- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A plan to close and reconfigure hundreds of military bases is sailing through Congress, on track to take effect next month in a blow to communities hoping for an eleventh-hour reprieve.

In a long-shot attempt to halt the first round of base closings in a decade, the House planned a vote today on a proposal to reject the final report of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). Even base-closing opponents considered the effort certain to fail, like Congress’ attempts to stop the four previous rounds.

To kill the process, the Senate also would have to veto the report, and the chances of that happening are slim to none. In both chambers, opposition has been muted by the elimination of several major bases from the Pentagon’s original list of closures and the focus on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“I can’t see anything that stops it,” said David Berteau, a military analyst who oversaw base closings for the Pentagon in 1991 and 1993.

Even the Republican sponsor of the House resolution said he expects the proposed shake-up to become law during the second week of November.

“I know that this is an uphill battle,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican. “I’ve been around long enough to know we’ll be lucky to get 100 votes” in the 435-member House.

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who led early opposition in the Senate after the Pentagon proposed closing an Air Force base in his state, said the House vote would put the epitaph on a dead issue.

“Unless the House in some miraculous way finds the votes to overturn the BRAC decisions, I think it’s pretty much a done deal, and I think most people over here view it that way,” Mr. Thune said.

Congressional critics and many local officials fear the impact of base closures on their local economies and on their political futures. They argue that the United States should not restructure bases while the military is engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is the wrong message to send while we are at war,” said Mr. LaHood, whose district includes a base in Springfield, Ill., that stands to lose 15 National Guard fighter jets.

The Pentagon, the White House and Republican congressional leaders dismiss that argument. They contend that eliminating extra space will free up money that instead could be used to improve the military’s fighting capabilities.

Military analysts agree. They say that this may be the Pentagon’s last chance to save money by shuttering bases because Congress likely will resist approving another round of closures given the pain this one caused.

The nine-member commission reviewing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s plan to restructure the U.S. domestic base network sent President Bush the report in September. It called for closing 22 major military bases and reconfiguring another 33. Hundreds of smaller facilities from coast to coast also will close, shrink or grow.

The commission said the plan would mean annual savings of $4.2 billion, compared with $5.4 billion a year under the Pentagon’s original plan.

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