Groton — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., took advantage of a visit by top Navy officials to Electric Boat Monday to advocate for restoring the attack submarine cut under President Donald Trump's latest budget proposal.
The lawmakers joined the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russ Smith as they toured submarines under construction and the major expansion project going on at the Groton shipyard.
Gilday and Smith also visited the Naval Submarine Base to welcome home the crew of the USS Colorado, which returned last week from its maiden deployment, and visit the medical clinic on base "to see how mental health providers are helping Sailors build resiliency," according to a Navy news release.
"The incredible work our Sailors and Electric Boat workforce are doing here ensures our submarine fleet is prepared to accomplish their critical mission," Gilday said in a prepared statement. "Their expertise and commitment to our Navy is essential to keeping us lethal and ready to fight."
Courtney said the timing of the visit was "fortuitous," providing an opportunity for representatives from EB, the Navy, himself and the senators to all be in one place and "hash out" a host of issues that have come up recently including 300 trades workers at EB being furloughed and the Navy's budget for next year.
The furlough issue can be fixed, Courtney said, if the Navy and EB act quickly to execute a contract allowing the affected employees to work at the Navy's public shipyards in Virginia and New Hampshire, where there are openings, in the interim. He said such an arrangement has been used in the past when furloughs have come up at EB.
Less than a month after EB president Kevin Graney announced the company's plan to hire as many as 18,000 people over the next 10 years, EB announced that it was furloughing 300 employees. The company attributed the furloughs to a dip in submarine production as it transitions from one submarine contract to another.
Connecticut's delegates also spent time during Monday's visit to highlight the impact cutting an attack submarine would have on the Groton shipyard. Murphy said in a statement that the visit "was a critical reminder of how important it is for the United States to invest in our submarine fleet and industrial base to make sure we are prepared for decades to come."
Blumenthal, in a separate statement, said he emphasized to Gilday and Smith "the critical importance" of funding the attack submarine in fiscal year 2021 "and the strong advocacy I'll be devoting to it on the Senate Armed Services Committee."
"Today's visit makes me all the more determined to convince my colleagues that shortchanging the Virginia class program is shortsighted and dangerous," he said.
Though the funding for the submarine was cut from next year's budget proposal, the impact on the workforce likely wouldn't be felt until 2023-24. Courtney said the impact would be "much more pronounced" than the 300 furloughs announced recently.
Courtney said it is a good sign that the Navy last week listed the attack submarine as the top priority on its unfunded priorities list — a wish list of programs that were not included in the president's budget proposal.
That is a big help, he said, as Congress begins the process of debating the budget, including a hearing on the Navy budget that will be convened Wednesday by the House Armed Services Committee, during which acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, Gilday and Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger will testify.