Base closings prove stumbling block on defense authorization

What procedures the Pentagon should follow in closing excess military bases is proving to be the biggest stumbling block as the House and Senate strive to hammer out a compromise fiscal 2002 defense authorization bill, congressional sources told National Journal News Service Wednesday.

There is even doubt whether there will be enough votes to put any kind of base closing process in the final version of the bill being debated behind closed doors, officials added.

President Bush has asked Congress to pass legislation to resume the base closing process, but there is considerable resistance to doing this, especially in the House. The Pentagon has said that getting rid of surplus bases would save billions of dollars that could go to pressing needs of the military, particularly the procurement of new weapons.

Another issue holding up the reporting of a compromise bill, sources said, is how much "transparency" Congress should demand of the Pentagon as it proceeds toward deployment of a national missile defense.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Levin has abandoned his earlier effort to give Congress the power to disapprove of amendments to the 1972 anti-ballistic-missile treaty. But he is now seeking to insert language in the bill designed to assure that Congress would be kept informed of the advances and setbacks of the missile defense effort, sources said.

Arguments on those and other issues, together with the anthrax scare, which drove several members on the Armed Services committees out of their offices, have delayed the drafting of a compromise defense bill, sources said.

The compromise measure is not expected to be completed by the House-Senate conference before late next week, they added.

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