McCaskill deals serious blow to BRAC

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said Wednesday that she will not let new rounds of base closures pass her subcommittee this year, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the Pentagon’s plans for the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) in its 2013 budget.

“There is one area where there is absolutely no room for compromise this year, and that is BRAC,” McCaskill said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support subcommittee, which she chairs.

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“I will not support the request for BRAC process to be carried out in 2013,” she said.

The Defense Department’s request for two new rounds of BRAC in 2013 and 2015 has been met with stiff opposition in Congress since it was announced, but McCaskill’s comments Tuesday are the surest sign yet that BRAC is going nowhere in the 2013 budget.

There has been bipartisan opposition to more base closures in both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, with two exceptions: House ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have said they back the idea.

The Pentagon’s budget, which cuts $487 billion over the next decade, included the BRAC rounds but did not attach a cost or savings estimate to implementing the base closures, suggesting the Pentagon knew it would be an uphill battle.

Pentagon press secretary George Little downplayed the 2013 BRAC proposal at a Wednesday press conference.

“BRAC was not part of the $487 billion proposal that we made to the Congress, but we thought it was the responsible thing to do, given the budgetary pressures that we were all under,” Little said. “We were really trying to exercise good fiscal discipline, and we thought it would be important to at least put BRAC on the table.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has acknowledged how unpopular BRAC is in hearings — pointing out that his district in California was affected by BRAC when he was a congressman. But Panetta has tried to make the case that the base closures are needed for long-term savings as the Defense Department reduces its forces by 100,000 and will have more excess infrastructure.

The argument hasn’t gone over well on Capitol Hill.

McCaskill pointed to the last BRAC round in 2005, which the Government Accountability Office has said will not begin to see savings until 2018. McCaskill and others have said that the up-front costs associated with closing bases mean the Pentagon should not do so when it needs to trim budgets now.

McCaskill also argued Wednesday that bases had to be closed abroad before closing more domestically, which Senate Armed Services Chairman (D-Mich.) has also suggested.

Pentagon officials say they want to simultaneously look at overseas and domestic closures. They argue that the 2005 BRAC round is not a fair comparison because it involved significant overhauls in the midst of two wars.