This hasn’t been a good week for the junior Senator from New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte. She went to the floor four times in two days urging the chamber to consider an amendment that would have stripped funding for an Army air defense system from the pending appropriations bill, and in the end it refused to consider the amendment. The reason it refused was at least in part because Ayotte was trying to protect home-state jobs at the expense of U.S. warfighters and taxpayers.
Many of Ayotte’s constituents work at a plant just over the Massachusetts border that builds the Patriot air-defense system. Patriot has served the nation well and was recently upgraded with a more agile missile, but the guts of the system are antiquated. It needs to be replaced with a less labor-intensive system that can provide 360-degree protection against airborne and ballistic threats, and that can be transported to trouble spots more easily.
The U.S. Army has spent $2 billion developing a lighter, more capable system called the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). Germany and Italy, two of America’s most important allies, have covered nearly half of the program’s cost. However, the Army decided in 2011 to forego fielding MEADS due to budget woes, electing to meet its financial obligations to the allies by completing development and then finding other ways in which MEADS technology could be used. The most obvious way would be to replace the obsolete parts of the Patriot architecture such as the radar and fire-control equipment with technology from the MEADS effort.
However, that might threaten the jobs of people working on the current version of Patriot. So Ayotte sought to delete the money in the spending measure that would have enabled the U.S. to complete its funding obligations to overseas partners. In defaulting on its obligation, the U.S. would have lost access to the MEADS technology despite having provided $2 billion towards its development. In addition, Washington would have had to make huge penalty payments to the allies for dropping out early. U.S. warfighters thus would have lost the option to use the latest technology, and over $2 billion in taxpayer money would have been wasted.
Fortunately, the Senate decided not to consider Senator Ayotte’s amendment. The home-state motivation for offering it was all too obvious, as were the adverse consequences for warfighters and the Treasury. Whatever the ultimate fate of MEADS and Patriot may be, this is one time when the Senate has definitely done the right thing.
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