Congress: BRAC is DOA without Obama veto threat

The Pentagon's request to save money by closing some military bases in the U.S. beginning in 2015 appears dead on the arrival in Congress unless President Obama backs it with a veto threat.

That's the buzz among some Hill staffers, who already are arguing that unless the White House is willing to share in the political pain of closing bases, which are economic engines for many congressional districts, there's little chance lawmakers will support a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. 

"Unless the White House is willing to put its own political capital on the line for a BRAC round, which they definitely did not do last year, we've probably heard the last of a BRAC round in this bill cycle," a House Armed Services Committee staffer tells the E-Ring.

In the fiscal 2013 budget, the Pentagon asked Congress for two BRAC rounds. But the Pentagon did not ask for any funding for the process, which historically has large up-front costs to conduct studies and environmental assessments and begin dismantling military installations before long-term savings are realized.

So, the fiscal 2014 spending request released this month includes $2.4 billion for one BRAC round, in 2015, intended to show that the proposal is not just a bargaining chip -- that Pentagon officials really want to close bases.

"The president's budget includes funding for BRAC, so he's serious about this responsible -- albeit tough -- process," a senior defense official told the E-Ring. "It's too early to talk about vetoes when Congress hasn't really even started the budget debate yet."

At the White House, officials seemed less than thrilled to hear they may have to issue a veto threat -- usually made via a statement of administration policy (SAP) from the office of Management and Budget -- about a bill that doesn't yet exist.

"I'd just point you back to the president's budget proposal and remind you that we do not issue SAPs until bills are ready for the floor, so as not to prejudge the legislative process," said Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman.

"I'd point you to the president's budget which requests authorization for another BRAC round in 2015," echoed another administration official. "We do not issue SAPs until bills are ready for the floor."

But key senators have already issued a joint statement directing the administration to table the BRAC idea and focus on savings elsewhere. To be included in authorizing legislation, BRAC must first win approval from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.

"The last BRAC round did not achieve the intended savings," they said. "Now is not the time to spend billions of dollars on another BRAC round, especially as the Department of Defense grounds combat aircraft, cancels ship deployments, and furloughs workers due to sequestration."

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