President Clinton’s push for more military base closures hit a roadblock Tuesday in the form of the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said there will be no further closures until Clinton backs off his plan to protect bases in California and Texas.
“The bases that we’ve said should close should be closed,” Stevens said. “I don’t think we’re going to order another round of base closures until they’re closed.”
Stevens was referring to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio and McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., two Air Force maintenance centers that generated thousands of jobs repairing and maintaining warplanes. The bases were ordered closed by a base closure commission in 1995 but Clinton, concerned about protecting jobs in two politically important states, pursued a plan to allow private contractors working at the closing bases to continue the aircraft maintenance work.
That decision enraged lawmakers, particularly those from states that stood to gain jobs as workers were shifted from the California and Texas bases to facilities that remain open.
Stevens’ remarks lengthen the odds against Clinton’s winning approval of one of his top defense priorities this year: ordering two more base closure rounds in 1999 and 2001. The president and Defense Secretary William Cohen argue that without more closures, the Pentagon will be starved of the savings it needs to finance longdelayed weapons modernization.
The Senate continued debate Tuesday on a $268 billion defense authorization bill for the fiscal year beginning next Oct. 1. The proposal to close more bases was expected to come up later this week. The Senate Armed Services Committee deadlocked 9-9 on the question of approving more base closing rounds, with the tie resulting in the proposal being left out of the bill that went to the Senate floor.
Stevens’ appropriations defense subcommittee, meanwhile, voted out a $246.9 billion defense appropriations measure. The total is somewhat less than the authorization bill because authorizations include some money to be spent in future years on such things as long-term weapons contracts.
The appropriations measure sticks closely to the policy recommendations contained in the bill now on the Senate floor. It adds $3.2 billion to Clinton’s defense budget request and exceeds this year’s defense spending level by $3 billion.
Also Tuesday, the House voted 395-14 to appropriate about $9.2 billion next year for military construction - $800 million more than President Clinton requested and $610 million less than this year’s level.
About $2.1 billion would go toward base realignment and closure accounts.
Also included is $4 billion for family housing. About $278 million would be spent on new construction and improvements to family housing benefiting about 2,208 military families and $21 million for child development centers.
“About 60 percent of people serving in the military are married,” said Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C. “It’s important that we have a sustained, flexible approach to meet their needs.” xxxx BILL’S KEY PROVISIONS: $1.9 billion to pay for overseas contingency operations in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf region. 2.8 percent military pay raise. $300 million increase each to the Navy and Air Force to shore up depleted aircraft maintenance accounts. Support for Clinton’s request for $322 million in aid to states of the former Soviet Union for reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles. Increase of $720 million to buy an additional Aegis destroyer, a high priority for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss., Lott’s hometown, would build the ship. Support for the FA-18 E and F, F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter programs, but a $213 million cut from the president’s request for the F-22.
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