Here’s Galrahn’s take on the Navy’s decision to decommission six Tico cruisers in the next two years:
It is fairly obvious to this observer that the Navy put these cruisers on the chopping block precisely because they expected Congress to swoop in and save the 6 cruisers the Navy wants to save, and allow the Navy to dump the amphibious ships and no one will care. Cruisers are shiny toys that represent power projection, and these specific cruisers have a significant future ahead of them if the money was to be found and made available for the US Navy to keep them. To big Navy, amphibious ships are dull and boring, and all they do is all the hard, unsexy stuff.
I believe it is fairly obvious Congress is doing exactly what the Navy and the Obama administration wants them to do – saving the 6 cruisers and allowing the Navy to retire USS Port Royal (CG 73), and in fact the House Republicans are saving the cruisers in exactly the way the Navy and Obama administration (by that I mean SECNAV and CNO) wants them to do it – by making it an issue the House Republicans feel ownership of and thus are able to find funding for when budgets everywhere are tight. The Obama administration is basically using Rep. Forbes and Rep. McKeon to find money and pay for the administrations ballistic missile defense policy that is otherwise neglected and unfunded by the administration. It is part of a political game, and the Republicans seem perfectly willing to be played like a political fiddle in this political game.
We see this every year, but usually the gambit is played on a smaller scale. Frank in the comments here suggested that this was what was at play in the Navy’s change to the schedule for buying Virginia class SSNs. Other times, you’ll see the Air Force skip a request for C-17s or C-130s, knowing full well Congress will fund them. That way the services get credit for “saving money” but still end up getting what they want.
But defense budgets, even in the “peace dividend” era of the 90s, haven’t been all that austere. It was pretty easy for Congress to “plus up” a program in the good economy of the 1990s, even if the DoD was shrinking. Now? Not so much. Congress might very well call the Navy’s bluff and let the ships go. As Galrahn often argues, if they Navy won’t argue the case for buying and keeping ships, why should Congress?