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National and world

June 13, 2013

Base closings hit dead end

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

A Senate panel Tuesday approved legislation rejecting the Defense Department’s request to shutter installations and facilities in the United States that no longer are needed, as the military branches cut the number of troops in uniform.

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

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

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

But military installations often are 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 Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee, said the upfront costs of starting a new round of closures are too high.

The Pentagon’s budget for the 2014 fiscal year 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 subcommittee’s top Republican, said the last round of base closings in 2005 ended up costing $13 billion more than estimated.

“To put that in perspective, that’s three fewer nuclear submarines or seven fewer destroyers for our undersized Navy fleet,” Ayotte said

To help offset the negative impact of the automatic spending cuts on the readiness of the armed forces, the readiness subcommittee trimmed $1.3 billion from unspecified military construction projects and another $400 million in “excess” spending for operations and maintenance. The $1.7 billion total is being “put back into critical readiness accounts for all the services, in an attempt to restore flying hours, steaming days, unit training and essential depot maintenance in our hangars and shipyards,” Shaheen said.

The automatic cuts, known as sequestration in Washington speak, kicked in March 1, and are the result of Congress’ failure to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade.

The Pentagon must reduce its 2013 budget by roughly $41 billion by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The reductions have forced the military to furlough hundreds of thousands of civilian workers and scale back essential training and maintenance programs.

If sequestration remains in effect, the Pentagon likely will have to cut $52 billion from its 2014 budget to meet the numbers dictated by the law, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee Tuesday.

“And, if there are no changes, continued sequestration will result in roughly $500 billion in additional reductions to defense spending over the next 10 years,” Hagel said.

Separately, the military also has to absorb a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years mandated by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011.

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