The Biden administration’s bid to renew Ukraine military aid is faltering in Congress. The White House had sought to assure passage by wrapping the $61 billion request into a broader package that included such popular items as assistance to Israel and border security.
However, disagreements within the House Republican Caucus over the desirability of continued Ukraine funding have made the request’s fate uncertain. With only four votes to spare in his contentious majority, House Speaker Mike Johnson is under pressure from what the Wall Street Journal this week called the GOP’s “isolationist wing” to separate Ukraine funding from other items in the package.
Support for Ukraine has been gradually waning among Republicans on Capitol Hill, and the party’s likely presidential nominee, Donald Trump, regularly attacks proposals for additional military assistance.
A Washington Post story on November 14 warned that “the competition for finite resources might prove too much for Ukraine aid to survive.”
One element of this debate that has gotten almost no attention in legislative wrangling is the likely impact of cutting aid on congressional districts—particularly GOP districts. The Ukraine war has driven rising demand for munitions that are often produced in Republican-held districts.
The State Department’s most recent summary of weapons and munitions provided to Ukraine since the war started notes that millions of artillery and tank rounds have been shipped to the embattled country, not to mention 400 million rounds of small-arms ammunition, 1.8 million rounds of 25mm cannon ammo, and 400,000 mortar rounds.
Much of this is manufactured in GOP districts. Six of the Army’s nine ammunition plants are located in such districts, as are most of its ammunition storage and distribution facilities. Even when final assembly is provided by private-sector companies, the tendency is for plants to be sited in GOP-held districts.
For instance, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems is building new munitions production facilities in Mesquite, Texas and Camden, Arkansas, using explosive fill provided by the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee. All three locations are in Republican-controlled congressional districts, as is the company’s tank ammunition facility in Marion, Illinois.
A similar pattern prevails for many of the smart weapons the U.S. provides to Ukrainian ground forces. Lockheed MartinLMT assembles the fire-and-forget Javelin antiarmor missile at a plant in Troy, Alabama. The company assembles its HIMARS rocket launcher and missiles at a plant in Camden, Arkansas, along with its PAC-3 missiles. Both are in Republican districts, as is the BoeingBA plant in Huntsville, Alabama that supplies sensors for PAC-3.
Boeing and Saab also supply a ground-launched version of the Small Diameter Bomb that is being used by Ukraine’s Army to hit remote targets. That munition is assembled at St. Charles, Missouri—in a Republican district.
Production is surging at all these sites as the Pentagon tries to keep up with demand from Ukraine while backfilling its own inventories that were previously shipped to the embattled nation. For example, Lockheed is doubling production of Javelin antiarmor weapons at its Troy location.
Its no mystery why so much of the materiel destined for Ukraine is being manufactured in the American South and Midwest. Like other manufacturers, defense companies are gravitating to areas where costs are low and workers are easy to find. The nation’s last surviving tank plant, operated by General Dynamics in Lima, Ohio, sources much of its production content to companies in the Midwest.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Red States have traditionally been more welcoming of the military than Blue States on the coasts. Legislators from those Red States recognized the value of military plants and bases in stimulating local economies. Cities like Huntsville have become magnets for growth by courting the armed forces and their contractors.
However, if a significant contingent of Republicans in Congress are now developing doubts about providing military support to other nations, they will have to live with the economic fallout in districts that more often than not are in the hands of GOP legislators.
Disclosure: All of the companies mentioned in this commentary contribute to my think tank, the Lexington Institute.
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