Pentagon Faces Tough Sell on Base Closures

Pentagon probably won't get its base closures this year.

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Defense Department officials face an uphill battle in convincing Congress to approve several of the proposals in the next military spending plan. For instance, Pentagon brass clearly understand how tough it will be for lawmakers, in an election year, to order a new round of military base closings that could hit their states and districts.

The annual Pentagon budget is slated to shrink by $350 billion over the next 10 years, and military officials on Thursday detailed the troop cuts and weapons program changes they are proposing to enact that congressionally mandated cut.

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In addition, defense officials want to close some bases and installations at home to save even more money.

DOD officials "need to look at facilities infrastructure, balancing overseas forward presence requirements with basing requirements back home," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters. "In this budget environment ... we simply cannot sustain the infrastructure that is beyond our needs or ability to maintain."

The problem for Panetta is that the White House and Pentagon cannot simply start closing bases on their own. They have to get permission from Congress first. The defense secretary announced President Barack Obama soon will do just that. He signalled the Obama administration wants approval to begin the Base Realignment and Closure process quickly, saying the goal is to pinpoint "additional savings and implementing them as soon as possible." Congress would ultimately decide whether bases a special Pentagon panel selects will close.

For Obama, the move is a gamble as his re-election campaign revs up.

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Likewise, lawmakers are never keen on shuttering bases in their states for fear of losing federal jobs and revenue the military presence brings to their district. That goes double for an election year.

Take the pro-military Texas Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, who said on Thursday with a stern face and a serious tone: "Oh, I don't see another round of base closings." The House Armed Services Committee vice chairman also offered a glimpse of the kinds of rebuttals lawmakers will have in coming months as the Pentagon and Capitol Hill joust over whether to launch the always-controversial BRAC process: "I think you will find that many of the savings they promised from the last round have just not been met."

Panetta is a former congressman, and it was apparent Thursday he is all too familiar with the decision lawmakers will face.

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"I've been through BRAC. I know its weaknesses and its failings," he said. "Obviously we will ... continue to work to make sure that it's done effectively and that we achieve the savings that we hope to achieve from the process. But I have to tell you there is ... no more effective process to make it happen than using the BRAC process."

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