TOP STORY >>Snyder: Fund center now
Leader senior staff writer
Congress may still authorize $9.8 million for the Jacksonville/Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center when the defense authorization bill moves into the joint conference committee, Second Dist. Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., told Jacksonville Rotarians on Monday.
Both Snyder and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., are on that committee, and Snyder said he was “cautiously optimistic” about restoring the funds.
Money for the Air Force’s share of the project is included in the House version of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, approved in June, but not the Senate version. Jacksonville residents voted in 2003 to tax themselves, so the city has its $5 million share literally in the bank.
The existing joint education center, located on the base, is affiliated with six schools, including ASU-Beebe, which offers an associates degree. Currently, ASU-Beebe’s LRAFB branch, directed by Nancy Shefflette, has the largest presence.
Addressing another local concern, Snyder said he doesn’t have a good answer for the problems the air base is experiencing with its housing-privatization contractor, who has walked away from the job with only a fraction of the work completed.
“The privatization contract has gone awry,” said Snyder. “We need to find a solution and get back on track…with a different developer.”
Snyder said that no matter what a person’s perspective on the war in Iraq or on the Bush Administration, “This country and the world are at a real crossroads.”
“This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history,” he said.
“Some may say, and I agree, that big holes have been dug the past six years,” and the problems aren’t going to go away quickly.
He said the next president and Congress would have “a built-in challenge,” not the least of which is the war in Iraq.
Replacing a retiring congressman in July, Snyder has become chairman of the newly reconstituted House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the subcommittee was disbanded about 12 years ago, leaving no one to oversee and investigate problems and potential problems in the military.
NO EASY WAY OUT
Snyder invited generals and think-tank wonks of every stripe to discuss the Iraq imbroglio and surprisingly, all seemed to concur that the problem has become so complex and so challenging and so interwoven not only for the military, but also for national security, that there is no easy way out.
But both Gen. Jack Keane (Ret.), who authored the surge strategy, and Maj. Gen. John Batiste (Ret.), who opposes it, had one point of agreement—“We don’t have a diplomatic (plan) for Iraq.”
Five years into the war, the agreement was the military was doing a good job, but the diplomatic corps is not doing the job.
“Unless we really look at a diplomatic plan and put resources behind it, we may as well pull out now,” Gen. Wesley Clark testified.
Snyder said that for all the public concern over Iraq, Iran and health care, that in the halls of Congress, trade issues are the most divisive.”
“These are bread-and-butter issues for American families,” the congressman said. “Trade is scarier than hell,” and it’s just one of the challenges we face as a nation.
Snyder said he was very disappointed that President Bush vetoed the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program to provide continued health care for the poorest children and extend coverage to the children of the working poor, especially since the bill only authorized the plan for five years and paid for it by increasing tobacco taxes.
“What we have control over, we need to take control over,” he said.
Snyder said he wasn’t sure Congress is doing justice for the American people but that in a divided House and Senate, law-making is a messy business.
Pat Teague asked Snyder what happened to the idea that paying for troops and reconstructing Iraq would be paid for by sales of Iraqi oil. Snyder said Iraq’s oil production hadn’t recovered from the 1979 war, that the oil industry is still struggling from old technology, the flight of able oil producers from the country and violence.
He told Marshall Smith that there was pretty good evidence that Iran had some sort of nuclear program, but that a nuclear weapons program, even one that could threaten Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, would ultimately make Iran less safe, not more safe.
He said a diplomatic solution must be worked out.
Shefflette told Snyder she was worried about the capability of U.S. forces in an environment where military personnel is declining.
Snyder said both the Army and the Marines had begun increasing the size of their forces and that the Air Force and Navy have belatedly realized they need to grow so they can move and supply a growing army of fighters.
“Technology’s just not enough,” said Shefflette. Snyder said he worried about a military force so reduced in size that it must rely upon contractors—who must be paid overtime.
Snyder, citing General Gregory Schumacher, said that with reduced forces, the U.S. could win a war on a second front, but it would take longer and be more costly. Bishop James Bolden III, retired from 24 years in the Air Force, asked if there was a draft in the country’s future.
“There is no support,” Snyder replied.