Defense appropriations insiders say Representative Jack Murtha is resisting a major unit-cost increase for the C-17 cargo plane in ongoing negotiations over the fiscal 2010 budget. Although Murtha is frequently depicted in the media as being a bit too helpful to the defense industry — as long as it creates jobs in his district — he has switched roles on C-17 and is pressing for a cut in the cost. Apparently the projected cost per plane in 2010 is considerably higher than the $210 million charged in fiscal 2009, because sources say that using the 2009 price-tag rather than the 2010 price-tag would save several hundred million dollars.
The C-17 is generally regarded as the best strategic airlifter ever built, but the Obama Administration says the 205 planes already ordered are sufficient to meet projected airlift needs. That view is vigorously disputed by C-17 supporters, especially those from states where the plane generates jobs such as California and Connecticut. The appropriations conference must decide between a low number of three more planes approved by the House and ten approved by the Senate. Additional C-17s are also being built pursuant to language in the 2009 supplemental war appropriation. Congressional observers say that the appropriations conference is likely to approve the Senate number of ten aircraft for 2010, but first it has to address Chairman Murtha’s “sticker shock.”
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