The congressional lawmaker whose district includes Wright-Patterson Air Force Base predicted defense budget pressures could push Congress to pursue another round of base closures after the 2016 presidential campaign.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, also said if sequestration, or automatic budget cuts return in the fiscal year 2016 the effects could be crippling to the military and potentially cause furloughs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
In an interview Monday, Turner told the newspaper about his newest role on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, his support to send military equipment to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian forces, and the growing threat of terrorism.
Turner was one of four members of Congress who met Friday in Columbus with leaders of the state’s military bases to strategize ways to prepare for a possible future round of base realignment and closure, or BRAC.
“What we found were a number of areas where we could obviously improve, but even more so some advice as to how to look at the rules of BRAC that might give Ohio an advantage,” he said.
Congress has adamantly opposed closing bases in recent years, but Turner said he expects that stance could change because of cuts to defense spending.
The Defense Department has pushed for another round of base closures. “A BRAC gives at least some congressional oversight as to the process for closing their facilities,” he said.
Turner said Wright-Patterson is “always well-positioned to be a receiver site” and is unlikely to ever close because of its size. “The only question is can it grow and will it be diminished,” he said.
The central location of the base, along with the quality of its workforce and facilities have been advantages, he noted.
But a lack of investment in infrastructure, a problem other bases face, and more inter service competition is likely in another BRAC round, said Turner, chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.
In the last BRAC round a decade ago, Wright-Patt gained about 1,200 jobs and scored a coup when the 711th Human Performance Wing, including the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, relocated to the Miami Valley base from Texas.
“We were able to argue synergies,” he said. “By putting things together that are like missions, you’ll enhance those missions.”
The Budget Control Act of 2011 set in motion sequestration when Congress and the White House failed to reach a budget deal. The deal meant half of the cuts over a decade, or about $500 billion, would fall on the Pentagon. Lawmakers reached deals that added money to the budget the past two years to soften the blow of sequestration, but that hasn’t occurred – so far – to avoid a return of the cuts. President Barack Obama and Congress have spoken against sequestration.
“The problem is that there is no agreement as to how to move forward to avoid the implementation of those cuts,” Turner said.
The House has proposed “across-the-board” cuts elsewhere in the federal budget to restore defense spending to higher levels. But, he said, Obama “has to come to the table.”
Turner added he was “very disappointed” the president did not address sequestration in his State of the Union address to Congress last week.
A White House fact sheet said the president’s upcoming fiscal year 2016 budget will outline “how to end sequester” and pay for national investments “by cutting ineffective spending and closing tax loopholes.”
Turner said his appointment this month to a House intelligence committee will aid him to defend or be an advocate for the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson. He is the only House member to serve on both the House Armed Services Committee and the intelligence panel.
As president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Turner said the United States should send military equipment to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian forces rather than rely primarily on economic sanctions.
He also said nations need to better coordinate to combat terrorism rather than individually fight the growing global threat of terrorist cells.
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