News broke last month U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) was considering adding language to a must-pass spending bill to slow the Pentagon’s phase-out of Russian-made rocket engines used to launch military satellites into space.
Shelby, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has since been able to add said language to the Omnibus — a catchall spending bill that would fund the federal government until after the presidential election next November — that was released Wednesday morning.
In the midst of the 2,000-page bill, Shelby’s efforts have resulted in a lone paragraph that would allow United Launch Alliance (ULA) to continue buying RD-180 engines from Moscow until a domestic alternative is available, which Shelby has already worked to secure more than $300 million in funding for domestic development. However, his office tells Alabama Today it could be another four to five years at best before an American alternative is available.
In Congress, Shelby’s most vocal opponent is former Republican presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who argues on behalf of the phase-out, which could negatively impact more than 800 jobs at the ULA outfit in Decatur located near Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
Outside of Washington, Shelby’s primary opponent former Marine Captain Jonathan McConnell is none too pleased with the Senator’s latest legislative accomplishment and is sounding the bullhorn against him accusing him of endangering national security in return for a few votes.
“Richard Shelby’s willingness to give President Obama’s liberal agenda a blank check in return for a few votes reveals just how out of touch he has become with the values and priorities of Alabamians in his 37 years in Washington, D.C.,” said McConnell. “This Omnibus bill does nothing to defund Planned Parenthood or Obamacare, allows Obama’s executive amnesty to continue, and does nothing to ensure the refugees soon arriving from the Middle East are being sufficiently vetted.”
He continued, “In the stroke of a pen today Shelby proved two things: He no longer has a grasp on the precarious nature of our foreign policy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has shown a growing inclination to give aide to the terrorist state of Iran, and he is willing to rubber stamp over $1 trillion in federal spending, including all of President Obama’s liberal pet projects, over a few sentences he hopes will buy him some votes.”
But Shelby, who plans to oppose the Omnibus as a whole, contends he is actually working to protect national security in supporting the RD-180.
“I’m the first one to argue that we should not depend on any foreign power for access to space — especially in the national security arena,” Shelby explained. “However, I agree with our nation’s top military leaders who say that restricting the use of the RD-180 will undermine our national security for years to come.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, among other officials and top military officers have also joined Shelby in expressing concern over the RD-180 ban.
“Anyone who supports banning the RD-180 is arguing that it is acceptable for our troops under fire around the world to be left blind on the battlefield,” Shelby continued. “This is a reckless and irresponsible approach that needlessly endangers our national security.”