Ex-Senators' Lobbying Firm Hired To Defend Tanker Deal

March 14th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Ex-Senators' Lobbying Firm Hired To Defend Tanker Deal

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
March 14, 2008 Team hopes to quell anger over award
By Eric Rosenberg, Hearst Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- Northrop Grumman Corp. has hired a lobbying firm headed by two former U.S. senators to defend the Air Force decision awarding the company and French-based Airbus a lucrative contract to build a new fleet of tanker planes.
The two former senators, John Breaux, D-La., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., will seek to quell grumbling among some lawmakers who think The Boeing Co. should have won the business.
Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman hired the company, the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group, earlier this week.
Lott once served as Republican leader in the Senate. Breaux retired from the Senate in 2005, where he served in leadership positions such as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and as chief deputy whip.
Breaux said in an interview that his firm would lobby on a variety of Northrop Grumman programs, including Navy shipbuilding contracts. But "the main project now for the short term is going to be the tanker project and making sure that the right message gets out."
One of those messages will respond to charges by Boeing supporters that the Airbus and Northrop Grumman aircraft is a foreign-made plane.
The Northrop Grumman and Airbus tanker "will probably have 60 percent or more U.S. content," Breaux said, adding that the project will add between 25,000 and 48,000 U.S. jobs.
The other message that Breaux and Lott are making: Airbus and Northrop Grumman won the deal fair and square and Boeing supporters have no cause to try to reverse it.
"Our argument is, look, everybody knew the rules before they got into the competition," Breaux said. "Everybody knew what the Air Force and the military were demanding."
Breaux added that neither side seeking the contract was a novice in the business.
"They all knew the rules and played by the rules. After the game is over, you don't come in and try to change the rules because you didn't win," he said.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, which oversees defense-related budgets, has threatened to hold up funds for the tanker following the Airbus victory.
Lott won't be able to lobby his former colleagues because Senate ethics rules bar that kind of work for one year after a senator retires; Lott left in December.
The Air Force shocked the aerospace industry Feb. 29, by choosing a team of Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., and Northrop Grumman to build the new mid-air refueling tankers.
The initial program is valued at around $35 billion but could grow to $100 billion if the Air Force places additional orders.
Boeing has protested the contract award to the Government Accountability Office and is seeking to have it overturned.
Breaux said that as a former lawmaker, he can relate to the pressures on the congressional delegations from Washington and Kansas, home to major Boeing manufacturing facilities.
"If I was the senator or congressman from a state that did not get the contract, I would be trying to do everything that I could to reverse it," he said. "We are particularly sensitive to the political pressures (lawmakers) are going to be under. I think that is why I can be helpful."

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