December 2, 2001
WASHINGTON -- Congressional negotiators have hit an impasse over the Pentagon's proposal for a new round of military base closings, delaying action on critical defense legislation and raising the possibility of a veto fight with the Bush administration.
At issue is a recommendation to create a commission -- as Congress did in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 -- to compile a list of bases to be closed or realigned, starting in 2003. As in the earlier cases, the president and Congress could accept or reject the list but not change it.
This all-or-nothing approach has made it easier to win approval for base closings. But they remain highly sensitive because of community pressure on lawmakers, especially House members, who face voters every two years; senators are elected every six years.
The Senate narrowly approved the commission proposal as part of its version of the fiscal 2002 defense authorization bill, which sets the policy framework for the defense spending bill that is also working its way through Congress. But the House refused to include the proposal in its version of the legislation.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has pushed hard for the proposal and, in a letter last month, said he would "join other senior advisers to the president in recommending that he veto" the legislation if it did not include the base-closing authority.
Negotiators have stuck by their earlier positions on the base-closing issue while resolving most other issues.
Some compromises that have been floated recently include a delay in implementation of the closings, a base-by-base study before a commission is created and a procedure under which some bases would be put off-limits for closure, the Washington Post reported, quoting unnamed sources it said were close to the talks.
The administration has estimated it has a surplus base capacity of 23 percent and believes it could save $3-billion a year. It figures $14.5-billion has been saved with the closing or realignment of 97 major bases and many smaller ones since 1988.