, and the Pentagon had planned on purchasing more than twice that many planes until the administration put the brakes on buying more planes besides those coming off the assembly line. According to recent reports, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has reconsidered his opposition to the program, at least partially.

Berry did complain about rising deficits, calling it “the greatest threat to our national security.”

He said the $424 billion deficit “doesn’t include money taken from the Social Security, Medicare and veterans trust funds,” and he accused the administration of “taking every dime out of” those trust funds. “If you did away with all government spending, except entitlements and cut military spending in half, you still couldn’t balance the budget,” Berry said.

“We’ll have an $8 trillion to $10 trillion national debt at the end of the decade,” he continued. “The next generation won’t be able to handle it.”

This is a problem that weighs heavily on Berry’s mind because he said, “I wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning worrying about it.”
He didn’t offer a solution on how to balance the budget, other than to say, “It will take an effort we made in the Second World War to fix our problems.”

On a brighter note, Berry predicted the air base would survive the latest round of base realignments and closures. Rumsfeld will have a list next month that will include bases that the Pentagon wants to eliminate. Congress will have to accept the list or reject it.

“We’ll do just fine regardless of what they do with BRAC because of the great job you’re doing here,” Berry said.