Panel rejects proposal to shut more bases

Pentagon sought cost-saving move, now all but dead
2013-06-12T00:00:00Z Panel rejects proposal to shut more basesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
June 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - Another round of military base closings has hit a dead end.

On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee approved legislation rejecting the Defense Department's request to shut installations and facilities in the United States that are no longer needed as the military branches cut the number of troops.

The House Armed Services Committee last week also said "no" to more base closings, and even took the step of adding a provision barring the Pentagon from even planning for another round.

The refusals by the House and Senate effectively ensure that a final defense policy bill approved by Congress for fiscal 2014 won't give the department permission to close excess bases even as lawmakers clamor for ways to cut the federal deficit.

Lawmakers also have rebuffed the Defense Department's attempts to rein in spending on the costly military health-care program by increasing enrollment fees for military retirees and their dependents.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale warned during a separate congressional hearing Tuesday that the military would have to cut about 25,000 troops to offset the expense if it can't slow the growth of the health-care program by 2018.

Rejection of the base-closing request in the House defense-policy bill along with several other provisions limiting President Obama's authority prompted the White House to threaten a veto of the measure.

Specifically, the White House complained about provisions that would restrict the president's ability to transfer terror suspects from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to implement a nuclear reduction treaty with Russia.

On base closings, Defense Department leaders have argued the troop drawdown will leave them with more installations than they need. The money saved by closing unused facilities can be spent on training and other essential operations.

But military installations are often the economic lifeblood of the communities that surround them, and any discussion about shutting bases is a political hot button.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., chairwoman of the readiness subcommittee, said the upfront costs of starting a new round of closures are too high.

The Pentagon's budget for fiscal 2014 sought $2.4 billion over five years to cover the initial expense of base closings. Decisions on which bases to close would start to be made in 2015 and implemented a year later, according to the military's plan.

But Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the readiness subcommittee's top Republican, said the last round of base closings in 2005 ended up costing $13 billion more than estimated.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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