House Armed Services chairman opposes new round of base closures

House Armed Services chairman opposes new round of base closures
© FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is opposing another round of military base closures.

Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryRepublicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (R-Texas) suggested Monday that the 2016 defense budget his panel is putting together will not include a new round of the Base Realignment And Closure process, or BRAC.

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"I'm not sure we can afford another BRAC," Thornberry told a roundtable of reporters.

The Pentagon has for years called for new base closures to save money by reducing what military officials say is unneeded infrastructure.

Congress has rejected those proposals, out of concern that BRAC, which would target installations for closure, would affect facilities in their communities.

GOP lawmakers have also questioned the projected savings from the process.

"Remember, BRAC costs more in the early years than it saves," he said. "We have not yet broken even from the 2005 BRAC." 

Thornberry said closing down excess infrastructure often involves consolidating staff and resources at bases and even building new facilities. That would cost more than it saves in the short term and not address the defense budget squeeze.

Thornberry and other defense hawks in the House and Senate are trying to lift defense budget caps that would keep 2016 defense spending at $523 billion.

President Obama's own budget requests $561 billion for defense spending

Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) say the defense budget should actually be at $577 billion — the level of spending intended before the defense caps kicked into place. 

Thornberry also said Pentagon data on excess bases was outdated, and that the military needed to see how many of those were still unneeded before making any new decisions. 

The Pentagon maintains there is at least 20 percent excess infrastructure, but Thornberry said that number is from before 2005. 

"That's more than 10 years old," Thornberry said. 

"I'm not sure our members are persuaded that we should embark upon another BRAC ... with so much uncertainty about what's happening in the world with what our force structure ought to be, and what bases, training ranges and so forth, are required to support that force structure," he continued. 

"Once you give up a base or a training range, it's gone for good," said Thornberry. "You're not going to get it back, and so you better be really careful that you know you'll never need it before you start giving things away."

Thornberry said the House Armed Services subcommittees would mark up their portions of the defense budget the week of April 20, and the full committee would mark up their budget the week of April 29.

A full vote is tentatively scheduled to take place the week of May 13, he said.  

-- Updated at 4:41 p.m.