Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a bill on Monday that would pressure the Obama administration to sell new F-16 fighters to Taiwan, weeks ahead of the administration's plan to announce a decision on the sale.
The bill expresses the sense of the Senate that because Taiwan needs the new fighters for its self-defense, the United States is required to sell them due to commitments made in the Taiwan Relations Act. It also expresses the view that the fighter sale would boost the U.S. economy by extending thousands of jobs related to F-16 production, a majority of which just happen to be found in Cornyn's home state of Texas.
"The president shall carry out the sale of no fewer than 66 F16 C/D multirole fighter aircraft to Taiwan," the bill specifies.
The path ahead for Cornyn's bill is unclear. He could try to add it to the fiscal 2012 defense authorization or push for a floor vote on the bill itself. By itself, the bill has no chance of being signed by President Obama. As part of the defense authorization bill, which is considered a "must pass" bill, it could be veto bait.
Foreign military sales are the responsibility of the executive branch, but Cornyn's office believes that Congress has the Constitutional and legal authority to compel a foreign military sale. There is no precedent; to date, Congress has never authorized a military sale that wasn't submitted to them by the president.
Taiwan has been asking the administration for permission to buy the new fighters, but reports suggest that the administration is planning to deny that request and offer Taiwan upgrades to their existing fleet of older F16 A/B models instead.
"This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.," Cornyn said in a statement. "Saying no here would mean granting Communist China substantial sway over American foreign policy, putting us on a very slippery slope."
"Providing the military resources Taiwan needs is in the vital security interest of Taiwan, the national security interest of the United States, and is compelled by the Taiwan Relations Act," Sen. Robert Menendez (R-NJ) said in a statement. "Taiwanese pilots flying Taiwanese fighter aircraft manufactured in the United States represent the best first line of defense for our democratic ally, and delaying the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in the closure of the F-16 production line, which would cost New Jersey 750 manufacturing jobs."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised Cornyn that the administration would announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1. That agreement was part of a deal reached between Clinton and Cornyn to move forward with the confirmation of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.
When the Obama administration moved forward with $6.4 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010, the Chinese reacted by cutting off U.S.-China military to military cooperation for more than a year.
On August 1, 181 House members sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to approve the sale of F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan. A May 26 letter to Obama calling on him to quickly notify Congress of the sale of 66 F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan was signed by 45 Senators.