Reps. Stefanik, Katko and Hanna tout Fort Drum’s strengths during regional tour (VIDEO)
FORT DRUM — A little more than a week before a scheduled hearing about potentially massive cuts at Fort Drum, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik said she looked forward to showing “the best of this community.”
“We’re intertwined with our schools, with our hospitals, the ... ReEnergy biomass decision that was made. That’s a long-term commitment,” she said Tuesday. “I view it as an opportunity, and that’s how I’m working with other members of Congress.”
Ms. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, toured facilities on post with Reps. John Katko, R-Syracuse, and Richard Hanna, R-Utica, and met 10th Mountain Division leaders, including commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend and Garrison Commander Col. Gary A. Rosenberg. Prior to arriving at the post, the lawmakers visited the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field near Syracuse.
The three representatives have committed to attending the Army’s hearing about Fort Drum, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 20 at Jefferson Community College. The hearing is preceded by a rally that will begin at 5 p.m. at the college’s gymnasium. They also said Rep. Christopher P. Gibson, R-Kinderhook, will attend the hearing.
Their visit comes at a time when lawmakers are evaluating whether to continue sequestration budget caps that military officials and advocates say are heavily damaging military readiness.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that top Republicans are digging in and are expected to roll out House and Senate budgets next week that will keep military and domestic spending at levels agreed to in the 2011 deficit-reduction deal.
“There is need for more defense spending, but we do not break the sequester,” Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a member of the House Budget Committee, told The Wall Street Journal.
In contrast, a report from The Hill newspaper said a group of Republicans and Democrats are looking to override sequestration through a combination of tax hikes and entitlement cuts.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a potential 2016 presidential candidate, told The Hill the plan would allow the government to spend more than what’s allowed under the 2011 cuts.
“What we need to do is buy back sequestration,” he told The Hill. “What we’re trying to do is put together a mini Simpson-Bowles deal.”
Ms. Stefanik said she would support eliminating the sequester caps.
“It’s bad policy,” she said. “It’s hurting our readiness, it’s hurting our training for our troops, which ultimately, we’re asking them to make significant sacrifices.”
Mr. Katko said he hoped the military would keep Fort Drum’s numbers due to its unique ability to deploy and perform a versatile range of missions.
“That’s a huge asset for the military,” he said.
Mr. Hanna said federal lawmakers were “hand in glove together” in keeping Fort Drum personnel numbers, highlighting the military’s ties to the surrounding community. He said he was impressed by “how it’s integrated itself into this very large community, and how critical it is for it to stay in this to community, and flourish in this community, and how well this community has welcomed this base for so many years.”
The Army is considering cutting 16,000 soldiers and civilian personnel from the post, and performing similarly large cuts at 29 other installations across the country. If Fort Drum were to lose the full number, it could result in more than $1 billion in economic losses, thousands more indirect job cuts and the loss of about a third of Jefferson County’s population.
In questions after her prepared remarks, Ms. Stefanik said she strongly opposed a new round of Base Realignment and Closure, despite repeated calls from top Department of Defense and Army officials. She also voiced support for the development of a missile defense site at Fort Drum, as the military reviews the necessity of such a site on the East Coast. Top officials from the Missile Defense Agency, including director Vice Adm. James D. Syring, have said the site is not needed, and cheaper alternatives for protecting the region exist.
Video from Tuesday’s Fort Drum appearance can be found at https://wdt.me/stefanik-drum.