- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

The Bush administration has just sent Congress its proposal to establish a new military base closing commission. The role of the commission would be identical to that of its predecessors: to recommend, in the least political manner possible, which domestic bases should be closed. The president has carefully crafted his proposal to address the concerns of members of Congress who are understandably reluctant to inflict the temporary economic pain upon their districts that results from the closure of a military base.
Closing military bases had always been a highly controversial, much politicized process. With the inevitable downsizing of the nation's military following the U.S. victory in the Cold War, reducing base infrastructure became even more imperative. In 1988, Rep. Dick Armey, then a two-term backbencher in the minority party, devised an essentially apolitical solution that would entrust the decisions about which bases to close to a 12-member commission whose membership was approved by both the Armed Services Committee and the Pentagon. Democratic Rep. Les Aspin like Mr. Armey, a Ph.D. economist served as chairman of the Armed Services Committee and co-sponsored Mr. Armey's intriguing legislation. Modeled on the manner in which Congress granted the administration fast-track trade-negotiating authority, the Armey-Aspin base closing plan required Congress to vote on the commission's entire list without amendment.
During four previous base closing rounds from 1988 through 1995, a total of 97 bases were shuttered. The Pentagon estimates the cumulative savings to date to be about $15 billion, including substantial initial outlays for environmental cleanup costs. The Pentagon has projected subsequent savings from these earlier rounds will be $5.6 billion per year. While congressional opponents of base closings question these savings, the General Accounting Office issued a report last week confirming that base closings provided "substantial savings."
Unfortunately, Bill Clinton poisoned the process in 1995 by overtly politicizing it. Instead of closing two large maintenance facilities in the electoral-vote-rich states of Texas and California, as the commission recommended, Mr. Clinton instead privatized the operations. Republicans were understandably outraged, and as a result, Congress refused to authorize new base closing commissions in 1999 and 2000, citing Mr. Clinton's untrustworthy presence in the White House.
Mr. Clinton is gone now. Congress can no longer blame him for continuing to refuse to pursue a policy that was still in the nation's best interests during the second Clinton administration. There are urgent fiscal, operational and national security needs that mandate that the U.S. military undergo yet another base closing process. Congress should expeditiously authorize the administration to proceed with its plans for the commission to identify bases to close by 2003.

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