OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon, Congress square off over base closures

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he thinks the issue of base closures is already a settled one.

“I don’t think the majority of the members can be convinced at this point,” McCain told reporters Wednesday.

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This is the second year that the Pentagon has tried to get Congress to authorize a new round of base closures, but so far the proposal is poised to fail once again.

The Pentagon tried to show it was serious about the idea by including more than $2 billion this year to cover the up-front costs of BRAC, but that has not helped convince lawmakers.

At the hearing, Readiness Committee Chairwoman Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and ranking member Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H) gave nearly identical statements arguing why base closures are a bad idea right now.

With budget cuts under sequester, they said, it doesn’t make sense to add costs now to achieve savings later.

Both senators also talked about the need to reduce bases overseas before U.S. bases get the axe.

And they pointed to the 2005 BRAC round, which was over budget, as a reason to be skeptical of potential savings.

If the arguments sound familiar, it’s because they were the same ones Congress used last year to reject base closures.

It’s like much of this year’s defense budget, where the same fights that played out last year are poised to take place once again.

Forbes leads shipbuilding push: Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who is chairman of the Sea Power subpanel of the House Armed Services Committee, said his goal in the 2014 budget deliberations is to rebuild the Navy’s fleet, not just preserve it.

"We are entering the decade of sea power ... [so] what is the risk to the United States" if naval power continues to fall by the wayside, Forbes asked during a hearing.

The Navy's shipbuilding strategy would have the fleet top out at 300 warships over the next three decades, but that number could drop if anticipated funding levels set by Congress fall off track. 

Forbes wants to shift course, and is spearheading what he calls “a new framework” for a sustained increase in shipbuilding. 

"Our goal is much larger," Forbes told The Hill on Wednesday, adding he wants to bring the Navy back to its shipbuilding heyday.

The Navy won big in the Pentagon's budget plan, receiving $23.3 billion for shipbuilding in the department's $527 billion funding request.

But Forbes and his allies on the House defense panel face an uphill battle on increasing the Navy's accounts, in light of the fiscal pressure created by the across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration. 

Lawmakers on the various House defense subcommittees are jockeying for position ahead of the full committee's markup of the fiscal 2014 defense budget.

McCain wants hearings on Boston: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants the Senate to hold hearings on the Boston attacks to examine what happened between the FBI and Homeland Security, while Democratic committee leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I think we need to have a hearing in the Homeland Security Committee," McCain told reporters on Wednesday. "Why is it they knew when he left but they didn’t know when he came back?"

While Republicans in the House have already scheduled hearings, Democratic in the Senate say the hearings should wait for authorities to finish their investigation of the attack.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Hill Wednesday it was too soon.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he wanted to wait and set up a joint committee hearing where several panels with different jurisdictions could weigh in.

McKeon presses DOD on Benghazi: House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is requesting the Pentagon provide classified information on its role in last September's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. 

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent Wednesday, McKeon wants the classified version of the Pentagon's timeline on the deadly raid against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. 

The attack ended with the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. 

"This timeline is critical to ensuring that the committee has a comprehensive understanding of the events that transpired," McKeon wrote.

"It is also critical for the committee's ongoing oversight activities. A delay in providing this classified timeline to the committee would hamper both of those requirements," he added. 

The letter is a follow-up to a previous request for information by the committee to the Joint Staff for details on the timeline. 

"However, The Joint Staff has indicated that there would be delay in delivery of this timeline due to a requirement to coordinate it within the interagency," McKeon wrote. 

Republican lawmakers have charged that the administration sought to downplay the terrorist attack in the weeks ahead of last November’s presidential election.

The Obama administration initially claimed the Benghazi attack was the result of an anti-American protest gone wrong. Only weeks later did the administration acknowledge the strike was a planned, coordinated attack by Islamic extremist groups in the country.


In Case You Missed It: 

— Reid sequester plan undercuts national security, says Inhofe

— Boston bombing suspect was on terror watch list

— Paul defends position on drones 

— Kerry meets with top Afghan, Pakistani leaders


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