For Clinton, Two Different Stances On Two Pentagon Contracts

03/28/2008 02:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

This past week, Sen. Hillary Clinton derided the Pentagon's decision to award a $40 billion defense contract to build mid-flight refueling tankers to a team consisting of Northrop Grumman and EADS, a European company.

Such a move, she warned, would cost America jobs and, she hinted, have the potential to undermine national security.

"I am deeply concerned," she said, "about the Bush administration's decision to outsource the production of refueling tankers for the American military."

But just three years ago, Clinton was on the exact opposite side of the military-contracting debate. In January 2005, the New York Senator deftly maneuvered -- from her perch on the Senate Armed Services Committee -- a multi-billion-dollar contract to buy presidential helicopters from a consortium that also included European companies.

That deal, which paid Lockheed Martin and England-based AgustaWestland $6.1 billion for 23 high-tech Marine Ones, had also aroused congressional anger about outsourcing.

"Made in America should mean something," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, whose district includes Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. the company that lost out on the contract. "The Defense Department has some explaining to do."

But unlike last week, none of these concerns came from Sen. Clinton. In fact, she was the deal's biggest champion. Part the new helicopter fleet was to be built in Lockheed's Owego, New York plant, which meant more than 700 new jobs for her state. And the Senator fought tooth-and-nail to make sure the contract went through.

Calling the new aircraft an "Oval Office in the sky," she took test flights in the chopper, met with navy administrators and even called then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair to figure out how to get the deal secured. "Lockheed Martin won it fair and square," she said at the time, "and the people at the Owego plant worked their hearts out for this project."

Three years later, no such 'tough-luck' was offered in defense of Northup Grumman.

The seeming incongruity in Clinton's stances underscores the contrasting demands of being a member of Congress and a presidential candidate. Different constituencies demand different things, and Clinton is hardly the first politician to adjust her rhetoric accordingly. But for some defense analysts, the change in positions is "stunning."

"This is just a tremendous amount of hypocrisy on her part," said John Robinson, managing editor of Defense Daily. "She never questioned the security concerns of Marine One, even though there was a security protest... Now she is raising concern about this tanker deal, which is not as sensitive a project. It is basically a gas tank in the sky."

There are differences between the Lockheed and Northrop deals. For starters, the U.S. government is currently suing Airbus, which is owned by EADS, at the World Trade Organization for receiving illegal subsidies, a fact Clinton cited in her opposition. The European Union, however, is suing Boeing (the alternative contractor) for the exact same thing.

But many of the underlying implication of the two deals are remarkably similar. In both cases, an estimated 60-65 percent of the work created from the contracts would be done in the United States. Northrop's production center will be based in Mobile, Alabama.

And in each instance, concerns were raised about the security implications of handing over Pentagon work to foreign-owned companies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose state of California has Boeing factories, expressed such worries about the tanker deal last week. In 2005, meanwhile, Chris Dodd, whose jurisdiction includes the Sikorsky plant, offered an amendment that would have made foreign companies who developed the Marine One helicopter pledge to not conduct business with state sponsors of terrorism. AgustaWestland officials had attended an air show in Iran.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to requests to explain why or if the Senator's position had changed. As Robinson noted, the dynamics facing Clinton in 2005 and 2008 were quiet different.

"I think it is all what the priority is at the time," he said. "I don't think there is a lot of concern about getting the best material any more. It is the footprint of the jobs created (or lost)."

Ironically, one of the states that will benefit from the new contract is Ohio, where Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama just battled over who was best equipped to revitalize the state's moribund economy. General Electric, which will receive money to build the engines for the refueling tankers, is slated to produce the part in its Cincinnati factory.