Base closures now face little opposition

By Megan Scully, CongressDaily

Despite fervent efforts this summer to shield military installations from closure, the House is expected later this week to overwhelmingly reject a joint resolution disapproving the independent base-closing commission's final recommendations.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., has received little support, even among lawmakers affected by the decisions, bringing a quiet end to a noisy process.

LaHood's legislation is a last-ditch effort to stop this base-closure round before the recommendations become law. Similar attempts in three previous rounds during the 1990s failed by wide margins. The resolution has picked up nine co-sponsors, and LaHood said Monday that it would be unlikely to attract any more.

"I'm going against the whole defense establishment, I'm going against the whole administration, I'm going against the whole Armed Services Committee," LaHood said. "I'm smart enough to know I'm swimming upstream on this one." LaHood said he plans to argue that the military should not close domestic bases while fighting a war.

A congressional source said the commission's decision to strike many of the Pentagon's most sweeping closure recommendations cooled opposition on Capitol Hill.

"A lot of members that were really screaming jumped off," the source said. "It really speaks to how parochial everybody's anguish was. As soon as they were not in the hot seat, it was like, I got mine."

One base-closure lobbyist said fears that Pentagon leaders would push for more base closures in a few years if this round is stopped might have prompted members to accept the fate handed to them by the commission.

"Members of Congress don't want to go through this again," said Paul Hirsch, president of Madison Government Affairs and a staff member of the 1991 commission. "While it may not be perfect, you're better off acquiescing and moving forward."

All but one of the nine co-sponsors are affected by the base-closure round. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, does not stand to lose any bases but has been a vocal opponent of trimming the military's domestic infrastructure. During the House Armed Services Committee's markup of the LaHood resolution last month, Abercrombie argued that minimal projected cost savings -- $15 billion over 20 years -- did not justify the "grief and suffering" that comes with closing bases and laying off or relocating thousands of workers.

The committee voted 43-14 in late September to reject the LaHood legislation and report it to the floor unfavorably.

LaHood has been particularly opposed to plans that would take aircraft from Air National Guard units, including those belonging to the 183rd Fighter Wing in his district. Illinois lawmakers and others affected by the Air Guard recommendations have lost a series of legal battles that hinged on whether the Pentagon has the authority to take aircraft from the state-run units.

Under the base-closure law, the House will debate the legislation for two hours, with both Republicans and Democrats getting one hour. If it does succeed, it will then go to the Senate for a vote. Congress has until the end of the month to pass the resolution, or the commission's recommendations will become law. President Bush said he supported the recommendations when he sent the list to Congress Sept. 15.