The Virginian-Pilot - May 8, 2012, By Bill Bartel
The Obama administration's requests for two rounds of base closings and higher health fees for some military retirees are running into strong resistance from leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.
The Republican-controlled panel that oversees defense spending is expected to complete work Wednesday on a 2013 defense budget plan that is likely to contain some key differences from one proposed by President Barack Obama.
Committee Chairman Buck McKeon of California released a plan Monday that calls for $642 billion in spending - $3.7 billion more than Obama requested - for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
If approved, the House committee's plan will mirror several elements of the administration's, including a 1.7 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel and a reduction of 21,000 in military personnel, 3,000 of them from the Navy. It also keeps intact a handful of defense construction projects in Hampton Roads and abides by the Navy's desire to lengthen its timetable for building aircraft carriers.
But the legislation leaves out Obama's request for a round of base closings in 2013 and another in 2015.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, heads the panel's Readiness Subcommittee. He said Monday that while some lawmakers might support a new round of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, most on the committee do not.
"I would be shocked if they muster a majority," he said.
A BRAC commission's work seven years ago led to the closing of Fort Monroe in Hampton, as well as consideration of closing Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. State and local officials managed to keep Oceana open with pledges to more strongly address the Navy's concerns about development encroaching on the base. The state and Virginia Beach have spent millions buying properties near the base to ease the Navy's concerns.
Committee members will review the House bill, pulled together by McKeon from the work of six subcommittees, during a marathon session Wednesday that is expected to end with a vote that would send the measure to the full House. If approved, the House bill would need to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate before being sent to the president for his signature or veto.
The plan introduced by McKeon rejects the administration's proposal to steadily increase the cost of Tricare - military health care - for working-age retirees and their families because of fast-rising medical costs. It would also quash a proposal to slightly increase prescription drug co-payments.
Under the draft bill, any sailors or other service members forced to leave the military because of manpower reductions would be given more assistance as they adjust to civilian life. They could remain in family military housing for six months and keep access to the commissary or base exchange for two years.
Forbes noted that McKeon's bill rejects the administration's efforts to scrap six cruisers. One ship would be scrapped, Forbes said, but a half-dozen others, including the Norfolk-based Anzio, would remain in service.
Forbes said proposed cuts in personnel next year should not be viewed as in agreement with Obama's long-range defense strategy that calls for cutting the size of the military by about 100,000 over five years.
"They're looking at just for next year," Forbes said. "But we're trying to turn a lot of those cuts around."
McKeon's bill includes provisions requested by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, a committee member, that would require stronger Pentagon oversight of privately run military housing. The Virginia Beach Republican introduced the measure in response to concerns about complaints of poor conditions at such homes in Hampton Roads. He also successfully proposed additions in McKeon's bill that allow private firms to bid on some defense work now done by public agencies.
The large defense plan keeps intact tens of millions of dollars in construction projects at facilities in southeastern Virginia, including $39 million for training barracks at Oceana Naval Air Station.
McKeon's bill supports the Navy's plans to buy two Virginia-class submarines in 2013 as part of a multiyear purchase. The subs are built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Electric Boat in Groton, Conn.
The plan also favors the Navy's desire to shift the timetable for paying for new aircraft carriers from a five-year cycle to six years. If the change is approved, the new Ford-class carrier John F. Kennedy, which is to be constructed in Newport News, will be delivered in 2022 instead of 2020. The still unnamed carrier to follow would also be delayed two years.
Shipyard officials said the slowdown won't affect the yard's employment, but some have expressed concerns that the delay could raise costs and cause supply-chain problems.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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