- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

Congressional opposition to a new round of military base closings, one of President Bush's top national security goals, is growing, with opponents citing the war on terrorism as a reason not to shrink the armed forces.
"It's politically unpopular to close bases when fighting a war," said a senior congressional defense staffer, noting that the president's proposal was submitted before the September 11 attack and his declared war on terrorism. "We could be in a protracted war."
A conference of the Senate and House Armed Services committees has kicked the volatile issue to the "big four" the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate armed services committees. The senior lawmakers met yesterday but have not yet settled the issue, two staffers said.
"A vast majority of House members oppose another round," said Bill Johnson, an aide to Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican. "There are three reasons: the uncertainty of the war, two, the uncertainty of the economy, and, three, lawmakers are still not satisfied the Defense Department has made decisions on future force structure."
Mr. Johnson said virtually all House defense conferees oppose another round of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).
Congressional sources said that of the "big four," Arizona Rep. Bob Stump, House Armed Services Committee chairman, is adamantly opposed to base closings. The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, is at best cool toward the idea.
Mr. Skelton's spokeswoman said yesterday he has asked the Bush administration to document past budget savings from base closings. She said as of yesterday he had not received a report.
The two Senate members of the "big four" Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and John W. Warner, Virginia Republican voted for a fifth, and possibly final, BRAC.
But Senate leaders say their bargaining power is weak since a small majority in the 53-47 vote backed their position. Some Republican senators are having second thoughts after hearing complaints back home, the sources said.
Plus, some big guns in the Senate are fighting another round of base closings. They include Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense, which controls Pentagon spending.
The House never voted on the issue. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did not send over the proposed legislation until after the committee had approved its version of the fiscal 2002 defense authorization act.
Mr. Rumsfeld told Congress the armed forces has about 25 percent excess base capacity. He said the Pentagon can save $2.5 billion annually later this decade by shutting them down. It would use the money to buy new equipment and improve quality of life.
But the prospect of shutdowns especially in a wartime economy sends political shock waves through communities that face the loss of thousands of steady government jobs.
Gary Hoitsma, spokesman for Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and Armed Services committee member, said the senator does not believe Congress should consider another BRAC until Mr. Rumsfeld completes various force-structure reviews.
"Now is not the time to do that when we are fighting a war and we have all these modernization and readiness needs," Mr. Hoitsma said.
Oklahoma is home to five military bases, including Fort Sill, the Army's artillery training school. "We feel strongly in Oklahoma about all our bases," he said. "They survived the last round in very good shape and all of them have important missions that need to continue."

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