Can ‘A-10 Caucus’ Wield Power in Era of Big Donors, Spending Caps?

Sen. Kelly Ayotte speaks last Thursday at an event on the A-10 on Capitol Hill. To her left is Sen. Lindsey Graham, and to the right are Sens. James Risch and John McCain. (JOHN T. BENNETT/Defense News)

Sen. Kelly Ayotte speaks last Thursday at an event on the A-10 on Capitol Hill. On the right is Sen. Lindsey Graham, and on the left are Sens. James Risch and John McCain. (JOHN T. BENNETT/Defense News)

Got an issue? Well, there’s probably a caucus for that on Capitol Hill. And if something becomes an issue, there’s a chance a caucus won’t be far behind. Meet Capitol Hill’s latest — though unofficial — one: the A-10 Caucus.

There is a group — small, so far — that opposes an Air Force plan to retire its aging A-10 attack planes later this decade to help its budget fit within spending caps. It includes some influential senators and at least one who has some sway on the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee.

It might be easy to dismiss the emerging A-10 Caucus as too small and powerless. But there are reasons to think this group might be able to find a way to offset the price of keeping the A-10s flying — and twist just enough arms to get its plan passed in both 2015 defense bills.

The group includes these members from states where A-10s are based or there is another major tie to the fleet: Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho., and Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga.

It also includes one senator — for now — who wants the attack plane to remain in the fleet until the F-35A comes online because “the Taliban hates” it. That would be Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Don’t snicker at Graham’s involvement. He is among a handful of caucus members who sit on either the House or Senate Armed Services committees. But, perhaps more importantly, he is its tie to the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee.

Same goes on the House side for Kingston.

The group’s leader, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., possess no parochial tie to the attack planes. Rather, her’s is an emotional tie: Her husband was an A-10 pilot. Human nature being what it is, an emotional motivation might cause Ayotte to charge harder on the issue.

Oh, and she’s a rising GOP star who has the ear of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The Defense News staff recently were debating the political sway of defense-themed caucuses. How much power do they really have in this era of billionaire political donors and spending caps?

As the A-10 Caucus evolves, it appears we’re about to find out.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett
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