House paves way for enactment of BRAC proposals

By Megan Scully, CongressDaily

The House voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to reject a last-ditch effort to halt the military base-closure process, bringing a relatively quiet end to an often raucous, six-month process.

On a 324-85 vote, the House defeated a joint resolution sponsored by Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., that would have disapproved the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission's final recommendations. Already endorsed by President Bush, the recommendations -- which include the closure of 22 major military facilities and the realignment of 33 others -- are now expected to become law.

Overall, the panel backed 86 percent of the Pentagon's proposed 190 closures and realignments with estimated savings of $35.6 billion over the next 20 years.

Before the vote, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, strongly condemned the recommendations, saying the commission's decisions were driven "more by bean counting" than military strategy. He joined lawmakers whose districts will be adversely affected by the base-closure round, complaining that Ellington Field near Houston, home of an Air National Guard wing that just returned from Iraq, would lose its F-16 fighter jets.

Other lawmakers asserted that actual savings from closing installations would be minimal, while LaHood emphasized that the country should not be shuttering bases while thousands of troops still are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. "This is a wrong message to be sending," said LaHood, whose district is home to the 183rd Fighter Wing, which also stands to lose its aircraft once the commission's decisions become law.

Base-closure opponents also criticized the timing of this round, which was conducted before the Pentagon completes the Quadrennial Defense Review, a sweeping analysis of defense forces, plans and strategies due to Congress in February.

"They have the cart before the horse," said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J. "It's a flawed process."

The commission expressed similar concerns in its final report, recommending that future base closures be conducted in conjunction with the four-year review.

But several lawmakers applauded the commission's work as thorough, well-reasoned and professional. Even some critics of this base-closure round vowed to vote against the LaHood resolution.

"I feel this may have been the best [base-closure] process we've had," said House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., who tried unsuccessfully last year to delay base-closure by two years.