McCain 'seriously considering' issue of military base closures

McCain 'seriously considering' issue of military base closures
© Greg Nash

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainDemocrats step up calls that Russian hack was act of war McCain: Trump admin must fill State Dept. jobs McCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration MORE (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that he is "seriously considering" the possibility of closing excess military bases to cut down on waste. 

McCain said during a committee hearing that he and Ranking Member Jack ReedJack ReedDem Sen. Reed to oppose Gorsuch Dems introduce MAR-A-LAGO Act to publish visitor logs The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE (D-R.I.) "are seriously considering the issue of [base closure and realignment (BRAC)]," referring to a process to close and consolidate bases. 

Despite tightening defense budgets in recent years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have opposed closing excess military bases due to the negative impact it could have on local communities and constituents. 

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But McCain said the issue needs to be confronted. 

"We need to talk about and I think it has to be considered — as all things, it has to be on the table," he said.  

He suggested that even the reliance on BRAC is a "cowardly act because it shows we can't make the tough decisions ourselves."  

After the hearing, he told reporters, "I think we have to examine all of the options that we have to make our military, our defense at the lowest possible cost to the American taxpayers. Right now we do have excess properties and facilities, and I think we need to look at it.” 

Asked whether base closures would be in the 2018 fiscal budget prepared by the Armed Services Committees, he said, "I don't know. We're just starting the conversation. We're in the first week. [Defense Secretary James Mattis] and I would have to discuss this." 

Reed also put the issue in the broader context of the budget.

"It's all part of the general important category of how do you find savings so that you can redirect them into personnel, troop support, quality of life, training, readiness — all the critical things," Reed told The Hill after the hearing. 

"When I was in the service, training and readiness was the biggest morale factor, because if troops felt prepared, they felt good," he added. 

McCain has proposed boosting base defense spending for 2018 to $640 billion — $54 billion above current plans — but will have to convince fiscal hawks who favor limiting federal spending under a Trump administration. 

McCain called for cutting Pentagon waste in his opening remarks. 

"We must continue our reform efforts to make the Department of Defense more effective and efficient, while cutting wasteful spending," he said.  

 “And it will not be easy. Rebuilding America’s military will require spending political capital and making policy tradeoffs. None of these challenges should obscure the fact that rebuilding America’s military is the right and necessary thing to do." 

- Updated at 11:31 p.m.