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Lawmakers fume over lack of shipbuilding plan, blast decision to cut submarine program

Senate Armed Services members also question the move to shift Department of Defense funds to pay for the border wall.

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers seem to be growing weary of what they view as excuses when it comes to the lack of a 30-year shipbuilding plan from the Navy and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

They let Assistant Secretary or the Navy James Geurts have it after he told them, "I can't communicate exactly when that will be."

Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) didn't like it.

"That response, he'll get it to us when he's ready, is unacceptable," Perdue said. "We have a due date. You wouldn't allow your soldiers and sailors to do that. We can't allow that here. It's a law."

Senate Armed Services Committee members also questioned Geurts on the recent Navy decision to cut the Virginia-class submarine program. 

"The fiscal year 2021 budget request only includes funding to purchase a single Virginia Class submarine," said Sen Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). "The decision has the potential to put stress on the defense industrial base and jeopardize the Navy's ability to exercise the option for a tenth boat."

Guerts said the Navy likes the Virginia Class submarine, but there simply isn't enough money.

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Hirono called it a "pure affordability issue when we had to balance everything we had in there."

Committee members also criticized the Trump administration's unilateral decisions, citing the declared national emergency, to repurpose $3.8 billion from the Fiscal Year 2020 budget to pay for the border wall.

"I think all of us would highly prefer that the money we gave to the D.o.D. stays in the D.o.D. account. It's not used for a non-military emergency," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia). 

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) made her displeasure clear.

"The President's emergency declaration is taking $3.8 billion from 2020 funds that are going for projects that the military and Congress have said we need," Shaheen said. "We've already signed off. I think there's some legal question about whether what the President has done is constitutional."

One piece of good news did come out of the hearing.

The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations spoke glowingly about the USS Gerald R. Ford.

Vice Admiral James Kilby didn't say when the aircraft carrier's many problems will be solved, but he did say the ship and crew are "performing magnificently."

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