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McKeon on potential BRAC request: ‘Kill it'

Feb. 1, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By KATE BRANNEN   |   Comments
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., asks a question during a hearing in Washington, D.C.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., asks a question during a hearing in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Rep. Buck McKeon, Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, did not mince words when asked what he would do to a Pentagon request for domestic base closures.

"Kill it," he told an audience Wednesday at a conference of the Reserve Officers Association. "That's going to be our approach."

Speaking before McKeon took the stage, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said if Congress will not allow reductions in Defense infrastructure, lawmakers would have to identify other areas in the defense budget that can be cut.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that as part of the 2013 budget, the Pentagon will ask Congress for legislation that would establish a new Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission, last formed in 2005.

"If we're adjusting the size of the force, we think we should ask Congress for a BRAC," Dempsey said.

Less than an hour later, McKeon said such a request would be dead on arrival, at least in the House.

"I am not going to put it in our bill," he said in reference to the annual defense authorization bill, the major defense policy legislation.

He urged people in the audience to get in touch with any Senator friends they may have to convince the Senate Armed Services Committee not to include such a provision in its version of the bill.

If the Senate passes a bill that includes it, "we'll fight it out in conference," he said. After the House and Senate pass versions of the defense policy bill, members from each chamber reconcile disagreements in conference before sending the bill to the president to sign into law.

McKeon also said he would like to hold hearings this spring on how much money has been saved through the last round of BRAC.

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith has said he's supportive of base closures.

"I think without question we're going to have to do base realignment," he said in an interview last week. "I don't see how any person looking at the strategy and looking at the changes coming down could conclude otherwise."

The most likely scenario, according to history, is Congress will ask for reports on the effectiveness of BRAC in its 2013 policy bill and then wait until 2014 to include language that would authorize a new BRAC, David Berteau, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

"The track record says that you've got to request it, knowing you might not get it this year," said Berteau. Berteau served as a senior BRAC official during the 1990s base closures.

That President Obama is making a BRAC request during an election year shows just how serious the administration is about getting it done, Berteau said.

For the military, reductions in infrastructure are part of an overall approach to creating a "balanced force;" cuts need to be distributed across manpower, training, equipment and infrastructure, Dempsey said.

If Congress tells DoD it can't touch its stateside facilities and installations, the question becomes, "OK, where do you want me to tinker?" Dempsey said.

Whether it's military pay, retirement benefits, end strength or BRAC, if Congress limits cuts in one area, it will need to identify new areas for savings otherwise the defense budget won't meet the requirements of the Budget Control Act, Dempsey said.

"I didn't pass the Budget Control Act," he said. "I didn't ask for this cut."

McKeon did vote for the Budget Control Act, which raised America's borrowing limit on condition that $2.1 trillion be cut from the nation's debt. The first half of that comes from spending caps imposed on discretionary spending over the next decade, including $487 billion from Pentagon's projected spending over the 10-year period.

If Congress fails to raise the remaining $1.2 trillion, automatic spending cuts start in January 2013, through a process called sequestration. For Defense, this includes an additional $500 billion cut over 10 years.

Explaining his vote in August, McKeon said, "We didn't get to read the bill. It was already a fait accompli."

While he promised to fight BRAC, McKeon made no guarantees on rolling back the $487 billion.

"I can't promise you that these cuts will be undone," he said. "That law's been written."

McKeon does plan to push back on sequestration and cited legislation he's introduced that would delay the process for a year by banking on a 10 percent reduction to the federal workforce through attrition over the next 10 years.

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