Here's a hopeful sign for the Pentagon and its allies in Washington: These days, everybody cares about defense issues.
Secretary Panetta's "preview" of this year's defense budget -- and specifically his sober, reasoned, "prudent" and not-at-all political suggestion that Congress revive BRAC -- has energized towns around the U.S. that depend on military bases or the defense industry. Local news outlets are warning their readers and viewers that the economically essential hometown base could go away, and their members of Congress are leaping into the picture to pledge their support.
New York Rep. Kathy Hochul told airmen at Niagara Falls AFB that she and the rest of the delegation "would fight to the bitter end" to keep their base open.
Fort Worthians -- Fort Worthers? -- residents of Fort Worth, Texas, are counting on Rep. Kay Granger to protect their Joint Reserve Base: "Our representative in Congress is on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which is an ace in our deck," said Fort Worth City Councilman Dennis Shingleton ... "We intend to put those cards on the table too. You can bet the city isn't going to stand still on this."
Maine's and New Hampshire's Senate delegations teamed up to announce that Portsmouth Naval Shipyard must not close. "There is no doubt that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard remains a fundamental and irreplaceable component of our nation’s security. The men and women at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard have provided outstanding, valuable, and efficient service in support of U.S. Naval operations for almost 200 years. No one in the country does what they do as well as they do it," said a joint statement from Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte.
Florida Rep. Ander Crenshaw says he'll help House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon fight sequestration, which could hurt Naval Station Mayport. Missouri Rep. Vicki Hartzler says she will fight for the bases in her district, and wondered if the state should stand up a committee of its own to support Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman AFB.
South Carolina's Island Packet breathed a sigh of relief that Panetta took the F-35B off "probation" because of what that means for local Beaufort County. And on and on.
Congressional defense advocates and Pentagon leaders spent all last year issuing dire warnings about the dangers of reduced budget growth, with apparently little effect beyond the Beltway. But Panetta's BRAC threat last week clearly made quite a splash, and we're still seeing the ripples. Now that it has gotten through, the big question for the Pentagon is whether its base-closure threat can energize enough people beyond the usual defense lawmakers to make a difference when the time comes to count votes.