For God, Country and Westinghouse

June 22, 1993

Even the most peaceable doves on Capitol Hill grow hawkish in defense of home-district military contracts. The Maryland delegation is no exception. The state's two Democratic senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, have a consistent record of voting and demanding major cuts in Pentagon budgets, as has 3rd District Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin. But confronted with the loss of 460 more jobs at Westinghouse in Linthicum, scene of a costly radar-jamming project, the Maryland doves have become downright aggressive.

At issue is whether former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's cancellation of Airborne Self-Protection Jammers (ASPJs) for Navy carrier aircraft (potential price tag: $9 billion) is going to stick in the Bill Clinton-Les Aspin era. Under pressure from these loyalist Democrats from Maryland, the administration has ordered a re-evaluation.

Whether Navy aircraft should be equipped with these devices, which are designed to confuse enemy anti-aircraft weaponry, is a matter of intense debate among lawmakers and within the Pentagon itself. Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., opposed the ASPJ program long before his fellow Arkansan made it to the White House. He has accused the Navy of "cheating" by lowering standards after ASPJ test failures. Senator Mikulski, among others, has challenged the methodology of these tests and has pushed, with apparent success, for a review lest the $1.5 billion already spent is wasted.

What this dispute reflects is a nationwide cry of pain as the downsizing of the defense establishment leads to the closing of military bases and the cancellation of military contracts. The pinch started to hurt late in the Bush administration. It is growing worse as a result of President Clinton's $12 billion defense cut in the current fiscal year -- this, despite a decision to tread water before canceling major weapons systems. But next year is amputation time. Birds of various feathers will be fluttering in agony on Capitol Hill.

This prospect makes it all the harder for the Maryland delegation to resurrect a project that has already been canceled. Harder, but not impossible. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., was able to get Candidate Clinton to instill new life in the Seawolf submarine program. House Armed Services committee chairman Ron Dellums, a vociferous Pentagon critic, is trying to save bases in his California district. And the dedication of the peacenik Long Island delegation to the hometown F-14 is legendary.

This, of course, is the stuff of representative, constituency-service government. But it does produce a whiff of hypocrisy and contradiction.

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