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Offline mystery-ak

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Obama calls for base closures
« on: April 10, 2013, 01:02:08 PM »

Obama calls for base closures
By: Philip Ewing
April 10, 2013 07:02 AM EDT

The Pentagon revived its politically radioactive proposal for a new round of base closures on Wednesday in a budget proposal the White House pitched as a compromise but that seems certain to reignite old battles with Congress.

The Defense Department is requesting about $2.4 billion over the next five years for a round of base closures that would start in 2015, with the promise that consolidating the military’s roughly 23 percent in “excess capacity” in real estate would pay dividends over the long term. The department is also asking Congress to slow the growth in personnel costs with a 1 percent troop pay raise and increases in fees paid for some health care services.

The Pentagon and Congress tangled over both the Base Realignment and Closure process and proposed health care fee increases last year, and lawmakers ultimately rejected the Pentagon’s proposals. House Republicans even convened a preemptive hearing last month to declare their opposition to BRAC, even before the defense budget submission.

Defense officials argue the ongoing drawdown — leaving the Army and Marine Corps with 100,000 fewer troops by 2017 — as well as the steep increases in personnel costs give them no choice but to continue making their politically unpopular requests to Congress.

Although the Defense Department’s $526 billion spending plan for the new 2014 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, continues the downward tack for Pentagon spending, it requests some $51 billion more than the department may legally receive under the budget cap imposed by sequestration, on the assumption that lawmakers will void that old law and replace it with the new budget from President Barack Obama.

Such a move would mean about a $100 billion reduction in spending for the Pentagon over the next decade, as compared with the roughly $500 billion it must absorb across the board under sequestration.

That is almost identical to an offer Obama made to House Speaker John Boehner during last winter’s fiscal cliff crisis, but Boehner and House Republicans rebuffed it.

Based on the preliminary comments of congressional Republicans on Wednesday — as well as the decisions by both houses of Congress to pass their own budgets that also exceed the sequestration-cost cap — Washington did not appear to be moving any closer to an actual budget for the new fiscal year.

Defense officials are expected Wednesday to complain about the difficulty of planning under the constant uncertainty caused by Washington’s soap opera of fiscal crises and to cite that as one reason they did not submit a full budget accounting for the war in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is asking Congress for another $88 billion — $6 billion more than last year, despite the Afghanistan drawdown — as a “placeholder” for a formal request “in the coming weeks.”

One novelty in the fiscal 2014 submission was that Pentagon officials evidently feel they’ve culled all the high-profile weapons programs they need because Wednesday’s submission did not contain news of any major cancellations.

In fact, it includes funding for a new Air Force rescue helicopter program, fully supports Lockheed Martin’s controversial F-35 Lightning II with orders for 29 aircraft and continues supporting nascent programs such as the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle and the Marine Corps’s Amphibious Combat Vehicle.

The Air Force plans to buy 50 aircraft, including new and “recapitalized” models. The Navy and Marine Corps plan to buy 165. And the Army would buy 145, between new and recapitalized helicopters.

The Navy also would buy two fast-attack submarines, one destroyer and four littoral combat ships, among other vessels.

Nonetheless, there was “an unreal quality” to the defense submission, as budget expert Gordon Adams told POLITICO — many pages included the phrase: “Note: These program descriptions and dollar values do not reflect potential sequester impacts.”

The Pentagon prepared its budget under the assumption that sequestration would not take effect, so now that it has, the documents unveiled Wednesday represent a kind of alternate universe, perhaps intended to again prod allies in Congress to once more set about attempting to undo the budget restrictions.

Although the military services did not account for sequestration in their budget submissions, they were expected to detail its harmful effects in their briefings set for Wednesday afternoon.

The Air Force, for example, is expected to caution that the flying hours sequestration forced it to cut in fiscal 2013 would create a “bow wave” of problems for fiscal 2014, including a severe dip in readiness as pilots try to requalify for duty in their aircraft. Pentagon officials call such a phenomenon a “readiness bathtub,” for the dip and rise shapes on a graph.

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Offline mystery-ak

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Re: Obama calls for base closures
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2013, 03:38:05 PM »

Obama campaigned against base closures now in his budget
By Jeremy Herb - 04/10/13 02:42 PM ET

President Obama released a defense budget Wednesday calling for new military base closings — less than a year after he said on the campaign trail that closings were not in the cards.

Obama said in a July 2012 interview with a Virginia television station that he did not support a new round of base closures through the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC).

“You know, I don’t think now is the time for BRAC, we just went through some base closings and the strategy that we have does not call for that,” Obama told WAVY.

But the Pentagon’s 2014 budget request included a proposal for a new round of base closures starting in 2015, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said was an important way to generate long-term budget savings.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that the base-closing request was in the budget because the Pentagon believes excess infrastructure still exists, and it's important to achieve efficiency savings in the tight budget environment. 

"That process would need to take into account economic circumstances of communities, as the president suggested in his statement last year," Hayden said. "It is important to note that under this proposal for a FY 2015 BRAC round, the actual closure process would not even begin until 2016, after the economy is projected to have more fully recovered."

A new round of base closures faces broad, bipartisan opposition in Congress, and without the weight of the White House, new base closures are almost certainly a non-starter, aides say.

A GOP aide said that the only reason the last round of base closures occurred in 2005 was that President George W. Bush threatened to veto the Defense authorization bill.

Members of Congress are loath to support restarting the base-closing commission because it can hurt their districts, resulting in lost jobs and a hit to economic growth.

It’s also politically unpopular. Had Obama supported closing bases during his reelection campaign, it could have hurt him in states with a large military presence like Virginia.

The Pentagon requested two rounds of base closing in the budget request last year, and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pleaded with lawmakers that it was a difficult but necessary measure to achieve long-term savings.

The request went nowhere, and was rejected by both the House and Senate Armed Committees.

The House panel this year launched a pre-emptive strike against base closures with a pre-budget hearing last month where lawmakers slammed the necessity of cutting infrastructure.

“I cannot imagine in my mind any basis on which Congress would pursue a BRAC,” Armed Services Readiness subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said after the hearing.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters Tuesday that he didn’t think the Pentagon would pursue base closings, knowing what the prospects were.

“I think they would know they’re not going to get it, so why put it in?” Levin said.

Lawmakers say that the Pentagon’s claims of savings through closing bases are exaggerated, pointing to the 2005 round where savings have yet to be achieved.

They also argue that the up-front costs for closing bases make it a bad policy decision during a period where the Pentagon is trimming its belts.

The Pentagon counters that the up-front costs are ultimately dwarfed by the amount of long-term savings that come from cutting infrastructure. The military already had more than 20 percent excess capacity in 2005 and that will only grow as troop levels are reduced, Defense officials say.

This year’s budget includes $2.4 billion over five years in order to cover up-front costs. That money was not in last year’s budget proposal, prompting lawmakers to quickly label the request unserious.

“This process is an imperfect process,” Hagel said at a budget briefing Wednesday. “There are up-front costs for BRAC, and this budget adds $2.4 billion over the next five years to pay them, but in the long-term there are significant savings.”

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters Wednesday that he didn’t know yet whether Congress would accept the base closures, but said it would be “irresponsible” not to include it as a cost-saving measure.

“It seems to me that we have to keep asking,” Hale said. “We know we need it, and it’s the only effective way to consolidate infrastructure.”

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