The Senate Armed Services Committee is working on a plan to block the Air Force's plans to retire the A-10 attack jet. (Airman 1st Class Benjamin Wiseman/Air Force)
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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., “believes he has good ideas” to save the A-10, his Republican colleague Sen. Kelly Ayotte said Wednesday.
Ayotte, of New Hampshire and a principal advocate in the fight to block the Air Force’s plans to retire the attack jet, told reporters that Levin “believes there needs to be a payfor different than what the House came up with.”
The House Armed Services Committee last week approved an amendment from Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., to offset the cuts with about $635 million allocated from the overseas contingency operations budget. Levin said this week that the amendment’s plan is “not a legitimate offset.”
While the Senate committee does not yet have a plan to find the funding, “I am working with Levin to come up with a payfor that does not use OCO but stays within budget caps,” Ayotte said.
The Air Force has said other ways to find the approximate $3.7 billion in savings over five years could be the retirement of the entire B-1B Lancer fleet or about 350 F-16s. Lawmakers have not said if these cuts are a possibility, but Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters that the A-10 is cheaper to fly than the other aircraft and can better serve the close air support role than the other jets.
“We listen very carefully to the United States Army,” McCain said. “They’re the ones who need close air support, they’re the ones in grave danger without it. ... If we did away with the A-10, it would reduce dramatically the ability of the United States Army and Marine Corps from receiving what is a critical element of the battlefield equation.”
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Air Force Times on Tuesday that the service has been begging Congress to not cut from readiness funds in order to keep the A-10, to avoid situations like the sequestration-imposed grounding of 13 combat squadrons last year.
James said that despite the House committee’s action, there are still other committees yet to work on the bill and the service must keep working with Congress to explain that the A-10 cuts are the right decision to find savings.