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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: For now, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard appears safe from new BRAC round

Eight years ago, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was on the Pentagon’s chopping block. In the end, it was spared during the 2005 round of military base closures, but the experience left advocates for the shipyard – and its thousands of employees – wary.

President Obama called this year for a new round of base closures, starting in 2015. But the proposal has gained little traction on Capitol Hill, and it looks like the shipyard can breathe a little easier for now.

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation can claim some of the credit – though not all of it, since the prospect of closing military facilities that employ thousands of constituents is understandably unappealing for pretty much every member of Congress.

The Portsmouth shipyard, which opened in 1800, is technically in Kittery, Maine, but employs many New Hampshire residents. The 2005 plan to close it met with fierce opposition from Maine and New Hampshire officials, and eventually the Base Realignment and Closure Commission removed it from the Department of Defense’s closure list.

Defense policy analysts have called in recent years for a new round of base closures, saying the U.S. military is spending too much money on facilities it doesn’t need. Obama in April unveiled a budget proposal that envisions a new BRAC round in 2015.

“This process is an imperfect process, and there are upfront costs for BRAC. . . . But in the long term, there are significant savings, as we’ve seen from past BRAC decisions,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the time.

But while Congress is still working on the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2014 fiscal year, it seems unlikely the base-closure process will be part of it.

The House passed its version June 14, with a provision specifically blocking a new BRAC round. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter sits on the House Armed Services Committee, and the New Hampshire Democrat said the bill would protect the Portsmouth shipyard.

“The hard work done by the men and women of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is vital to our national defense, and our local economy. I’m proud the House Armed Services Committee recognized this fact and voted to protect bases like Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,” Shea-Porter said when the bill came out of committee June 6.

On the Senate side, New Hampshire has a couple of heavy hitters in U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte. Both sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee: Shaheen, a Democrat, chairs the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, and Ayotte is the subcommittee’s ranking Republican member.

Both senators pledged in April to oppose a new round of base closings. The full Senate hasn’t voted yet on its version of the defense bill, but the readiness subcommittee removed the new BRAC round from the legislation last month, and the full committee followed suit.

“Now is not the time to spend billions of dollars on another BRAC round when the last BRAC round in 2005 cost $13 billion more than estimated,” Ayotte said during the subcommittee’s June 11 hearing. “And to put that in perspective, that is three fewer nuclear submarines or seven fewer destroyers for our undersized Navy fleet.”

It may be another good sign that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit the shipyard tomorrow – at the invitation of Ayotte and the rest of the New Hampshire congressional delegation.

Medicaid split

From its first meeting tomorrow to its Oct. 15 deadline, the special commission studying whether to expand New Hampshire’s Medicaid program will have 14 weeks to weigh evidence and craft recommendations. It’ll grapple with the nuances of health-care policy and broad questions about the role of government.

But don’t be too surprised if the final vote comes out 5-4 in favor of expansion. Five of the commission’s nine voting members were appointed by Democrats, versus four named by Republicans.

Most of the Democratic appointees have been vocal advocates for expansion. On the GOP side, Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford has been a loud critic of Obamacare, Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy President Charlie Arlinghaus has described himself as a Medicaid expansion skeptic, and Weare Rep. Neal Kurk in April said expansion “increases the state’s exposure to massive future liabilities.”

But there’s more of a question mark when it comes to Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton, the fourth Republican appointee. She voted with the rest of the GOP caucus last month to block expansion from being part of the Senate’s budget, but she’s also signaled she could support some sort of expansion plan.

“I am supportive of making sure New Hampshire citizens have sufficient access to health care. This is an issue that needs a through vetting to make sure we have adequate access,” Stiles wrote last fall in response to a candidate survey question on Medicaid expansion from The Portsmouth Herald.

With a seat at the table, Stiles now has a chance to be a big part of that “thorough vetting.”

Still, the real test will come when the Legislature votes on Medicaid expansion, probably during a special session after the study commission completes its work this fall.

Steak and speech

Former Florida congressman Allen West, a Tea Party favorite, is coming to Nashua next month.

As first reported by WMUR, West will headline the Nashua Republican City Committee’s “Steak Out” dinner Aug. 16. He’ll also attend a fundraising reception that evening for the state Republican Party.

West was elected in 2010 but narrowly lost his seat two years later. He made plenty of national headlines in his single term, including in April 2012, when he claimed roughly 80 Democratic members of Congress were Communists.

For the record: New Hampshire will hold the first presidential primary in 2016, and West last month said he was “available to run” if the American people called on him to serve, according to National Review.

Scoreboard

For those keeping track, about 36 percent of the bills filed this year in the Legislature made it to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk or have already become law.

That’s in line with recent years: Between 2009 and 2012, 3,495 pieces of legislation were filed and 1,271 became law – a success rate of 36 percent.

As of Friday, 192 of this year’s bills had been signed into law, two had become law without Hassan’s signature, and 100 that passed both the House and Senate were awaiting action by Hassan, according to the Legislature’s online bill-tracking system.

So far, Hassan hasn’t vetoed any bills.

Stuck in limbo are 168 bills that were either retained by a House committee or re-referred to a Senate committee, and will emerge early next year. They include an overhaul of the state’s push poll ban, a restitution fund for victims of the Financial Resources Mortgage scam and a bill granting legal immunity for 911 calls involving drug- or alcohol-related medical emergencies.

The rest – 352 bills, resolutions and proposed constitutional amendments – were single-chamber resolutions or were killed outright, left on the table or otherwise fell by the wayside.

Thinking ahead

While lawmakers are enjoying their summer break, at least a few of them may be thinking about bills for next year.

Representatives can file 2014 bill requests between Sept. 9 and Sept. 27. Senators can file legislation between Sept. 30 and Oct. 25.

Those bills will be taken up starting in January.

Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, has said he wants to work on transportation funding next year. Stiles has said she plans to file a constitutional amendment on education funding.

And a bill abolishing New Hampshire’s death penalty is expected from Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, and Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican.

News of record

∎ Be sure to wish a happy birthday today to House Speaker Terie Norelli.

∎ The Executive Council is hitting the road Wednesday, when it will meet 10 a.m. at the town hall in Peterborough.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or
on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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