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October 1, 2009—Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argued in vain earlier this week to remove a $2.5 billion markup to the Senate’s version of the Fiscal 2010 defense spending bill that would buy 10 C-17 transports the Pentagon and White House don’t want.

As we reported yesterday, the bipartisan vote was 64 to 34 against McCain's amendment. McCain backs the Administration plan to stop C-17 production, but C-17 proponents believe the military needs more C-17s and Congress should let USAF retire older C-5 airlifters.

“I agree that the C-17 is a great plane,” McCain said Wednesday on the Senate floor before his proposed amendment to reapply those funds to the military’s operations and maintenance accounts came to a vote.

However, he continued, “the military has no need to buy more of C-17s,” a stance that the Pentagon leadership has steadfastly maintained. Doing so, McCain said, would take away from O&M, “the lifeblood” that sustains the military and result in a decrease to the funding available to the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, and National Guard “for training, equipment, depot maintenance, recruiting, and the restoration and modernization of bases.”

His words came up against a strong counterargument by C-17 supporters.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), for example, said not buying more C-17s would be “tying the hands of the Air Force” by requiring it to keep all of its C-5 transports, which are “outdated, costly to operate, and are less capable than the C-17.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), in whose state the C-17 is assembled, called the aircraft “critical to our national security” and said its production line “sustains jobs that are essential across 43 states,” including California.

She also made the point that it is premature to halt the production line now “particularly without reviewing two [major mobility] studies that are due by the end of the year.”

And Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), countered McCain’s accusation that buying more C-17s is wasteful for the nation, saying the aircraft remains a “model procurement program and a boon for taxpayers.”

The military needs more C-17s and ceasing production now would “eviscerate our warfighters' airlift capability and our nation's industrial base,” he said.

McCain statement

Bond statement

Also see our earlier coverage: Senate Floor Battle over C-17