WASHINGTON -- A Senate panel voted down another round of military base closings yesterday, effectively killing the proposal's chances for this year and raising the odds the Pentagon will begin starving some bases of resources since it can't kill them outright.
Despite a vigorous advocacy campaign by the Pentagon, the base-closing proposal died on a 9-8 vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee when Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, a former supporter, changed sides. It is expected to come up later on the Senate floor, but it is given little chance there, and opposition in the House is even stronger.
Pentagon officials, strapped for billions of dollars to fund weapons purchases and troop readiness, have warned that without further closings they might be forced to cut back operations at less-important bases -- or even try to close them on their own initiative.
One official likened such efforts to "dropping a nuclear bomb on a community," especially since affected areas would not automatically receive federal aid to rebound from the economic blow, as has been the case with congressionally authorized closures.
Military officials haven't said which bases they might seek to squeeze or close.
Yesterday's defeat of the base-closing proposal -- and the Pentagon's warnings about what could come next -- reflect the fact that after four rounds of post-Cold War base closings, the choices are now all difficult and painful.
The vote "really backs the Pentagon into a corner here," said Erik Pages, a vice president of Business Executives for National Security, a private group in Washington that backs closings. "It increases the chances that to save money the Pentagon is going do something really innovative here -- or, from the opponents' perspective, really threatening."
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said in a statement that "even though we knew this would be a difficult vote, the outcome in the Senate Armed Service Committee was nevertheless extremely disappointing. Not providing the department with the ability to reduce billions of dollars in wasteful spending on unneeded bases will deprive the men and women in uniform of the resources essential to fulfilling their mission."
One of the measure's authors, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said he was "disappointed, but not surprised, that the committee took a predictably parochial approach."
The proposal could still make it through Congress in 1999, when there is no pressure from an election in a few months.
In their push for new base closing rounds, Pentagon officials have repeatedly warned that they might otherwise be forced to even more painful -- and less efficient -- alternatives.
Last month, Cohen said the Pentagon could allow some facilities to deteriorate, so that "repairs would go unmet, you'd have a loss of morale on the part of people who were there both in the civilian and military work force. And ultimately, a community would be the major loser since you'd have no assistance coming from the federal government to help with redevelopment."
Pub Date: 5/08/98