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Rumsfeld Adds Pressure to Close Bases

Military: The Defense secretary urges President Bush to veto a bill if it withholds authority to trim '20% to 25% excess.'

November 16, 2001|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday he will recommend that President Bush veto the defense authorization bill unless Congress includes a new round of base closings. The GOP-led House and a majority of Republicans in the Senate oppose such a plan.

"We believe that it is important when there are this many demands and this many stresses and this high a tempo on our equipment and our people that we not be carrying around something in the neighborhood of 20 to 25% excess base structure," Rumsfeld told reporters.

The veto threat was included in a letter Rumsfeld sent Thursday to the chairmen and top minority members of both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees: House Chairman Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), Senate Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich), House Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.).

"Continuing to operate and maintain facilities we simply no longer need is unfair to the taxpayer and diverts resources that would be better applied to our war fighters," Rumsfeld wrote. "The Joint Chiefs of Staff share this view, as does every one of my living predecessors."

Therefore, he wrote, he will join other senior advisors to Bush in recommending a veto of any defense authorization bill for 2002 that lacks base closure authority.

The Senate version of the bill, passed unanimously Oct. 2., included authority for one round of base closings and realignments, in 2003.

But that was included only thanks to Democratic support. A 53-47 vote endorsing the provision was backed by 31 Democrats and only 21 Republicans and one independent. The 28 Republicans who voted to kill it were joined by 19 Democrats.

The Republican-led House bill, passed 398 to 17 on Sept. 25, omitted any mention of base closures in an effort to derail the idea, despite the support of the Republican administration.

Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.) predicted Thursday that the final bill will not contain a base-closing round and that Bush will not veto it. He said opposition to more base closings is "based on very, very solid logic."

"We're scrambling today to find money to fight this war on terrorism," said Saxton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's installations and facilities subcommittee. One lesson from previous base closing rounds is that they cost money in the short-term because of needs to move people, do environmental cleanup and hire and train new workers, among other things, he said in an interview.

As for bucking a president of his own party, Saxton said: "We as Americans get to disagree."

On the other side, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.), a junior member of the committee, said another round of base closings is needed.

"Many thousands of the reservists who were called up were called because they were needed to protect bases that we don't need," Kirk said in an interview. "Another round of base closings will give us additional resources for the beans and bullets our men and women will need for the war on terrorism."

Bush mentioned excess military facilities in his budget early in the year, and for months, Rumsfeld and other top defense officials have pleaded with Congress to come through, saying closing those facilities could save valuable money needed to fight the nation's battles.

Four rounds of base closings in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 resulted in 451 installations, including 97 described as major, ordered closed or realigned.

Lawmakers dislike base closures because the upheavals can hurt communities. They also question whether the nation has realized the massive savings touted as a reason to shutter facilities.

Base closings and disparate spending plans for Bush's missile defense program have been the big stumbling blocks for House and Senate conferees working to resolve differences between the bills.

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