Congress, finally consigning “one of the great sacred cows” to the slaughterhouse, voted today to authorize the Pentagon to close unneeded military bases, at an estimated saving of up to $5 billion a year.
The Senate passed the measure, 82 to 7. Two hours later, the House approved it, 370 to 31, sending the bill to President Reagan, who is expected to sign it.
The Defense Department estimates that between $2 billion and $5 billion a year can be saved if it is permitted to pare down the list of 3,800 U.S. military installations.
“We are addressing one of the great sacred cows in this country and in this body,” said Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.).
The bill sets up a complicated base-closing procedure that essentially cuts through the thicket of laws enacted by Congress in the last decade to thwart Pentagon efforts to shut down bases.
Recommendations by Dec. 31
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, “We know we cannot afford excess bases that we don’t need, (but) we all also understand the reality and the sensitivity of the communities in America that are so dependent in some cases on these bases, at least in the short run, and we know that reflects itself here in the Congress.”
The bill endorses a Pentagon-appointed commission that has been meeting for months, trying to put together a list of bases to be closed. The current panel will be expanded to 12 members by the bill.
The panel will make its recommendations by Dec. 31 and Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci would have until Jan. 15--five days before he leaves office--to either accept or reject the entire list. He could not change the list.
If Carlucci approves the list, Congress will have until mid-April to overturn the proposal, but it could do that only by approving a resolution that could then be vetoed by the incoming President.
Nunn and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), ranking Republican on the Armed Services panel, said that they have talked with commission members and that no list of bases to be closed has yet been prepared.
‘Willing to Take Heat’
But if some of Virginia’s numerous bases are on the list, Warner said, “I’m willing to take the heat, if it becomes a matter of necessity, in my own state in order to cut waste from the national defense.”
“If we’re going to do something about balancing the budget, the way to do it is to eliminate unnecessary spending and bases,” said Sen. William V. Roth (R-Del.).
Gramm noted that “there is something in the heart of every politician that loves a dam, or a harbor, or a bridge, or a military installation. Though they may hate the purpose, though they may vote against defense, they want the money coming into the area and they defend to the death the continuation of a base.”
In the years after World War II, the Pentagon was generally permitted to do as it wanted with bases.
But in 1975, the Air Force proposed shutting down Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine. Maine’s congressional delegation blocked the plan by winning approval of legislation requiring long and costly environmental studies, and no bases have been closed since 1977.