Pro-Boeing lawmakers tie tanker decision to job-creation goals

If President Obama really intends to “win the future,” his administration should hand a $35 billion Air Force tanker contract to Boeing, several lawmakers said on Thursday.

“A win for the Boeing tanker … would be a big step forward in our efforts to win the future,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said during a press briefing. “American jobs, our industrial base and economic growth is on the line.”

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The pro-Boeing lawmaker’s use of the phrase “win the future” — employed first by Obama in last month’s State of the Union address — is aimed at forcing the administration to use the Air Force’s KC-X tanker competition as a way of doing so.

“Job creation in the United States should start with the procurement of a Boeing tanker,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

The lawmakers made their pitch standing in front of signs and a backdrop featuring these phrases: “American Jobs,” “American jobs on the line,” and “Supporting American Jobs.”

Their not-so-subtle message came just weeks before the Air Force is slated to choose either Boeing’s 767-based tanker or one being offered by EADS, based on an A330 plane. The winner will build 179 flying gas stations for the air service — and deal a major blow to its chief rival.

Boeing and its congressional allies say if the Chicago-based firm wins, it would bring 50,000 jobs to 40 states. An EADS win would support 48,000 U.S. jobs.

The Boeing proponents also hit EADS on aircraft subsidies. The World Trade Organization (WTO) recently ruled both firms have unjustly received government funds; EADS has gotten billions more, according to the WTO.

Roberts said he “doesn’t understand” why Pentagon officials contend they cannot factor in the impact of illegal government subsidies as they pick a winning plane.

Boeing and its congressional allies are concerned the European firm will be able to drastically underbid Boeing and win the contract — primarily because of its subsidies advantage.

Defense officials say there are no laws or federal acquisition regulations that call for factoring into major acquisition decisions things such as how subsidies might influence a bidder’s price.

“Unlike other nations, the U.S. almost never makes the economic impact of weapons decisions a factor in source selection,” said Loren Thompson, a defense consultant and analyst at the Lexington Institute. “Industrial base concerns and economic impacts are not part of the Pentagon's calculus.

“So even though the Obama administration is heavily focused on job creation and increasing exports, there is no sign that will influence the tanker outcome," Thompson said.

The combination of the Air Force’s price-shootout competition and the amount of subsidies EADS gets has many analysts predicting it will offer a smaller price tag and win the contract.

“The simple truth is that either one of these planes would make a fine tanker, so in the end the winner will be the team offering the lowest price,” Thompson said. “EADS will probably offer the lowest price because it has access to European government subsidies that can defray its costs.”