CAPITOL HILL: Sequestration will literally hit Congress where it lives. If implemented, Army officials and a key senator said this morning, the Budget Control Act spending caps will require cutbacks or outright closures at bases across the country.
“At the end of the day, as much as we all love our bases, we’ve going to have to address this problem,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said at this morning’s Senate Appropriations hearing on the Army budget. “If we want to insist on sequestration, we’d better to be willing to go back home and tell people [that] every base that’s open today is not going to survive.”
Graham can be combative. A former Air Force lawyer, he tends to tackle witnesses with leading yes-or-no questions as if conducting a trial. But his style makes him well-suited to delivering ugly truths that many more genial legislators avoid. His fellow senators, by contrast, spent much of their time saying sequester was terrible but declaring their local base was wonderful, so the Army should spend more in their state. Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno spent much of the hearing patiently repeating that they loved everybody’s bases but they just don’t have the money.
Why is the Army studying moving some warrant officer training from Fort Rucker, home of Army aviation, asked Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby? Wouldn’t it save money to consolidate Navy and Marine Corps training at Rucker?
Um, that’s not our call but we’ll look at it, McHugh and Odierno replied, in essence.
“They are an important part of the strategy,” said Odierno. “Unfortunately no matter how important we deem it, these cuts based on sequestration will touch everywhere.”
Fort Leonard Wood needs a new hospital, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt declared.
“It’s still a priority for us to get an upgraded medical facility,” Odierno replied. “The problem is we simply don’t have the dollars to do that right now.”
Alaska is key both to the Pacific and the Arctic, so we need more Army forces there, said Lisa Murkowski.
“It’s important,” Odierno acknowledged. “That’s the problem now, there are lots of areas I could make the same comment [about].”
And so on.
You know, Sec. McHugh said at one point, this would be a lot easier if you’d authorize another Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) round. As long as we’re not allowed to close any installation outright, he argued, we have to spread the pain to every state with salami-slice cutbacks. Authorize BRAC, and we can do this more efficiently, concentrating the cuts at fewer places.
“I went through three BRACs when I was a member of the House, I know how hard they are, and I lost a base,” said McHugh, a former congressman himself, after acknowledging his recommendation would be “very unpopular.” But, he said, “one of the reasons…that we’re looking at having to make reductions across the entire structure of the United States Army, every post, camp, and station, should sequestration return is that we don’t have BRAC authority.”
Counter-intuitively, McHugh argued, “it ends up that it actually helps more bases to actually authorize a BRAC than it hurts.”
Only Sen. Graham took up the topic. “Rather than asking you about Fort Jackson,” he said, referring to his home state base, “I think, Mr. Secretary, you expressed very well that if the Army [has to] implement sequestration numbers…and if we don’t have a BRAC, we’re really putting the Army in a bad spot.”