Senators, Bush call for more base closures

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Carl-Levin, D-Mich., introduced legislation Tuesday calling for two additional rounds of military base realignments and closures in 2003 and 2005. President Bush's budget proposal released Wednesday also called for additional base closures, saying "DoD wastes money on infrastructure it does not need." The budget proposal notes that 23 percent of all Defense bases and facilities are "excess infrastructure." Like base closure rounds in the 1990s, the McCain-Levin bill would create a bipartisan commission that would recommend to the President and Congress what bases should be closed. Unlike similar legislation in the past, the new bill would not permit privatization of bases being closed unless the commission recommends it. "Every year that we delay another base closure round, we waste about $1.5 billion in annual savings that we cannot recoup," said Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a press release. McCain said the savings could go toward other Defense priorities, such as buying and repairing weapons, improving readiness and offering a better quality of life for military personnel. Additional base closures could save as much as $20 billion by 2015 and $3 billion annually thereafter, he added. An internal Pentagon study is under way that will lay out a new vision for the armed forces of the 21st century. Paul Wolfowitz, Bush's nominee for Deputy Defense Secretary, has said that the review, due in mid-March, will be critical in determining exactly how many military bases are needed. Congress has rejected similar legislation in each of the past four years, despite the backing of the Clinton administration. Lawmakers accused Clinton of politicizing the process in 1995 to preserve bases in voter-rich California and Texas, but some lawmakers have said they would support closures under a new administration. McCain said base closure rounds in 1991, 1993 and 1995 led to the shuttering of 97 bases, saving Defense $25 billion by 2003. He said 60,000 new jobs have been created as those bases have been redeveloped. But Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that the Pentagon would have a "terrible time" convincing Congress to close more bases. Defense has not demonstrated closing bases saves money, Bunning said.
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