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Committee votes to delay base closings

Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration faced a revolt in the House on Wednesday as members of the Armed Services Committee voted to delay the 2005 round of military base closings for another two years.

One after another, lawmakers criticized the Pentagon for insisting it needs to close nearly 25 percent of the bases during a time of war and terrorism.

“Everybody in the Congress knows that we have asked the (Pentagon) to name one base that should be closed . . . and got no answer,” said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.

Committee members tried to eliminate the base-closing process Wednesday. But GOP leaders blocked the move, arguing it would provoke the White House into vetoing the 2005 defense authorization bill.

“The only thing better than delaying a (base-closing) process is doing away with it altogether,” said Rep. Gene Taylor, R-Miss., sponsor of the measure to end base closings.

His effort was backed by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who said making a decision on closing bases during wartime “would be inappropriate.”

The Pentagon wants to shut a quarter of its bases to save about $6 billion a year. Current law requires the secretary of defense to provide a list of base-closure recommendations to President Bush by May 16, 2005.

An independent base realignment and closure commission, or BRAC, would review the recommendations and make changes it thinks are warranted before giving a final list to the president in September 2005.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said the Defense Department “had every intention of following the law.”

Last year, an armed services subcommittee adopted Taylor’s plan to eliminate the 2005 round of base closings, but GOP leaders scuttled the legislation. Increased pressure within their ranks forced them to offer the two-year delay as a compromise Wednesday.

“There’s no chance to kill a BRAC,” said Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., chairman of the military readiness subcommittee. “The timing is simply not right, and delaying BRAC is simply a more sensible approach.”

Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., one of the few lawmakers who argued that the base-closing process should progress, said he saw “the handwriting on the wall” forecasting failure for the effort to avoid another round of closings.

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