“More than two years ago the U.S. Senate began a journey to help improve our military readiness by replacing an outdated Air Force asset with 100 new Boeing 767 air refueling tankers.

Despite the best efforts of the Air Force to maintain that tanker fleet, those planes are outdated and cost billions to maintain. In the two years that have passed since we first began discussing how to replace our nations’ tanker fleet, the KC-135s have grown older, more corroded and less safe.

It is a testament to the resourcefulness of the flying men and women in our Air Force that these KC-135s are still flying as well as they are.

Mr. President, over the last several days, Senator Cantwell and I have engaged in a very productive series of meetings and discussions with Senators Warner and Stevens, Levin and Inouye. We were here late last night, early this morning and continued throughout the day working with our colleagues on a way to move forward.

I am pleased that we have worked our way through some very big issues and that the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee agree that we need to provide the Air Force a way to begin recapitalizing its aging tanker fleet with new Boeing 767s.

I am proud to know that Chairman Warner and Senator Levin agree that Boeing airframes will help our airmen and women protect our nation and advance our security around the world.

I’ve had the honor of meeting with some of the brave tanker pilots who fly with the 92nd Air Refueling Wing based at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. I will be proud to finally bring these new airplanes home to them.

These planes are critical, not only for the thousands of Washington state workers who will build them, but also for our brave tanker crews who will fly them. They are the backbone of America’s air power capability and they deserve the best equipment. These crews make it possible for America to project force anywhere in the world.

The importance of replacing the outdated tanker fleet cannot be overstated. That’s why everyone – from the President of the United States to the Speaker of the House and majorities in Congress – understand that this agreement between the Air Force and Boeing must be finalized.

The Warner/Levin proposal is a step in the right direction. It would allow Boeing to begin producing its state-of-the-art KC-767 aircraft right away, with delivery of the first four tankers in 2005.

There are some issues that remain outstanding.

What is clear to me today is that there is a commitment to move this program forward and the Air Force is going to get the tankers it so desperately needs.”