Baucus says he won't support cutting U.S. warheads
Ryan Hall, Great Falls Tribune
Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012
Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012
Montana's congressional delegation will not allow the United States to reduce its nuclear warheads' stockpile to levels similar to 60 years ago as a result of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., told members of the Chamber of Commerce and Military Affairs Committee on Friday.
That treaty calls for a ceiling of 1,550 nuclear warheads in the U.S., but recent news reports have indicated that under one scenario, the Obama administration may support reducing the nation's nuclear warheads to 300 - a level not seen since the 1950s.
"I'm here to tell you that's not going to happen - not on my watch and I'm sure not on the watch of anyone in the Montana (congressional) delegation," Baucus said during his speech during the chamber's quarterly luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Great Falls.
The fate of the nation's nuclear weapons, specifically the 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base, has been a hot topic locally because of the base's impact on the economy.
Referencing a famous remark made by President John F. Kennedy around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Baucus added, "Today Malmstrom continues to be our ace in the hole."
He said that despite the new treaty, there are three main reasons to keep the nation's ICBMs, which currently are housed at Malmstrom; F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.; and Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
The first, is that they are a stabilizer, meaning the ICBMs act as a deterrent to nuclear war, Baucus said.
"They virtually guarantee we'll never have a nuclear war," he said, noting that it would take two hits from a nuclear-armed missiles to take out one of the United States' 450 missile silos.
"I'm not very good at math, but if you have to trade two missiles to take out one of ours, it's not going to work out very well," Baucus said.
The second reason there is a good case to keep ICBMs is that they are prompt and "can hit anywhere quickly," Baucus said. The third main argument for keeping land-based missiles is that they are more cost-effective than other nuclear weapons, he said.
Baucus also talked about potential threats to the mission of the Montana Air National Guard, such as a recent announcement that more than 140 jobs could be cut from MANG under the president's proposed defense budget.
The senator stressed that the reduction is just a proposal, and that he and the rest of the congressional delegation are working to figure out exactly what is included in the proposed cuts. He added that he will do his best to mitigate the impact of the cuts.
"We're talking about real people here," he said, adding that the men and women in MANG are more than just "numbers on a spreadsheet."
Baucus also discussed the recent news that the governors of several states whose Guard units are slated to lose C-130 cargo planes, including eight earmarked for MANG after the 120Fighter Wing in Great Falls transitions from its current F-15 mission, are fighting to keep the large propeller-driven planes.
"I don't blame them," he said, adding that he understands why those governors want the planes, which can respond to numerous disaster scenarios.
"We've got disasters here, too," Baucus said. "They'd be a great asset for us."
Baucus also used his speech to make a pitch to bring a new fighter mission to MANG, proposing that the government send some of the 2,443 F-35 fighter jets commissioned to be built in the next 20 or 30 years to the Gore Hill base.
"Montana's airspace is a national treasure," he said. "I think we have a strong case to make to bring those fighters to Montana."
Baucus weighed in on a wide range of topics:
He said the question of whether everyone should have health insurance - under the reform bill every American must have health insurance by 2014 - is not a new one.
"Every industrialized nation in the world has asked itself this question, and they all came up with the same answer - yes," Baucus said.
"I think Keystone will eventually be built, I think it should be built," Baucus said. "It's a no-brainer."
He added that he expects the House to add a version of an amendment that would speed approval of the pipeline to that chamber's version of the highway bill. Baucus hopes it would then make it through conference committee.
He said he expects President Barack Obama, who opposes the amendment, to not veto the entire highway bill just because it includes a Keystone XL amendment.
"I think the 15s are gone, I think that's a battle we fought valiantly - we didn't prevail," he said.
"It all revolves around jobs and the economy," Baucus said, adding that Montana's per-capita income rank has fallen from 10th in the nation in the 1940s to the high-40s now.
"I feel pretty good where we are," he said, though he noted that Malmstrom received a last-second reprieve during the most recent BRAC several years ago.
However, if the Great Falls based is targeted for possible closure, Baucus plans to fight until the last second to save it, as the congressional delegation did during the last BRAC.
"One has to always remain vigilant," he said. "I love the fight."
"I'm so lucky to represent our state - who'd want to represent Delaware?" he joked.
He also issued an open invitation for Montanans who are visiting Washington, D.C., to stop by his office at 8:15 any Wednesday morning, when he meets with constituents over breakfast.
"We'll leave the light on," he said.
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