Boeing tanker budget still vulnerable in Congress

Efforts to protect Boeing’s aerial-refueling tanker program from budget cuts came up short this week. But supporters in Congress say there is still time to restore the money.

House Armed Services Committee members early Thursday signed off on a 2015 defense budget worth more than $600 billion but which cuts about $225 million from the tanker program.

That means in 2015, Boeing will start final assembly on six rather than seven Everett-built KC-46A tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Before the committee unanimously approved the budget, Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., drafted an amendment to restore the program’s funding. The plan also included money for five Boeing EA-18G Growlers for the U.S. Navy.

But they proposed to get that money from the Navy’s littoral combat ship program, a proposal that ran into resistance from some committee members.

“It was clear that there wouldn’t be a majority,” Larsen said of the tanker amendment.

Backers pulled the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act rather than have it voted down.

“We’ll live to fight another day,” he said.

The cut likely won’t affect employment at Boeing’s Everett facility at Paine Field. The KC-46A is based on the aerospace giant’s commercially successful 767 wide-body jetliner. The company has 45 orders for the commercial version.

Boeing and the Air Force declined to comment on the cut.

Larsen said he is concerned that cutting the program next year could lead to more and larger reductions down the road as Congress grapples with curtailing federal spending.

The Air Force plans to buy 179 of the tankers. Four test planes are already being assembled in Everett.

Larsen said there is still time to restore the program’s funding.

“It’s the legislative process – there is opportunity until it’s over.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com.

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