WASHINGTON — California knows only too well how efficient the federal base closing process can be. Now a group of House Republicans, led by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), is proposing to use that model to cut back the size of the federal government.
Acknowledging the difficulty Congress has in making tough political decisions, the GOP group Thursday called for a presidential panel--modeled after the Defense Base Closing and Realignment Commission--to enforce the job reduction recommendations in Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review released Wednesday.
"Previous efforts to 'reinvent government' have met with difficulties, not for a shortage of recommendations but rather for a lack of political will to implement them," the Republicans said in a letter to the White House signed by two dozen members.
Proponents of the base closing commission process say it works well because an independent panel makes the hard choices, leaving to Congress only a yes-or-no vote on an entire package of cost-cutting measures. The process insulates elected officials from voting directly on bases in their districts.
The independent commission approach has been applied to other delicate political issues, such as campaign spending reform--with mixed results.
Marla E. Romash, Gore's director of communications, could not be reached for comment on the proposal.
While declaring their support for the ambitious White House plan, the Republicans also were enjoying a moment of political one-upmanship.
"President Clinton has recommended eliminating 250,000 positions in the federal bureaucracy," Hunter said in remarks on the House floor. "Well, Mr. President, Republicans, in poker parlance, want to call your hand and raise you."
Hunter, joined by half a dozen other Republicans at a Capitol Hill news conference, said that trying to cut a quarter-million federal jobs through normal legislative channels would be fruitless.
"We like (the idea), let's do it . . . on an up-or-down vote, no messing around," Hunter said. "We're not going to drop it in one of these committees that represents the Bermuda Triangle of legislation."
Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Rocklin) said: "This is the first time I can enthusiastically support any Administration concept, but we need to strengthen the proposal by applying a mechanism that actually works . . . to cut down on spending."
The Republicans said they hoped to discuss their proposal with the White House and Democratic leaders.
But an aide to House Speaker Thomas S. Foley said Thursday that the Democratic leader "basically would not favor (the Republican) alternative."
"The base closure commission was first seen as an abdication of congressional responsibility," said spokesman Jeffrey R. Biggs. "It was accepted in retrospect only because it worked."
A systematic program to close down dozens of military bases "is hardly a routine, fundamental duty of Congress," said Biggs, but reorganizing the government bureaucracy "is a staple. Until it is demonstrably clear that Congress is incapable of doing it . . . there's no reason why it has to be farmed out to a commission."
Earlier this year the base-closing commission voted to close 130 military bases nationwide. Eight big bases were closed in California.