Hagel Renews Push for Pay Cuts, Base Closings

Hagel testifies at budget hearings.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has pledged to lobby to restore the pay cuts, Tricare fee increases and base closures that were scuttled by the House Armed Services Committee, Hagel's chief spokesman said Friday.

Hagel was "certainly not pleased" by the HASC markup earlier this week that scuttled much of his overall budget plan, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.

Hagel hoped that Congress will "put national security over parochial interests" and "will prove capable of seeing the wisdom of the choices he made" as the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act moves its way through the legislative process, Kirby said.

Hagel also "continues to believe that another round of BRAC (Base Re-Alignment and Closure Commission) is necessary" to shut down excess facilities as the military trims the size of the force, Kirby said.

The HASC markup provided for a $552 billion base Pentagon budget and $85 billion for overseas contingency operations while rejecting Hagel's proposal for another round of BRAC.  Senate leaders have also warned that any move to close bases had little chance of succeeding in an election year.

As he has said previously, Hagel maintained that he had authority under Title 10 of the U.S. Code on the role of the military to reduce infrastructure without Congressional approval.

"His hope and expectation is that that won't be necessary," Kirby said of Hagel.

However, Hagel's proposals on BRAC "fail to get at whether or not a BRAC round truly would create any savings," said a spokesman for Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the HASC chairman.

House and Senate Republicans have been at odds with the Defense Department for years on whether the previous round of BRAC in 2005 produced savings.

The HASC markup mandated a military pay raise of 1.8 percent, with a freeze on pay for flag officers. Hagel's proposal would limit the increase to one percent. A survey earlier this week by Military.com showed that nine of 10 active duty troops opposed the pay reduction proposed by the Pentagon.

The markup also eliminated cuts to Tricare, housing allowances and commissary benefits, and provided funding to maintain the A-10 Thunderbolt at least through next year over Hagel's push to retire the A-10 fleet.

McKeon voted against the amendment to spare the A-10, his spokesman said, but the full committee moved to retain the Warthog. McKeon had favored a proposal to put the A-10s in type-1000 storage, meaning that they would essentially be mothballed but available to return to duty.

Hagel has argued that the difficult cuts he proposed to pay and benefits were necessary to preserve readiness, and his argument was echoed by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Wash., the ranking HASC Democrat.

"I understand none of the choices we are faced with are popular, or what any of us want, but that does not give us an excuse to undermine our military readiness," Smith said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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