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Griffin seeks protection for military commissaries

WASHINGTON — Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, launched a preemptive strike Wednesday to protect military commissaries from the budget axe.

Griffin filed legislation that would essentially prohibit the Department of Defense from closing or reducing operations of commissary stores and exchanges on military installations within the U.S. through President Obama’s second term.

Griffin says it would be a “poke in the eye” to military families to reduce their grocery benefit.

“Our military men and women rely on commissaries and exchanges on base to be convenient providers of essential, affordable groceries for their families,” he said.

The Pentagon reportedly has asked the Defense Commissary Agency for a plan to close all stateside base grocery stores as part of its budget planning for 2015. The report, published on Military.com in November, also cautioned that the Obama administration may be reluctant to include such a cut in the budget it delivers to Congress in early March.

Last August, Obama told Marines at Camp Pendleton that closing commissaries is “not how a great nation should be treating its military and military families.”

The Washington Post also reported in June on the difficulty of cutting defense spending, citing the backlash that occurred three years earlier when a member of a Pentagon advisory board proposed shutting down the commissaries.

Letters of protest from lawmakers, veterans groups and others flooded into then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who quickly called in members of the Defense Business Board urging them to drop the idea.

But Commissary Agency Director Joseph H. Jeu said in November that there are no sacred cows when it comes to looking for budget savings.

“Nothing, including commissaries, is off the table,” he told members of a House Armed Services panel.

Jeu stressed that commissaries are one of the most valued non-pay benefits for military personnel. Prices average about 30 percent lower at commissaries than civilian supermarkets – saving the average military family of four nearly $4,500 a year.

House members on the panel did not appear eager to have commissaries closed at military bases around the nation.

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