House panel rejects bid to thwart base closure decisions

By Megan Scully, CongressDaily

The House Armed Services Committee voted, 43-14, Tuesday to reject legislation that would thwart the base-closure process and prevent an independent commission's recommendations from becoming law.

Despite the panel's disapproval, the House is expected to consider the joint resolution as a high-priority item, perhaps as early as next week, Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee Chairman Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said. The committee will report the measure adversely to the House.

During the markup, members highlighted what they believed to be errors made in this base-closure round, both by the Defense Department and the commission.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, questioned decisions to close two Gulf Coast installations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Va., criticized the commission's decision to allow a southern Virginia community to decide whether to adhere to anti-encroachment restrictions to keep open the Oceana Master Jet Base.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, argued that minimal projected cost savings -- $15 billion over 20 years -- did not justify the "grief and suffering."

Armed Services ranking member Ike Skelton, D-Mo., voted to report the bill to the floor unfavorably, but not before criticizing the Pentagon for not being more forthcoming with base-closure information.

"It's been a long ride ... to get us to this point in the base-closure process," Skelton said. "This journey has been more difficult than it needed to be."

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., introduced the resolution, a formal expression of congressional disapproval of the commission's list. LaHood, who picked up five Democratic co-sponsors, has opposed plans to take aircraft from Air National Guard units, including those belonging to the 183rd Fighter Wing in his district.

The House and Senate Armed Services panels have repeatedly reported similar legislation unfavorably during four previous base closures, and at least one chamber has voted on the joint resolution in each of those rounds. But neither the House nor the Senate ever passed the legislation.

In the unlikely event the measure passes the House, the Senate then would consider the legislation under expedited rules outlined in the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990.

The commission sent its final report -- including recommendations to shutter 22 major military facilities and realign 33 others -- to the White House Sept. 8. President Bush approved the report a week later, sending it to Congress Sept. 15. Lawmakers have 45 days to pass a joint resolution to disapprove the list, or it becomes law.