Defeated for re-election after the boundaries of his rural Maryland congressional district changed, Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a scientist, teacher and farmer first elected to Congress in 1992, rose to be second-ranking Republican on the armed services committee. (AP)
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A Maryland lawmaker whose 20-year membership on the House Armed Services Committee is coming to a close counts two bipartisan initiatives as his greatest legislative achievements: allowing service members to share GI Bill education benefits with their families and setting the Navy on course to have only nuclear-powered ships.
Defeated for re-election after the boundaries of his rural Maryland congressional district changed, Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a scientist, teacher and farmer first elected to Congress in 1992, rose to be second-ranking Republican on the armed services committee. In an interview, however, he said he believes one of the things he did best was work across party lines.
The 86-year-old Bartlett said he latched onto the idea in 2001 of letting service members share education benefits with their families — a concept now in law as part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill — while talking with former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a Vietnam veteran who believed those unused benefits should be shared with a spouse or children. Bartlett ended up working with Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., to ensure family transfer rights were included in the final Post-9/11 GI Bill program.
Building an all-nuclear-powered Navy — an initiative Bartlett said he worked on with former Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss. — was part of a larger and uncompleted goal: U.S. energy independence.
"We don't need a situation where the enemy only has to strike our oilers to bring the fleet to a halt. The Navy disappears in five days without oilers," Bartlett said, while nuclear-powered ships can operate for 30 years without refueling, "which gives us an operational advantage."
Bartlett had hoped to push energy independence farther, but said the issue remains unresolved because Congress, in general, is bad about long-range planning.
Bartlett's other big issue is protecting the U.S. against electromagnetic disruptions, which could harm the nation's electrical and communications grids. The U.S. military has made great strides in protecting new weapons from the electromagnetic threat, he said, but nonmilitary infrastructure is vulnerable, largely because adding the protection can be expensive.
Bartlett rose on the armed services committee from being chairman, for a while, of the panel that oversaw military commissaries and exchanges, to heading the tactical air and land forces subcommittee responsible for ground combat equipment and tactical aircraft.
He said he's unlikely to run again for political office, but is not sure what he'll do when he leaves Congress in January.
"I am not going to take up golf," he said. "I want to do something productive."