Nov 10, 2006

McCain -- No Favorite of Defense Industry

The Wall Street Journal says that the defense industry is not unhappy about the Democratic Party takeover of Congress.

For one specific reason:

Democratic control of Congress has sparked uncertainty among defense contractors after six years of tremendous growth, but many industry executives are relieved that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a strident critic of Pentagon weapons-buying practices, won't become chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The anticipated Democratic chairman, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, brings his own longstanding skepticism of the industry and some of its prized weapons programs, particularly missile defense. Yet the soft-spoken Mr. Levin is likely to change the tone and focus of the committee's oversight efforts.

Unlike Mr. McCain, whose investigations into Boeing Co.'s ethical lapses laid the path for the panel to examine weapons-contract details and contractor profit margins, Mr. Levin has signaled that his priority will be the war in Iraq.

He fired a salvo in a post-election conference call with reporters Wednesday by criticizing the Bush administration for failing to include war costs in the regular Pentagon budget, which must be approved by the Armed Services Committee. Instead, the White House has resorted to increasingly large emergency-spending requests, which don't have the same accountability. Mr. Levin said the U.S. needs "honest" and "rational budgeting."

Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic & International Studies think tank in Washington and a former Clinton administration Pentagon official, predicts Mr. Levin will concentrate on bringing oversight to the conduct of the Iraq war and ensuring funding to equip overstretched U.S. forces.

"Unlike some other senators, Sen. Levin isn't known to harbor any deep grudges against defense companies," she said. "He'll be a friend to the military and a friend to industry."

Even though the defense industry has benefited greatly from recent Republican control, some defense executives grew so peeved at Mr. McCain that they privately rooted for a Democratic takeover of the Senate. Had Republicans retained control of the chamber, he was likely to succeed Virginia Sen. John Warner, whose tenure would have been terminated by party-imposed term limits.

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