ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., toured Robins Air Force Base early Tuesday, meeting the base’s leadership and Warner Robins-area community leaders.
Isakson, who is up for re-election this year, spoke for about 20 minutes outside the main gate after touring the installation. The visit was the first of a swing through several military installations in Georgia for Isakson. He left Robins for Fort Gordon in Augusta after the lunchtime news conference.
Speaking near a base that handed out more than $5.8 billion on contracts in fiscal year 2009, Isakson seemed to express tepid support for the Obama administration’s efforts to trim the defense budget without endorsing specific cuts.
“When you have over 100,000 men and women deployed in Afghanistan ... you need to spend what it takes to see to it that they have the materiel, the support and the backing that they need to do their job,” Isakson said. “With that said, there are savings everywhere. We should be looking, as a Congress, toward finding savings.”
Isakson added that “Congressional oversight is woefully lacking in my judgment. I think that’s why some of these expenditures slide under the door and don’t get noticed.”
However, one expenditure, the second engine for the F-35 program, did receive Isakson’s support. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recommended President Obama veto any defense spending bill that includes funding of the second engine.
“The second engine makes sense from a standpoint of having a redundant system to protect the aircraft,” he said. “That aircraft is going to replace three other aircraft that are now in operation in the United States military.”
Isakson had some particularly strong words for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele when asked about Steele’s recent comments that the war in Afghanistan is “a war of Obama’s choosing.”
“This is America’s war, it started under the Bush administration, it’s been continued under the Obama administration,” Isakson said, adding that Steele’s comments were “totally unacceptable.”
Isakson stopped short of calling for Steele to resign.
On the domestic front, Isakson defended his vote to filibuster extending funding for federal unemployment benefits.
“Nancy Pelosi herself referred to unemployment compensation as a stimulus,” Isakson said.
“You got $50 billion in unspent stimulus money sitting right there today that we can pay for the $34 billion in extension of unemployment compensation.”
Isakson expressed his support for local efforts to bring the MC-12W aircraft program to Robins. The Air Force is expected to make a decision on where to base 37 MC-12W aircraft next year.
“That’s a mission I think is perfect for Robins Air Force Base,” Isakson said.
The base restricted Isakson’s media availability while he was inside the Robins gates.
During the news conference, Maj. Gen. Polly Peyer, the commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, remained inside a bus that ferried both her and the senator around the base, according to an Isakson spokeswoman.
To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.