WASHINGTON – The Arkansas delegation plans to team up with Iowa to defend Air National Guard flying missions the Air Force has targeted for elimination.
The Air Force has proposed retiring the Iowa Air Guard’s F-16 jets and removing the A-10 jet mission from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith. Congress had protected both by imposing a temporary freeze on the Air Force, but that is about to be lifted.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, expects the Arkansas delegation will sign on as co-sponsors to an Iowa bill that would require an independent cost-benefit analysis before the Air Force could make such a cut.
Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, introduced the bill Thursday with the backing of the entire Iowa delegation.
“We are signing onto the bill,” Womack said. “We will continue to do what we can to make our case, because we make a great case.”
The bill has little chance of moving forward in the dwindling days of the 112th session and will likely need to be resurrected in January when a new Congress is sworn into office.
The House on Thursday approved a $640.5 billion defense authorization bill, 315-107. The bill, which was expected to clear the Senate later Thursday night, would remove the temporary freeze on some Air Guard mission shifts, including the Iowa Air Guard and the 188th Fighter Wing.
Reps. Womack, Mike Ross, D-Prescott, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted in favor.
Although disappointed with the action against the 188th, Griffin said the bill authorizes “essential funding for our Armed Forces” that he supports and ensures the nation is “prepared to combat threats to our national security.”
Four of the five Iowa congressman voted in opposition to the bill, including Rep. David Loebsack, a Democrat who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
“I strongly oppose plans to significantly cut the Air National Guard,” he said on the House floor Thursday. “That is why I did not sign the conference report and why I will vote against the bill.”
Latham called on President Obama to veto the bill saying it is foolish to eliminate a “historically successful and reliable fighter wing” without weighing the consequences with a cost-benefit analysis and an evaluation of the national security implications.
The White House, however, supports the Air Force proposal to reduce the Air Guard. The Arkansas delegation plans to continue battling for the 188th Fighter Wing in the next year, Womack said.
Womack hopes to land on the Appropriation’s defense subcommittee, where he would have more clout on military issues.
If they are unable to convince the Air Force to retain the A-10s, Womack said they plan to work tirelessly to ensure that Fort Smith gets a reasonable alternative mission.
“It should be a flying mission but absent that then I think we need to get the very best deal we can,” he said.