Shelby Tries to Shut Down US Senate to Benefit Foreign Company

There has been a lot of discussion of how foreign companies will be able to influence elections and politics given the Citizens United deal. But foreign companies are already dominating our politics.

Consider Richard Shelby’s decision to place holds on all of Obama’s nominees unless some federal money that may benefit Alabama gets released.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has put an extraordinary “blanket hold” on at least 70 nominations President Obama has sent to the Senate, according to multiple reports this evening. The hold means no nominations can move forward unless Senate Democrats can secure a 60-member cloture vote to break it, or until Shelby lifts the hold.

The key issue is that Shelby wants the Air Force to tweak an RFP for refueling tankers so that Airbus (partnered with Northrup Grumman) would win the bid again over Boeing. The contract had been awarded in 2008, but the GAO found that the Air Force had erred in calculating the award. After the Air Force wrote a new RFP in preparation to rebid the contract, Airbus calculated that it would not win the new bid, and started complaining. Now, Airbus is threatening to withdraw from the competition unless the specs in the RFP are revised.

Essentially, then, Shelby’s threat is primarily about gaming this bidding process to make sure Airbus–and not Boeing–wins the contract (there’s a smaller program he’s complaining about, too, but this is the truly huge potential bounty for his state).

I understand why any Senator would fight for jobs in his or her state. And I understand that there was dirty corruption in this original contracting process.

But underlying the refueling contract is the question of whether the US military ought to spend what may amount to $100 billion over the life of the contract with a foreign company, Airbus. Particularly a company that the WTO found preliminarily to be illegally benefiting from subsidies from European governments.

Richard Shelby is preparing to shut down the Senate to try to force the government to award a key military function to a foreign company.

  1. allan says:

    Frankly, EW, I’m shocked by your xenophobia.
    Would it help if the planes were renamed “Freedom Tankers”?

  2. klynn says:

    Do the votes. Anyone who does not join the 60 vote count is evidently willing to support one state only over the overriding concern for our national security by having so many posts unfilled due to Shelby’s love of a foreign company.

    Frame the lack of care for our nation in Shelby’s move.

    Doesn’t the mob use a similar tactic?

    I know my Ohio senators would hear an ear-full from me for doing so.

  3. hole says:

    Aw, don’t forget–Richard Shelby is the smart senator from Alabama. This is not shark-jumping; it’s part of a plan.

    My guess is that other Republicans have already signed on, or will do so soon, with their own earmarks. They’ll extort a little something as a price for the right to govern a little.

    What will the voters think? They may admire the cleverness and “guts.” They like for senators to act tough and bring home the bacon.

    Course I don’t have any inside information on what’s really up with this. I just know that something is up. If it were Jeff Sessions pulling this stunt, I’d be laughing along with everybody else, but Shelby is in control of himself.

    Another possibility is serial extortion–first Shelby gets his, then the next Republican puts in for his, and so on down the line. Senior guys first.

    I don’t guess that this is the sort of thing you can use to bring down the filibuster rule, but something useable will probably come up. Maybe they’ll filibuster a war appropriation, that could serve well.

    • emptywheel says:

      I’m not so sure. It’s going to pit NG Senators against Boeing Senators. Haven’t done the math on that, but with the added issue that this is about outsourcing jobs to the French, IF this picks up in the perss, I think Shelby will face some difficulty sustaining this.

      • scribe says:

        IIRC, didn’t some senior people in Air Force procurement go to prison over the bidding on the prior, invalidated contract. Something about rigging it so they would get a job or soliciting employment for post-government career?

        Yeah. She was a real wheeler-dealer. Here’s a list….

        So, Shelby wants to do much the same thing, only this time for the French.

    • alan1tx says:

      What will the voters think?

      This response is directed to everyone who say’s “Force the vote, finger the obstructionists, then the voters will know!”

      In reality, not one percent of the population will have any clue. FDL readers stay involved, but 99% do not.


