Top Dem plans to reintroduce base closure plan

Top Dem plans to reintroduce base closure plan
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee says he's planning to reintroduce a bill that would allow the Pentagon to close excess military bases.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithCongress, cut the continuing resolutions so Defense can do its job Week ahead: Lawmakers look to break deadlock on defense funding Pentagon eyeing West Coast missile defense sites: report MORE’s (D-Wash.) announcement comes after Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards' 15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads MORE (D-R.I.), the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said they are considering the possibility of closing bases to cut spending.

“We should not be wasting hard-earned taxpayer money to maintain excess infrastructure that [the Department of Defense] has determined it does not need,” Smith said in a statement Thursday.

“I am pleased that my Armed Services counterparts Sen. Reed and Sen. McCain have also said they want to overcome what they call congressional ‘cowardice’ on this issue. It is time to do what’s right for defense and move forward with this process.”

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Smith has long been a proponent of what’s known as Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), a process to close and consolidate excess bases.

In April, the Pentagon submitted a report to Congress arguing for another BRAC round because it said it will have 22 percent excess capacity by 2019.

The last round of BRAC was in 2005, and under current law, another round is banned. Lawmakers in both parties have repeatedly denied requests for another round because of the potential for negative economic effects on the communities around bases, making the prospect politically unpopular.

But McCain said at a hearing Tuesday that he and Reed are considering the issue.

"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,” McCain added after the hearing. “Right now we do have excess properties and facilities, and I think we need to look at it.”

McCain has proposed a $640 billion defense budget for fiscal 2018. That’s $54 billion more than current plans and would pay for more troops and equipment. But he’ll need to convince fiscal conservatives who don’t want to increase spending at all.

Smith’s plan, which he previously introduced in June, would set up a process to allow for more closures and seeks to address concerns from the 2005 BRAC by providing Congress opportunities to stop the closures from moving forward.

The process in the bill would start with the Pentagon submitting a report to Congress on its projections on force structure 20 years out, an inventory of military infrastructure and the infrastructure capacity needed to support the 20-year force structure. The comptroller general would need to make a similar report.

The Defense secretary would also need to certify that it’s necessary to close, consolidate or realign bases and that there would be a net savings within five years.

Congress would then have 90 days to review the report and certification and could block the Pentagon from moving forward within that time.

If Congress doesn’t block the Pentagon after 90 days, the Pentagon could then make recommendations on which bases to close based on criteria including military value and net savings. 

An independent commission would then review the recommendations and make its own recommendations to the president, who would then report the findings to Congress. Congress would then have 45 days to block the closures from being implemented.