- Associated Press - Monday, June 30, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - McConnell Air Force Base on Monday celebrated the start of a construction project that will prepare it to be the main operating base for KC-46A air refueling tankers, a $219 million project that has become campaign fodder in the heated Republican congressional race in the base’s district.

Rep. Mike Pompeo is seeking his third consecutive term representing the southern Kansas’ 4th District house seat, while former Rep. Todd Tiahrt is seeking to reclaim the congressional seat he left in 2010 after 16 years to run for Senate. He lost the GOP nomination in that race to Jerry Moran, who went on to win that Senate seat.

With little to separate the two conservative candidates ideologically, Pompeo and Tiahrt have squabbled over Pompeo’s vote against the spending bill that included funding for the base construction project. Pompeo, who took part in Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony at the Wichita installation, has cited the Air Force’s decision to base the new aircraft at McConnell as one of his accomplishments.

But Tiahrt has criticized Pompeo’s vote in January against the $1.1 trillion spending bill that funded the federal government through the end of September and included the money for the base project. The compromise measure came as lawmakers from both parties were determined to avoid a repeat of the political showdown that caused the 16-day government shutdown in October.

Tiahrt said he would have voted for the spending bill, noting that the base brings $500 million each year to the local economy.

“If you ask for something and you vote against it, what do you think they will do next time you ask for something? It just doesn’t make sense,” Tiahrt said.

Pompeo defended his vote, saying that the decision to bring the tankers to Wichita had been made long before January’s vote on the spending bill. Pompeo said he knew McConnell would get the tankers anyway, so he voted against that appropriations bill because that same legislation also cut veterans’ benefits.

“That piece of legislation had no impact on the ability to fund this facility - we got it done. You can see it out here today,” Pompeo said after the ceremony. “And so I am very proud I stood with our military veterans and tried to protect their benefits. And I am even more proud of all the work that I did to make sure these KC46A tankers came to south-central Kansas.”

His staff noted that Pompeo had voted for the McConnell tanker proposal in previous bills that had passed the House.

The problem lawmakers face is that every bill has things that they support and things they do not support, Moran said, and each lawmaker must sort those out before deciding how to vote.

“I certainly have no criticism, didn’t feel any concern with Congressman Pompeo’s vote,” Moran said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, who also voted against the spending bill, said there is no question Pompeo would have supported a single appropriation for McConnell had it not been part of a giant spending bill.

McConnell will be the first active duty-led main operating base for the new aircraft. Plans call for a two-bay corrosion control and fuel cell hangar, a three-bay general maintenance hangar, a one-bay general maintenance hangar and an aircraft parking apron.

“While we are incredibly proud here in Kansas to have this resource, we know it was chosen not because it was Kansas and not because we are different,” Pompeo told attendees at the groundbreaking. “But because we were able to demonstrate that this facility would serve our nation.”

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