Utah needs Wayne Owens and Gunn McKay in Congress to help protect its defense industry-dependent economy, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said after touring Hill Air Force Base.
Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., on an inspection tour of Western bases this week, stopped off after visiting Hill to stump for his two Democratic colleagues.Aspin said the ideal scenario for Utah is the re-election of Rep. Wayne Owens and his elevation to the House Armed Services Committee along with McKay's election and appointment to the House Appropriations Committee, where he served previously.
Unsaid but implicit in that scenario is the defeat of Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Defense budgets in the next four years will be relatively flat, Aspin predicted, as the nation wrestles with its budget deficit. Although the dollar amounts appropriated will probably be at about current levels, inflation will force the military to pare some programs and operate all the others more efficiently, he said.
The usual military strategy when faced with budget restrictions is to preserve weapons systems, research and development and pay levels, Aspin said, leaving the operations and maintenance budgets to suffer.
And that, he said, endangers the maintenance and logistics missions at HAFB.
Aspin said if Utah has Democrats in Congress in strategic positions in the the Armed Services and Appropriations committees, as members of the majority party they can look out for the base's mission - and the state's economy.
The chairman had his first visit to HAFB Tuesday and was briefed by officials on the base missions and operation. Aspin said he was impressed by the base's work, calling it "a remarkable facility. They're doing a first-rate job there."
McKay and Aspin were both elected to Congress in 1970 and Aspin said his colleague was an "outstanding and very effective member of Congress," one of the most effective in his decade of service there before losing to Hansen.
McKay said having the House Armed Services Committee chairman familiar with the base and its operation is vital when dealing with problems that arise, such as proposals for budget cuts, personnel layoffs and program cutbacks.
A flat military budget over the next four to eight years will not endanger the nation's security, Owens said, but it will force some hard decisions on what programs to keep and which ones can be cut.
The military is committing to too many new weapons systems now that will have to be funded with more dollars later, Owens said in explaining why he voted against the C-17 cargo plane, even though part of it will be built in Utah.
Military installations such as Hill, Defense Depot Ogden and Dugway Proving Ground are not in danger of being cut, Owens said, although Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City could be endangered.
Congress has established an independent commission to examine military bases and recommend to the secretary of defense which ones can be closed. Owens said although some see Fort Douglas as on that list, he believes the facility will survive because it is economically viable.