Senators outline opposition to base closures

Five senators, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told Panetta and Dempsey they were concerned or outright opposed to another round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), which was included in the president’s 2013 budget request.

Only Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he supported another BRAC round.

Panetta acknowledged in his opening statement the political sensitivity of BRAC, which can hurt the area surrounding a base economically and cost it jobs.

“As somebody who went through the BRAC process in my own district, I recognize how controversial this process is for members and for constituencies,” said Panetta, a former congressman. “And yet it is the only effective way to achieve needed infrastructure savings.”

Panetta said that 25 percent of the local economy in his Monterey, Calif., district was hit because of a BRAC closure, a base that is now partly a college campus.

His comments didn’t give the senators much sympathy, however.

Levin said that bases should be closed in Europe before they are closed domestically. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he didn’t want to infrastructure because he thinks the military force has been reduced to an unacceptable level. 

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) talked up concerns about a local base and the potential uses for it in cybersecurity operations. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) questioned Panetta about the potential harm to shipyards.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) questioned whether BRAC actually led to savings, because of the large upfront costs associated with base closures. “Count me out when it comes to BRAC,” she said.

Graham, however, said to count him in. “I do believe it's appropriate to consider another round of BRAC, as hard as that is for our colleagues,” Graham said.

There’s likely to be just as much opposition on the House side when Panetta and Dempsey testify there Wednesday, as House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has said he’s opposed. House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has said he could support it.