  4. SaltinWound says:

    Is there any particular reason these holds have to be honored? This is all up to Harry Reid. Sometimes these holds are honored, sometimes not. Why are they being treated as a real impediment?

    • ShotoJamf says:

      Is there any particular reason these holds have to be honored? This is all up to Harry Reid.

      Um…there’s your first clue.

  5. gregory says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but air-to-air refueling wouldn’t be a key military function if the US were to begin living within its means and leaving behind the mindset that we either own or owe the world.

    • TarheelDem says:

      The issue is that the Pentagon says that it has enough air-to-air refueling planes. The program was reduced. It’s not just swinging the contract, it’s also getting a defense cut restored to the budget.

      • gregory says:

        Um, who are we defending the US against, and what puts that perimeter outside of continental base range?

        • bmaz says:

          The range of fighter jets require air refueling even for continental dude; and if you don’t think that the deterrence of greater capabilities than continental US is absolutely necessary, you are hopelessly naive. Now you can argue whether we need new air tankers, what kind or how many; but arguing that they are not needed at all is insane.

  6. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Washington State and Illinois both have a Boeing presence one has the factory the other the corporate head quarters Boeing needs every job they can get right now Shelby’s plan in not happening.
    This is where we need a real leader in the Senate someone to tell Shelby vote our way or every army base in your state gets closed in the first round of base closings.
    Pork for your state thats gone. Your biggest political contributers we know what they want they won’t get it until you vote our way.

  7. sadlyyes says:


  8. temptingfate says:

    Great details.

    Republicans fighting to benefit companies with strong foreign ties against American businesses is the kind of thing they have always loved to level against the Democrats. In the weird new world were corporate allegiance is more important that national responsibilities no political behavior is predictable.

    I’m so old I can remember when making sure that critical weapons were built by American companies was considered essential to the national defense. How Shelby defends this to the conservatives back home that don’t work for Grumman and that still favor patriotism should make for some interesting reading.

  9. hole says:

    French jobs? We’re talking Alabama jobs!!! Crazy hippies can talk about French jobs, but hey.

    The senators from Boeing can put their chits in, too. Shelby isn’t asking for the entire aeronautical industry, just a big ridiculous chunk of it.

    On the other hand, I’m one of those old-fashioned types, even though I’ve never been to Michigan–I think the default position on federal projects, esp. defense projects, ought to maximize American jobs. Partly cuz I am almost xenophobic and fear that if we don’t keep making anti-aircraft guns or whatever, we’re going to lose the capacity to make them quickly if we ever have to. But mostly because Americans need jobs. One of my sons was recently a U.S. senate page, and the uniform they supplied him with was made in Canada…. how does that help our country?

  10. selise says:

    Richard Shelby is preparing to shut down the Senate to try to force the government to award a key military function to a foreign company.

    how is shelby able to shut down the senate unless the dems let him? is he threatening to object to every UC, demand every bill be read in full, and stuff like that? or is it something else?

  11. WilliamOckham says:

    It is no coincidence that this happened right after Scott Brown was sworn in. This could be a pivotal point for the American political system. If either of them had any sense, McConnell and Reid would be working together to slap down Shelby on this. If they don’t, the legislative branch will completely lose legitimacy and power to the executive branch.

  12. karnak12 says:

    ja, ja, this is so funny. these idiots have allowed themselves to be put in a position where their whole process can be hamstrung by ONE person.

    They deserve everything they get

  13. Frugalchariot says:

    I’m thinking we could save a LOT of money by hiring a foreign entity to help us rebuild our nuclear arsenal, too. I’ll bet Iran would really work cheap for us. Might need a smallish local investment on our behalf — maybe, say, we could pump a few hundred million into the Space Flight Center in Huntsville (Alabama, of course), offer the Iranians some help on launch vehicles. Anything to get Shelby’s support, I’d say.

