- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

Senior House and Senate negotiators have agreed to give President Bush his requested round of military base closings, but the politically painful process will be delayed by two years to 2005, defense sources said yesterday.
The sources said the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees struck the deal to postpone the closings late Thursday night before lawmakers left town for a long weekend. The administration has agreed to the compromise.
The deal was not announced so House negotiators have time to sell the plan to their members. Many representatives oppose another round of closings, especially now that the United States is in a protracted war against global terrorism.
Conferees had been stalemated for weeks over the base closing issue, holding up passage of a fiscal 2002 defense authorization bill. There may be efforts in the House and Senate to kill the base amendment once the conference bill reaches both floors. But historically, conference bills win approval without changes.
The deal was reached by the so-called "big four": Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat; ranking member John W. Warner, Virginia Republican; House Armed Services Chairman Bob Stump, Arizona Republican; and ranking member Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat.
On the Senate floor, Mr. Levin and Mr. Warner voted for another round of base closings. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent his proposal to Capitol Hill after the House committee had finished work on its bill and there was no floor vote. But Mr. Stump vigorously opposed another round of closings, and Mr. Skelton was at best cool toward the idea.
The Bush administration pressed hard for what Mr. Rumsfeld said would save the armed forces billions of dollars by closing excess facilities. Two weeks ago, he told negotiators he would recommend a presidential veto if a base closing amendment was not in the defense bill. This week, Vice President Richard B. Cheney personally lobbied for the legislation.
"Stump still has to sell his subcommittee chairmen and the House leadership," one defense source said.
The source said Mr. Stump was in a tough position, having to defy a Republican president and trying to buck a veto threat. In the end, Mr. Stump won a concession that an independent commission would not decide on a list of which bases to close until 2005, instead of 2003, as requested by Mr. Bush.
One compromise floated earlier called for preventing the commission from adding any base onto a closure list recommended by the defense secretary. That proposal was not part of this week's deal. But there will be some restrictions to "prevent a runaway commission," one defense source said.
A second defense source said yesterday, "The members got close last night. We need to see if the details hang together until next week when they reconvene, but I expect the conference will wrap up and head to the floor [for a vote] next week."
If Congress approves, it will mark the fourth round of base closings since the end of the Cold War. The process is painful for local communities fearing the loss of hundreds of jobs and for lawmakers who wage passionate fights to keep their hometown bases open.
Kentucky, for example, worries about Fort Knox, the training site for all Army recruit tankers. The Army has said it has an excess training capacity. Some fear the school could be moved to Fort Hood, Texas.
In the latest round in 1995, the commission added the Portsmouth, Maine, naval shipyard to its list despite Navy objections. Only furious lobbying by New England lawmakers persuaded the commission to change its mind.
The president will appoint a nine-member independent commission, based on recommendations from congressional leaders. Each panelist must be confirmed by the Senate.
Mr. Rumsfeld argues that the armed forces can save $3.5 billion annually, beginning later this decade, by closing 25 percent of its facilities and bases. The bill seemed destined for a relatively easy approval last August when it was sent to the Hill. But the September 11 attacks have emboldened opponents to complain that now is not the time to shrink the military.
As part of its selling job, the administration named the process the "Efficient Facilities Initiative of 2001," or EFI, and sent out glossy publications telling stories of how well closings had turned out in some communities.

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