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Top Democratic Senator Ramps Up Push For Base Closures

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said that the momentum among legislators and the private sector to move base closures through Congress is building.

Smith gave his remarks on Thursday at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, stating that “The notion that this was completely unacceptable, which existed about a year ago, is not there anymore amongst my fellow members,” The Hill reports. Moreover, the two main arguments against a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) “are kind of bullshit,” he added. The first argument is that the BRAC wouldn’t result in much savings. The second is that the necessary savings could be garnered by closing bases overseas.

According to Smith, legislators are starting to come around because the huge cuts to military personnel make base closures more palatable.

Nevertheless, both the House and Senate versions of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act have turfed the idea of a new BRAC round, though the House bill at least calls for the creation of a report to look at its existing infrastructure. Many legislators are concerned about base closures in their own districts, and Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry has pointed out that the last BRAC in 2005 cost the Pentagon far more than initially anticipated.

But in an April letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, a group of nearly 40 defense experts said that the 2005 BRAC round brought in $4 billion in savings. Additionally, the letter argued, the past four BRAC rounds still save the Pentagon about $8 billion a year. A Government Accountability Office report, however, found that the Pentagon had to spend $35 billion to achieve the $4 billion in savings.

Smith noted that even Thornberry is starting to budge.

Claude Chafin, communications director for HASC, told Military.com that observers shouldn’t read too much into Thornberry’s willingness to at least consider the issue further.

“Chairman Thornberry remains concerned that we haven’t broken even from the last BRAC round, that we don’t have an accurate assessment of the current excess inventory, that threats continue to rise as force structure is in flux, and that divestments as a result of BRAC tend to be permanent,” Chafin said. “Those factors make the chairman skeptical that now is the right time to begin a BRAC round.”

From 1988 to 2005, 350 installations were closed via BRAC.

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