July 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Senate Fends Off More Base Closings Bipartisan Group Claims Last Cuts Didn’t Produce Promised Savings

Los Angeles Times
 

The Senate on Wednesday soundly rebuffed an effort to begin new military base closings, dealing a major setback to what the Clinton administration has called one of the nation’s most urgent defense needs.

By a 66-to-33 margin, the Senate struck from a defense funding bill language that would have set in motion two new rounds of base closings, instead calling for a study that may put off the politically painful process by as much as two years.

Pentagon officials have lobbied hard for new base closings, arguing that huge overhead costs of unneeded facilities are sucking up funds they need to modernize weapons. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen had proposed two new base closing rounds, to begin in 1990 and 2001, as the cornerstone of his plan to reshape the military for a new era.

But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., teaming up with Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., and others, said that in the past four rounds of base closings, the process had become politically tainted and had not generated nearly the savings its advocates had promised.

It has become “a very dubious process that’s caused lots of problems and should not go forward,” Lott said.

The amendment that deleted the base closing language received the support of Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California. The two Democrats have complained that their state has suffered disproportionately in past rounds.

Since the House version of the defense authorization bill was silent on the issue, observers said there is only the slimmest chance the issue could be resuscitated when the $268 billion fiscal 1998 defense authorization bill reaches conference committee.

And the amendment could have the effect of putting off further base closings even further since it calls for the Pentagon to conduct a detailed study of the costs and savings from the past rounds of base closings. That report is due back no later than the spring of 1999, when the administration presents its budget for fiscal 2000.

The vote was the second unexpected setback in a month for base closing advocates. They had earlier expected that language calling for two new rounds would make it into the defense bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But their hopes were dashed when Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., an earlier advocate of base closings, changed his view in a closed-session vote that produced a 9-to-9 tie, snuffing the amendment.

Critics pointed out that the past four rounds of base closing have fallen far short of generating the savings the Pentagon predicted, because of the higher cost of environmental cleanup and the lower than expected proceeds from sales of military real estate.

Daschle said that while the Pentagon projected its first round would save $844 million between 1990 and 1995, later analyses found it actually cost an additional $517 million in tax dollars. The second round was forecast to raise $2 billion, and saved only $972 million, he said; while the third round was estimated to save $715 million and brought in savings of only $553 million.

While the savings are subject to dispute, Daschle said, the costs to communities in lost jobs and displacement were quite real. And he said there would be “short-term degradation in military capabilities” as military units are forced to reorganize.

xxxx Roll call to delay closures Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) Yes Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) Yes Sen. Slade Gorton (R- Wash.) No Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Yes


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