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House Assures Closing of 34 Military Bases

July 31, 1991|PAUL HOUSTON and MELISSA HEALY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday cleared the way for the shutdown of 34 domestic military installations, including seven in California, as the Pentagon announced that it will soon withdraw from 79 overseas facilities, mostly in Germany.

The 364-60 vote, endorsing the recommendations of a federal base-closing commission, will trigger shutdowns and realignments that are expected to save billions of dollars. But the cuts are likely to disrupt many communities and cost more than 58,000 military and civilian jobs, three-fourths of them in California.

Among 25 major bases slated for closure are the Long Beach Naval Station, Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, Ft. Ord near Monterey and Castle Air Force Base in Merced County.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announcement brought to 314 the number of foreign facilities designated for closure or scaling down in the last year and a half, affecting 112,000 personnel.

Both at home and abroad, the scaling back has been prompted by the end of the Cold War and a major reshaping of the U.S. military. Lawmakers warned that there will be more waves of base closures as a projected 500,000 military personnel are laid off over the next five years.

The House action killed legislation that would have spared the domestic bases recently targeted for closure by the independent commission with the approval of President Bush.

Under a 1990 law aimed at removing partisan politics and parochial resistance from the base-closing process, the commission's recommendations take effect unless both the House and the Senate vote to reject the entire package.

Tuesday's House vote eliminated the need for Senate action.

Nearly all members of the California delegation voted to close the bases. Voting to spare them were Reps. Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres) and Leon E. Panetta (D-Carmel Valley). Not voting were Reps. Tom Campbell (R-Palo Alto), Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Don Edwards (D-San Jose).

The House also approved a separate measure requiring the next commission to include overseas bases on its hit list in 1993. The vote was 412 to 14.

Debate on the Democratic-sponsored bill ignited a partisan fight in which Democrats accused the Bush Administration of dragging its feet on closing foreign bases--and Republicans accused Democrats of cynically using the issue to defuse voter resentment over shutting domestic bases.

"This bill," Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) charged, "is either for political face-saving or to cover some other portion of the political anatomy of this body."

Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) retorted that the bill was needed to balance domestic base shutterings with ones abroad.

"Here we have all these bases protecting the West Germans from the East Germans, but now the East Germans are all in West Germany shopping at the mall," she said.

Amid the squabbling, word arrived that the Pentagon had just announced that it was ending or reducing operations at 79 facilities throughout Western Europe.

The installations included one of the Cold War's most celebrated sites, Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, where the Allies broke the Soviets' Berlin blockade in 1948-49.

Most of the facilities marked for closure are in Germany, which bears the brunt of the U.S. military presence in Europe. Others announced Tuesday are in Britain, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said the Pentagon expects more closures in the coming years as defense officials plan the shutdown of almost a third of the United States' 1,600 overseas bases.

Williams called the House bill requiring a base-closing commission to target overseas facilities "a terrible idea" that would make it harder for the Pentagon to shrink its base structure.

Republican members of Congress charged that the proposal could disrupt base agreements with allies as well as prevent the Pentagon from closing foreign bases before a new commission is established.

In response, Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the Pentagon could close as many overseas bases as it wanted before the next commission begins its work.

The commission recommendations endorsed by the House call for closing 34 domestic installations and realigning--that is, beefing up or slimming down--48 others.

According to the commission, headed by former Rep. Jim Courter (R-N. J.), these actions will save $2.3 billion between 1992 and 1997 and $1.5 billion annually after that.

California is expected to be hit hardest, largely because the state has the most military installations in the country and, therefore, is the biggest target for reductions.

Closing Ft. Ord, home of the 7th Light Infantry Division and a major Army training base, will cost 16,454 jobs, by far the most of any closure nationwide. Job losses will total 8,540 at Long Beach Naval Station, 4,105 at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, 6,388 at Castle Air Force Base, 3,498 at Sacramento Army Depot and 3,992 at Moffett Field Naval Air Station near San Jose.

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