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Wicker: Mississippi Is a Key Partner in America's Defense


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Mississippi has played a tremendous role in building and maintaining America's unmatched seapower. Our skilled sailors, Seabees, and shipbuilders like those working at Huntington Ingalls are an integral part of a proud military tradition. Now a new Navy submarine named the USS Mississippi (SSN-782) will showcase this tradition to the world.

Commissioned in Pascagoula on June 2, the USS Mississippi exemplifies the strides being made to ready our nation's military for the diverse challenges of the 21st century. The "next generation" Virginia-class submarine -- completed a year early and under-budget -- reflects the meaningful and fiscally responsible planning we need in today's difficult economic times.

Strategic Priorities

As the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, I am committed to ensuring that the Navy remains the world's preeminent maritime force and that Mississippi is a key partner in this legacy. The 30-year shipbuilding plan the Navy recently submitted to Congress forecasts a smaller fleet, and these proposed reductions could have serious consequences unless alternatives are offered. Bold goals are still attainable, but our priorities must be strategic, efficient, and forward-thinking.

Looming "Fiscal Cliff'

Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) outlining military spending for the coming year. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill later this summer.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I supported an important Republican-led provision in NDAA requiring the Pentagon to inform Congress about the impact of the "fiscal cliff" on America's defense. Under last year's Budget Control Act, $500 billion in automatic cuts from defense programs will be triggered on January 3, 2013, unless Congress can agree on other deficit-reducing measures. The Budget Control Act already mandates $487 billion in cuts from defense over the next 10 years.

Defense spending is critical to national security and supports a high-tech manufacturing workforce essential to our economy. Indiscriminate cuts could do lasting damage, which is why reductions and defense realignments should be rooted in strategy. According to a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this year's expiring tax cuts and the Budget Control Act's across-the-board reductions would send the economy into another recession if they go into effect.

Several provisions in NDAA will help protect Mississippi's military interests. One would freeze the Air Force's proposed removal of C-130 aircraft from Keesler Air Force Base and C-27Js from Meridian's Key Field for a year. Another authorizes the multiyear procurement of DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that are built at Huntington Ingalls. An amendment I offered would prevent the Department of Defense from using flawed rating standards in its green building policy, which could have added unnecessary costs to military construction projects.

Navy's Future Success

NDAA and the commissioning of the USS Mississippi are timely reminders of how our state contributes to keeping America safe and strong. Our ability to supply the Navy with state-of-the-art ships and dedicated sailors illustrates this excellence.

President George Washington was right when he said, "It follows then, as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." I am confident this honorable and glorious legacy will continue, and I am encouraged by efforts in Mississippi to ensure the Navy's future success.

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