    And people still vote for the treasonous bastards that have come to define — down the their last idiot member (all of them i.o.w.) of the Republican Party. Pardon me while I go retch.

  14. PJEvans says:

    The headline I saw the other morning was that Mr O thinks the C-17 funding is a waste of money.
    It’s built in SoCal, where the jobs are more valuable than the planes.

    Someone needs to take these potential earmarks/pork barrel projects, and remind Shelby (and all the other Lords of the Senate) that they shouldn’t complain about budget deficits when they’re scheming to put projects in the budget.

  15. pluky says:

    Simple solution here. A blanket recess appointment of every single nominee currently being “held” in Senate limbo.

    • karnak12 says:

      No, no! Only G. Bush would have the hutzpah to do that (I really don’t think he thought that up on his own).

      I mean that is so last year and end run and all. and worst of all, it’s non-bipartisan!

  16. robspierre says:

    In the interest of completeness, we should remember that there are some good reasons to resist awarding this contract to Boeing, even if the means and motivations of Shelby are obviously corrupt.

    Airbus originally won the competition on merit, but the lease contract was awarded to Boeing due to the usual revolving-door favoritism in the Defense Department and the general corruption of the Bush years. An Air Force procurement official passed confidential Airbus bid information to Boeing before resigning and accepting a lucrative position with Boeing. But collusion clearly involved everyone up through Rumsfeld to Cheyney and Bush himself. The whole business was quite a scandal

    The original Boeing award was set aside, and the competition was rebid. Boeing lost. But Airbus still did not get the contract. Instead, tanker procurement was put on hold until Boeing could be assured of a victory.

    Boeing could legitimately have been barred from bidding on this and other government work as a result of its conduct. It wasn’t only because it, effectively, IS the aerospace/defense industry in the US, with a complete monopoly on the large, transport-type aircraft used for tankers.

    So this is not a dispute I’d care to be party too. Airbus does benefit from subsidies (though Boeing does too, if less directly), and I doubt that their business practices are much if at all better. But, if I had to choose, I’d probably argue that buying Airbus is in our best interests, if only to punish Boeing. We will do more business with Boeing and other American defense contractors over time, so we have to do something to bring them to heel on the rare occassions when we can. Denyng contracts is the only measure that really hits their bottom line.

    • PJEvans says:

      Maybe if they didn’t write RFPs that were slanted to favor particular bidders, we’d have more competitive businesses in this country.

      And maybe we’d all have ponies and flying cars, too.

      • robspierre says:

        The RFP was re-written to favor Boeing, which is why we are where we are now.

        As I recall, the original Air Force RFP specified a smaller aircraft than Boeing had available and preferred new rather than used aircraft–both were defensible positions on their merits. Both speicifications favored Airbus, and Boeing’s original bid didn’t offset Airbus’ advantages with better price or performance. So Boeing used insider information and friends in high places to win in spite of the RFP. When that scheme blew up, they got the bidding delayed until their suspension was over. Then, when they lost again, they protested and had the RFP re-written to match what they had to sell, leaving Airbus at the disadvantage.

  17. sbgypsy99 says:

    Wasn’t this the one where they were going to build a whole fleet of airplanes that were to be kept in National Guard hangars, and not one state had National Guard hangars that are big enough to fit the new aircraft. None of the states wanted (or could afford) to build new hangars.

  18. tinah2751 says:

    According to EmptyW Airbus won’t win the new bid regardless and they aren’t supposed to be supsidized by the EU, etc. so bid goes to Boeing. Sounds like Boeing has had lots of underhandedness “in this process for this project (?)” Didn’t McSame and DeMented and a few others just have a press conference yesterday about a bill they are sponsoring to have a moritorium on all earmarks for a year. They want to “test” just how serious Obama and the Democrats are about ending dreaded earmarks. Guess they forgot to tell Shelby. Certainly he wasn’t at this press conference. That WOULD be crazy. If only the poples understood that earmarks are directed spending and the money if not directed by appropriators would not be sent back in checks to taxpayers.

