WASHINGTON – A contract for a presidential helicopter fleet prompted a heated turf fight on the Senate floor Wednesday, stalling a major spending bill in what one lawmaker called "a sneak attack" by a fellow Democrat.
The surprise move by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., sent New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer scrambling to defend a contract that will bring hundreds of defense jobs to upstate Owego, N.Y., to build the next Marine One (search) helicopter.
Dodd objects to the Navy awarding the $6.1 billion, 23-helicopter contract to Maryland-based Lockheed Martin and its international partners instead of Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft (search), which has manufactured the president's helicopter fleet since 1957.
The competition led to a running debate over whether, for reasons of national security (search), the president's helicopter should include foreign-made parts.
"There are few more sensitive and more important national security concerns than the safe transport of our nation's chief executive," Dodd said in successfully attaching an amendment to a $34 billion foreign spending bill.
Dodd's measure would prohibit any European companies producing components of the US101 helicopter from doing business with terrorist-sponsoring states.
Lockheed's international partners include the British-Italian company, AgustaWestland (search).
Dodd's amendment might have subjected AgustaWestland to a bureaucratic nightmare of export paperwork for producing some of the US101's components.
The helicopter's main transmission and rotor blades will be built overseas.
After Dodd's legislative maneuver succeeded, Clinton and Schumer used parliamentary rules to block the entire spending measure.
"It was a sneak attack. We knew nothing about it," said Schumer, D-N.Y.
The bill's prospects were uncertain even before the fight between New York and Connecticut, and neither side was willing to budge Wednesday night.
"We said we're going to stay here, we're not going anywhere, we won it fair and square," said Clinton, who argued the Dodd amendment would unfairly punish European subsidiaries doing nonmilitary work in Iran.
"It's insulting to say that our two staunchest allies who have had people die in Iraq are somehow not to be trusted," Clinton said.
Even after the bill was shelved, the dispute brought Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner to the floor to defend the helicopter contract and criticize Dodd.
"I can assure you we will employ every parliamentary device available to us to see that this matter is rectified because this was not done in a manner consistent with what we normally do around here," said Warner, R-Va.