A plan to close 34 of the nation's major military facilities won the endorsement of key congressional leaders and appears headed for success.
In fact, Sen. Sam Nunn and Rep. Les Aspin, chairmen of the Senate and House armed services committees, say they would like to see even more obsolete bases closed.Nunn, D-Ga., and Aspin, D-Wis., pledged to work hard to ensure that the plan is not blocked by lawmakers concerned over jobs lost in their districts.
But Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said 12,000 jobs in his district would be threatened, and urged his colleagues to oppose the base-closing plan.
"If the Congress is about caring for human beings as we're attempting to establish the national defense, clearly there'll be a broader base of support than just those members whose districts are affected," Lewis said on "CBS This Morning."
Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci has until Jan. 15, five days before he leaves office, to approve or reject the entire package of recommendations, which were presented to the Pentagon on Thursday by the Commission on Base Realignment and Closure. There appeared little doubt that Carlucci would back the proposal enthusiastically.
Congress then has to approve or reject the whole package, and initial comments suggested it would accept the commission's proposals despite hometown appeals from areas which would lose bases.
In all, the panel, led by former Republican congressman Jack Edwards of Alabama and Abraham Ribicoff, a former Democratic senator from Connecticut, called for closing 86 facilities, including 34 major installations and 52 military housing units. It also proposed partially closing five bases and changing the role and manpower levels at 54 others.
The cuts would save an estimated $693 million annually and $5.6 billion over the next two decades. That's a small fraction of the total Pentagon budget of about $300 billion a year, but the closings could set a precedent.
"I think this ought to be a continuous source of study by the (defense) secretary," said Nunn.
An Army spokesman, Maj. Dick Bridges, said he saw "no unwarranted closures on the list" of bases. "If we don't need them, we should get rid of them."
The two states hardest hit by the closures would be California and Illinois. California would lose George, Mather and Norton Air Force bases, a future Navy base at Hunters Point in San Francisco, and the Presidio, headquarters for the 6th Army, also in San Francisco. Illinois would lose Chanute Air Force Base and Fort Sheridan, an Army base.
"How can we justify closing military bases in our own back yard when we don't even consider a single one of the 1,500 overseas U.S. military facilities for the same treatment?" said Sen. Alan Dixon, D-Ill., chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.
"The overseas bases ought to be looked at first to make sure the need is still there," echoed Sen. Paul Simon, another Illinois Democrat.
San Francicso Mayor Art Agnos said the commission's recommendation to close the Presidio would have "very grave consequences" for the city.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, said closing the Presidio "will have a significant effect on the economy." The base is the third-largest employer in the city and has an annual payroll of $600 million, she said.
Although most objections to the report came from politicians representing affected localities, there were hints of internal wrangling in the Pentagon.
One member of the commission said the Navy had "stonewalled" to avoid the heavier cuts experienced by the Army and Air Force.
The Navy lost six installations, three of which had not yet entered service, compared with five major air bases lost by the Air Force and the Army's 26 bases and 52 housing units that would be partially or wholly closed.
Thomas Eagleton, a former Democratic senator from Missouri who joined the 12-member commission part way through its seven-month review, said "the Navy stonewalled, and got away with it."
"The Air Force ultimately gave its cooperation. The Army begrudgingly gave its reluctant cooperation," Eagleton said in an "additional view" at the close of the 88-page final report.
For the Navy, he said, "intransigence paid off. When the new secretary of defense looks to further base closings as a means of trimming the Pentagon budget, he should most certainly start with the Navy. The Navy `refused to play' this time; it should be obliged to next time."
Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Craig Quigley rejected Eagleton's criticism. "We feel we did cooperate with the commission and clearly answered whatever questions it had."
Navy officers argued that unlike the Air Force and the Army, they eliminated many facilities employing thousands of people during the 1970s. Those facilities included the Quonset Point Naval Air Station and Newport Naval Base in Rhode Island, the Boston Naval Shipyard, the Glynco Naval Air Station in Georgia, the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard in New York, and the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard near San Francisco.