16 senators request more naval funding

Several senators are urging Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to increase the Navy’s shipbuilding budget as the Pentagon is preparing its 2008 budget allocations.

Sixteen lawmakers wrote a letter to Rumsfeld on Friday asking him to increase the Navy’s top-line budget to provide $14 billion for ship procurement.

“Admiral Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations, has submitted a 313-ship plan to Congress, and the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review endorsed building a larger fleet,” the lawmakers wrote. “According to the CNO, approximately $14 billion is needed annually to finance the ship construction outlined in the Navy’s long-term plan.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Jim Talent (R-Mo.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), David Vitter (R-La.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Most of the lawmakers are from states that have large shipbuilding facilities or companies that work directly with the industry.

The senators emphasized that while the top-line budget for the Department of Defense has increased by 50 percent since Sept. 11, 2001, the ship-procurement budget has been reduced by 17 percent, shrinking the fleet from 341 ships to 280 in six years.

“Our national security requires that a high priority be placed upon providing sustained funding to maintain and build up our naval fleet to counter existing and emerging threats,” the senators wrote. They cited Pentagon reports detailing the rapid expansion of China’s sea power.

“Some experts have projected that China’s Navy will outnumber the U.S. fleet by 2015, less than one decade from now,” the Senators wrote.

“Your support of the budget requirements outlined by our Navy leadership is critical if the decline of our fleet is to be reversed,” they stressed.

The senators’ request would increase the Navy’s budget from $8.9 billion to $14.1 billion.

The senators’ letter comes on the heels of a letter sent by members of the House Shipbuilding Caucus urging support for a $14 billion budget.