by Glenn Tschimpke
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are at a crossroads this year. Recent military initiatives and economic recession have effectively wiped out projected budget surpluses. U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw spoke Monday at the Rotary Club luncheon to discuss some of Congress’ crucial national and local issues in the months and years ahead.
“The big thing right now is we’re working on the budget,” said Crenshaw, a member of the House’s budget committee. “The big priorities for the budget are, number one, win the war against terrorism. There is $38 billion in new money for the military in the budget this year. We need to make sure we protect the homeland. That’s a big issue and there’s a lot of money in the budget to beef up the Coast Guard around our community, which is going to be important, I expect, just because of our port. And then an economic security package the president has proposed. We’re coming out of a recession, so he wants to get the economy moving. There’s about a $70 billion economic stimulus package that we’re going to be considering.”
Crenshaw said there is an internal struggle among some legislators between trying to balance the budget or approve between $50-100 billion in deficit spending.
The big military emphasis turns attention to Jacksonville, which is home to two major Navy bases. While Naval Air Station Cecil Field fell to past Base Realignment and Closure initiatives, Crenshaw, a member of the Armed Services, Budget and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is confident that Naval Station Mayport and NAS Jacksonville will be well-insulated against future BRAC actions.
“The next round of BRAC won’t start until 2005,” he said. “We have two bases here that are always under scrutiny. Mayport is so strategic because of its location right there at the mouth of the St. Johns River. You can be in open water in 30 minutes. NAS Jax, the Navy Depot: there are only three of those depots that really work on airplanes. They’re vital, not only to national security, but they’re important to our community.”
Mayport’s resident aircraft carrier, the USS Kennedy, is scheduled for overhaul once it returns from its deployment. Some speculate that it may subsequently switch home ports. Because Mayport cannot currently accommodate a nuclear carrier, the base could at least temporarily be without a flagship, which does not bode well for the local economy and the base’s strategic usefulness. The future is still cloudy for Mayport.
“The Navy is not going to decide probably for another two or three years what the plan is,” said Crenshaw. “The Kennedy may stay here. Everybody assumes it will go to Japan when they retire the last non-nuclear carrier. Japan doesn’t want nuclear carriers. They may change their mind and say they want nuclear carriers. We may say if they don’t want a nuclear carrier, we’ll put one in Guam or somewhere else. It’s all up in the air. But what we’ve been doing is we’re trying to get Mayport ready if and when there’s an opportunity for an nuclear carrier. Then we’ll be able to house it there.”
Finally, it’s an election year for Crenshaw, who says he definitely plans to run again. He’s already drawn some tentative competition from Deborah Katz Pueschel, but he says there isn’t much he can do until the Florida legislature redraws his district.
“I don’t know yet exactly what my district is going to look like,” he said. “Nobody really knows. People can run, but until the new districts are drawn, you don’t know what district you’re going to be in.”