House OKs Plan to Close Obsolete Bases

Times Staff Writer

The House voted Tuesday to adopt a novel plan designed to take congressional politics out of the process of closing obsolete military bases and to make it possible to shut down unnecessary facilities for the first time since 1977.

Under the plan’s provisions, any of the 355 major domestic bases with 300 or more civilian employees could be vulnerable. But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) estimated that no more than two dozen would be closed if the bill becomes law.

The savings would range between $2 billion and $5 billion a year, according to Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.), chief sponsor of the bill, which was passed with the support of the Reagan Administration but over the opposition of the House Democratic leadership.

“We proved to the American people that we can occasionally set aside parochial interests and act in the national interest,” Armey said after the House voted, 226 to 183, to substitute his plan for a similar measure that had the backing of four House committees. On a second vote, Armey’s substitute was endorsed, 374 to 39, as opponents switched to be on the winning side.


Similar Senate Bill

The Senate already has passed a similar bill. The legislation now goes to a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences.

The House bill would provide that a nine-member commission appointed by Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci last spring would draw up a list by next Jan. 6 of obsolete Army, Navy and Air Force bases.

Reagan would have until Jan. 19--the last day of his presidency--to forward the list to Congress on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The shutdowns would proceed unless a majority of both the Senate and House voted to scrap the entire list.

Under the bill, base closures would begin by Oct. 1, 1991, and be concluded within three years.

The extraordinary procedure was devised to break a decade-long stalemate between the Pentagon and Congress over the politically sensitive issue of closing or combining military facilities that provide jobs and income for local communities. Congress has been able to block shutdowns by requiring time-consuming and costly environmental impact statements.

Proponents of the bill argued that Congress had a “sorry record” of preserving useless facilities, such as an Army fort in Utah that was built to protect stagecoach routes against Indian raids in the 19th Century and a Virginia fort that was designed to resist naval invasions by British forces in the War of 1812.

“We have lacked the political courage to do the right thing and close these bases down,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).


Aspin said that presidents also have appeared to play politics with the issue. When President Reagan proposed to shut down 22 bases in 1985, he said, 17 of them were in congressional districts represented by Democrats. Similarly, when former President Jimmy Carter suggested phasing out 11 bases in 1978, eight of them were in districts represented by Republicans.

No one in the House spoke in favor of keeping open obsolete military installations, but some members tried to place additional restrictions on the commission’s recommendations and to give Congress a greater voice in the shutdown process.

The commission appointed by Carlucci last May is headed by former Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff of Connecticut, a Democrat, and former Rep. Jack Edwards of Alabama, a Republican. It includes retired military officers and former Defense Department officials.