U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey brought his message of support for increased federal defense spending to an appreciative York County audience Friday afternoon.
Standing amid a line of khaki-painted military vehicles, Toomey praised the efforts of manufacturing workers at BAE Systems as vital to national defense.
“York has long been an important manufacturing center,” Toomey told employees gathered to meet the Republican senator as he completed a tour of the West Manchester Township defense contractor’s plant.
BAE’s 1,250 employees “are an absolutely critical part of that,” the senator added.
A fiscally conservative Republican who was elected to a second term in November, Toomey in March was among the strongest voices praising President Donald Trump’s maiden budget proposal for adding $54 billion to defense spending.
“I think the president has made some very constructive suggestions, including a significant increase in our defense spending. The fact is, we’ve let that decline,” Toomey said Friday.
“We have far too few ships at sea, we have too few airplanes that can fly, we have too few vehicles that can show up on the battlefield when needed,” Toomey added. “I think we are going to see increasing resources to fix that.”
Increased output from companies like BAE will help the nation stand ready for any potential threats, Toomey said, ideally serving as a deterrent in the process.
“It’s a very dangerous world,” Toomey said. “The Russians have been increasingly aggressive in Eastern Europe. They’ve annexed Crimea, they’ve invaded Ukraine, they’re deploying more resources in the north … the Baltic States are increasingly concerned,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the Middle East is on fire in multiple places. China has become more aggressive and assertive than ever before in the history of that ancient country,” Toomey added. “So we have a lot of complex threats around the world, and we have to have a qualitative and quantitative ability to deter all of them.”
BAE in focus
Based in London, BAE has U.S. operations headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. Its West Manchester complex covers 143 acres amid the bucolic township’s rolling hills.
There, the company’s main products have included heavy equipment such as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle; the M-88A2 Hercules, a specialized recovery and towing vehicle for tanks; and the M-109 series of self-propelled howitzers.
Business picked up dramatically in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
As that engagement wound down, so did some of the company’s business, BAE’s Adam B. Zarfoss told the Business Journal last fall in a 9/11 retrospective.
But the potential for danger in other hot spots around the globe tends to be cyclical, and BAE is once again gearing up for increased production, said Zarfoss, vice president of the company’s combat vehicles operations.
The company expects to add about 500 more people over the coming four to five years, he added, and is planning to invest $25 million in its facilities over the next 18 months.
Those plans were set in action before Trump’s election in November, Zarfoss said, and are not linked to the president’s budget proposal.
Any additional spending that may come BAE’s way as a result is certainly welcome, Zarfoss added.
Budget, trade, Russia
Toomey addressed the media briefly at the end of the tour, talking about other elements of Trump’s policies and budget, including some areas where he and the president may not see eye to eye.
• On proposed spending cuts, including for the Environmental Protection Agency, which faces the loss of almost one-third of its budget:
“I’m not convinced that the EPA can’t do its job with a smaller budget,” Toomey said. “I think there are a lot of agencies in Washington that never have, or have not for a long time, had to go through the exercise of deciding what’s essential versus what’s nice to have.
“If you throw money at a federal agency, I assure you they will find a way to spend it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth,” he said.
• On differences with Trump:
“In some cases, I know I disagree with what the president has proposed, such as the reduction in (National Institutes of Health) funding.
NIH serves as the nation’s comprehensive. medical research agency.
“I think it’s essential that we maintain and increase NIH funding,” Toomey said.
“But as a general matter, the idea the (president’s) higher priority needs to be the defense budget, and a lower priority generally being the non-defense discretionary spending? I agree with that direction,” the senator said.
• On trade deals and NAFTA:
Candidate Trump spoke loudly against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), blaming NAFTA for a quarter-century of U.S. job losses and vowing to prevent TPP from siphoning more work away from American manufacturers.
Pulling out of TPP was one of the first priorities Trump announced after his election victory, and new details have emerged this week about how the administration might look to renegotiate NAFTA.
“I am concerned,” Toomey said Friday, when asked about the possibility of significantly altering or rolling back NAFTA,
“Some in the administration are overly focused on the trade deficit, which is a misunderstanding on the nature of trade and trade relationships,” he said. “I want to see how they intend to proceed, but I intend to watch that carefully.”
“It is very, very important that Pennsylvania be able to export the many things that we export — agriculture, manufactured products, bio-pharmaceutical products. There’s a wide range of jobs in Pennsylvania that depend on our ability to sell products overseas,” Toomey said. “I wouldn’t want to have countries around the world deciding they’re going to retaliate against the United States by refusing to import good Pennsylvania products.”
• On the Russia probe:
Having named Russian aggression as a military concern, Toomey was asked whether enough is being done to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“I think there’s a lot to be investigated, and I do think that the Senate Intelligence Committee is doing that job,” he said, adding that the panel is doing so with bipartisan cooperation.
“With respect to Russia’s attempt to intervene in our election, but also with regard to the surveillance that we know has been conducted, we need to know whether it was done legally and under what authority,” he said.
“So all of that needs to be thoroughly investigated. I’m in favor of that and I remain optimistic that our Senate Intelligence Committee can get that job done.”