WASHINGTON Fort Drum is in line for more than $100 million in construction in the Obama administrations proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year but thats about as generous a boost as the north country may see in federal spending.
The administrations request, released Monday, envisions reductions in Army combat brigades, cuts to home heating assistance for low-income families, reductions in payments to farmers and less spending on housing rehabilitation and public sewer systems, to name a few measures likely to affect the north country.
And two more military base closing rounds are not out of the question, in 2013 and 2015, athough Congress appears less than receptive.
Some of the biggest impacts will be felt at Fort Drum. The Pentagon proposed a $95 million aircraft hangar there to support the installations combat aviation brigade, which the Army said cannot function properly without a maintenance hangar of its own.
The department also proposed a $25.9 million data terminal complex at Fort Drum for the Missile Defense Agency, and a $17.3 million soldier specialty care clinic through the Tricare Management Activity although there was no word on funding available within Tricare for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, Rep. William L. Owenss office reported.
Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., several weeks ago asked the Army to consider including the FDRHPO in its budget request.
The boost in construction spending at Drum, however, contrasts with the administrations plan to shrink the Army by at least eight combat brigades officials said they will consider more and to slash the Army by tens of thousands of soldiers over five years.
The Army will take several months to decide where to propose those cuts, said Maj. Gen. Phillip E. McGhee, Army budget director, at a Pentagon news briefing.
Its going to be a very complicated and long process as we go through, Gen. McGhee said.
Army officials added, however, that they do not expect the change in force structure to dictate base closure recommendations should Congress approve additional rounds. The Army shed considerable base structure during the 2005 round, officials have said.
The reaction to the military portion of the budget, at least on the Republican side, was sharply negative. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard P. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., noted the request is $45 billion less than President Barack Obama asked for a year ago and, in his view, puts too much responsibility for deficit reduction on the military.
It appears this is the only sector of the federal government to meaningfully contribute to deficit reduction. Simultaneously, the budget proposes additional spending by diverting savings from declining war funding to domestic infrastructure spending, Mr. McKeon said in a statement.
The spending plan also calls for further increases in Tricare health insurance premiums for some military retirees, including sharp increases for retired officers. And the plan includes higher pharmacy costs in an effort to move beneficiaries to mail order drugs and generics.
In other programs, the budget slashes low-income home energy assistance to $3 billion from $4.7 billion in 2011 and 3.7 billion in 2012. It also cuts crop insurance for farmers, which generated a negative response from the Senate Agriculture Committees chairwoman, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who said the program is a valuable risk management tool.
Mr. Owens, who was traveling in St. Lawrence County on Monday, was still reviewing the budget Monday afternoon and did not have a comment on specifics but believes Congress and the White House need to craft a spending plan rather than rely on temporary spending measures that have dominated Congress this term, said his spokesman, Sean Magers.