Moving beyond Himes' symbolic vote

So why would a congressman from a state as dependent on defense dollars as Connecticut vote "no" - as 4th District Rep. Jim Himes recently did - on the $600 billion defense authorization bill? All the state's other lawmakers in Washington sent out press releases pointing to their support for the bill and the work it will bring to Connecticut.

But there was Rep. Himes, effectively voting against $6.5 billion for procurement and $1.6 billion for research and development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose engines will be produced by Pratt & Whitney. Why his opposition to a bill that includes $3 billion for Sikorsky-built helicopters, including 79 Blackhawks, plus $388 million to proceed with research and development on a new White House helicopter from Sikorsky?

Is Rep. Himes against the authorization of $6 billion for two new Virginia class submarines jointly built by Electric Boat in Groton and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia? Or the $1.3 billion to begin work on a new class of submarines that will be the largest and most expensive additions to the U.S. military, at about $5 billion apiece, and will be built, in part, by EB?

Rep. Himes says he supports these Connecticut-produced submarines, helicopters and aircraft as vital to the nation's security. However, he decided it was time to send the message that even a congressman from a defense-oriented state like Connecticut must at some point oppose defense bills that are "beyond fiscally irresponsible."

The congressman was well aware that he could cast his protest vote without jeopardizing the national defense or the economic well being of his state because his vote wasn't needed. The bill sailed through the House 325-98.

The congressman's target was "weapons the Pentagon doesn't want," Rep. Himes told The Connecticut Mirror. These include weapons that are no longer needed or never were and they are decidedly not secret weapons. Their existence and the funds wasted upon them have been known for some time.

In this category are some missile silos and other Soviet-era weapon systems, certain jet fighters and transport planes and the 70-ton Abrams tank, which has been repeatedly rejected by the Army.

Rep. Himes also objected to provisions in the bill that prohibit the Defense Department from pursuing any action on climate change and closing the prison at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, but the bill's fiscal waste was his primary target.

In voting against the bill, Rep. Himes parted with all other Connecticut House members, Joseph Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty and John Larson.

Rep. Himes faces more than token opposition this November in former State Sen. Dan Debicella, who ran against the the-freshman Congressman Himes in 2010 and lost by six points. Rep. Debicella could certainly make an issue of Rep. Himes' defense bill vote and characterize it as a vote against Connecticut jobs as well as the nation's defense. That will be Rep. Debicella's decision.

We believe Rep. Himes makes a legitimate point about the need to guard against fiscal irresponsibility in all forms of government spending, be it entitlements, health care, education-or defense. That he chose to do so as a Connecticut congressman, in an election year, is to his credit.

Congress must move beyond such symbolic gestures and find a way to support legitimate defense programs, while ending those without military value. The current mentality, I'll support your district's defense program if you'll support mine, does not make for prudent military or fiscal policy.

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