  19. dpboehm says:

    The is also an undercurrent here that hasn’t been discussed as yet, whether government contracts go to plantation non-union South or to a unionized company.

  20. sundog says:

    OK, let me shine a little light on this.

    1.) Shelby actually has a reason to throw a fit. The new “proposal” for the new tanker is designed to fit the Boeing design more than the Northrop-Grumman (Airbus) design. It isn’t an “open” competition for the best design to meet the requirements anymore. Having said that, Shelby is being a dick about it.

    2) The Boeing tanker design can’t do everything the Northrop-Grumman design can do. For instance, the Boeing design can’t refuel the C-5 Galaxy, because it’s boom doesn’t have a high enough fuel flow rate. So there will probably be added costs in the future to redesign it to meet this requirement.

    3) I don’t mind that they design the contract to meet the Boeing proposal, but let’s stop pretending that it’s an “open” competition and just admit it. Of course, this is also the result of the U.S. Gov. allowing all of our aerospace manufacturers to merge to the point where only certain manufacturers have the ability to make these planes; In this case, Boeing.

    4) I get the American jobs angle, but Boeing is moving manufacturing to North Carolina to bust it’s unions in Seattle, with regard to the 787, and they’ve talked about the manufacturing their replacement for the 737, which will be coming up in the next decade, in China. There is precedence for this as Cessna’s new LSA, the Skycatcher, is manufactured in China. Until any administration does something about shipping jobs overseas, I don’t see this changing. So pardon me if I don’t shed too many tears for Boeing.

    5). The new helicopter that President Obama canceled, that was going to be his new one, was a European product as well. It was a version of the Agusta/Westland AW-101 to be built by Lockheed Martin, in much the same sense that the Northrop-Grumman tankers would have been built in Alabama. So lets not act like this is something new.

    6.) The USAF does need new tankers badly, as you can only extend an airframes life so far, before it become cost prohibitive to extend their life. Not just because of the costs of re-winging and re-engining, but because the old design just can’t meet the lower operating costs of newer designs.

    • emptywheel says:

      Agree with the points about the difference in the contracting. And frankly, about how this fits into a general context of disappearing jobs.

      But yeah, Shelby’s being a dick about it. And that’s why I’m calling him on it. When Boeing lost the first contract its Senators (including Barack Obama) didn’t shut down the Senate to pout.

      • sundog says:

        So true!

        I can’t understand why Barack just doesn’t pass them as recess appointments, not that they shouldn’t go after Shelby and the GOP for holding them up, and when the GOP complains about it, Barack could just respond, “The American people can’t wait for you guys to grow up and stop throwing your tantrums. We have work to do and we need these appointments to get that work done.”

        • emptywheel says:

          In this case, I hope it goes on just long enough to finally demonstrate how out of bounds the Republicans are being. I agree with what you say about the contract, but I really think they didn’t calculate in the optics of fighting for Airbus, and I’m happy to use that, for the meantime.

          ANd then let the damn contracting officer decide whether the Airbus complaint has merit.

        • appmanga says:

          You’re absolutely right. I believe the next Congressional recess will take place for President’s Day, and, as you said Obama should do this, and take his case for doing so to the American people.

    • NCDem says:

      Small correction on an otherwise great comment. The movement of production on the 787 is set for Charleston, SC and not North Carolina.

  21. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Richard Shelby is preparing to shut down the Senate to try to force the government to award a key military function to a foreign company.

    After wondering WTF Shelby was smoking when he pulled this stunt, I figured that if the Dems don’t turn this incident inside-out so the public gets a whiff on the whole sliminess, then the Dems don’t deserve to be in Congress, either.

    This is definitely an ‘opportunity’ and a ‘teachable moment.
    If the Dems have enough guts and brains to use it.