WASHINGTON — Rep. Walter Jones never expected changing the Department of Navy’s name would be a decade-long fight.
But each year since 2001 — the first year he proposed adding the Marine Corps to the official title — the North Carolina Republican has found himself on the House floor making an impassioned plea for the simple three-word change. And each year the measure has failed in the Senate.
“I don’t understand why anyone would be opposed,” he said. “It shouldn’t have taken more than three or four seconds to fix this.”
On Tuesday, the House passed the latest iteration of his proposal. The renaming bill had 426 co-sponsors, a record for legislation ever to get through the chamber.
Opponents dismiss a name change, citing tradition and cost, and referring to it as a frivolous waste of time.
But Jones insists the measure, while simple, carries important symbolism. When Marines die in combat, their families receive official condolences from the Secretary of the Navy on Department of Navy letterhead.
“Wouldn’t it have more meaning for those families if it came from the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps?” Jones asked. “It’s like the Marines aren’t a close member of the family. They fight as one team, so it should look like they are one team.”
The bill deals only with the formal title of the department, and would not change command structure or the missions of the Navy and Marine Corps.
A Congressional Budget Office estimate from April 2009 estimated the cost of a name change would likely total less than $500,000 annually each of the next several years. Frequent command changes mandate new stationery and office supplies on a regular basis, and most service flags or facilities emblems don’t include the full department name.
For supporters, that’s proof the bill carries no significant cost. For opponents, it’s still more government waste.
Democratic leaders have agreed to again include the name change in the House draft of the annual defense authorization bill. Over years the effort has spawned its own lobbying arm — the Marine Corps Identity Cause — with high-profile retired Marines such as former Central Command chief Gen. Anthony Zinni and gunnery sergeant-turned-actor R. Lee Ermey petitioning lawmakers.
But that still might not be enough support to make it reality. Navy veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has long opposed the measure, and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin — McCain’s Democratic counterpart on the Senate Armed Services Committee — said this week he doubts the chamber will have time to deal with the issue.
In a statement, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that “things have been working fine under that name for more than 200 years” but he’ll be honored to serve the department regardless what it’s named. Marine Corps officials quickly rebuffed requests for comments on a possible change.
Jones, whose district includes Camp Lejeune, after Tuesday’s vote said he’s confident this will be the year the name change becomes reality. Already he has picked up five Senate supporters, and he said the full House vote on the measure has brought additional attention to the need for a change.
But he had that optimism in 2009 and in prior years, as well.
“We’re just going to keep pushing this,” he said. “I hope that in June and July and August, as those senators go home to their districts, their constituents from the Corps will be pushing them. We’ve got plenty of time before the end of the year to pass this.
“It’s still going to be a long fight.”