The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee raised questions Tuesday about the ballooning cost projections for the Ohio class ballistic submarine replacement program that could threaten to shortchange other Navy priorities.

“I’m concerned about the Ohio class replacement,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., and its potential to “crowd out all other shipbuilding in the Navy. We have other shipbuilding needs” besides the Ohio replacements, which are projected to cost about $93 billion, Thornberry said.

Thornberry made the comments in a roundtable session with defense reporters a day after the Navy confirmed that it was looking into a possible violation of anti-lobbying laws by Adm. John Nicholson, the Navy’s main Ohio replacement advocate and President Obama’s nominee to succeed Adm. Jonathan Greenert as the next Chief of Naval Operations.

The review focused on whether Richardson may have violated rarely-enforced laws barring federal employees from lobbying the public when he enthusiastically backed the Ohio replacement program in a speech last year to the Naval Submarine League.

“Inform those in your sphere of influence, everyone from your Congressmen to your local PTA” of the merits of the replacement program, Richardson told the audience. His remarks were first reported by the Project on Government Oversight, a non-partisan watchdog group, and by Politico.

The current Ohio class submarines began their first patrols in 1981. The replacements were expected to be operational in 2030.

Thornberry’s session with reporters came as the Senate continued debate on the proposed $612 billion defense bill that President Obama has threatened to veto unless issues are resolved on the amounts allotted to the so-called “war budget” – the funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

On Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate defeated an amendment offered by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would have limited the amount of money available for the OCO account unless similar amounts were made available for domestic programs.

Despite the partisan debate, Thornberry said he expected the Senate to move fairly soon on the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow a conference committee of the House and Senate to begin discussions on a final bill.

“I would not expect the Senate or the House to be interested in – oh let’s put this off again,” Thornberry said. As far as he was concerned, “I’m ready to to rock and roll as fast as we can,” Thornberry said.

– Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com