Idea Whose Time Has Come--Back

Having shown its hand near the cookie jar of military base closings, the White House has a problem. It can either drop the whole idea or it can join Congress in reviving an approach that closed 86 assorted forts, camps and bases in 1988 with barely a whimper.

The Bush Administration proposal to close 43 military installations and scale back others may have been made in all innocence, but it's hopeless to argue that to House Democrats. More than 90% of uniformed and civilian personnel who would be moved or mustered out live in Democratic districts. Arguing that the plan is not politically motivated because it would also embarrass important Republican senators just makes Democrats put their hands over their ears.

Until 1988, Congress had for 10 years refused to close a single military base, fearing that voters would punish any member who let a base and its payroll get away, no matter how little it contributed to national security. Nor was all of the politics defensive. The Pentagon was not above using a threat of base closings to persuade members to vote for bigger defense budgets. Then Congress hit upon the idea of a bipartisan commission that could close bases and leave Congress blameless for the decisions. It worked.

But now Congress seems to be right back where it was before 1988. With a crumbling threat of war in Europe and the opportunity to get rid of bases and forces that are no longer needed, the timing could not be worse. Congress created the commission in 1988 and the defense secretary appointed its members. The commission compiled a list of surplus installations that was not negotiable. Congress either accepted the list or rejected it. That meant that members could go home after a base closed and argue that they had done their best but other members of Congress would not listen to reason.

Clearly this is an idea whose time has come--back.

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