Most of the blame for a bloated military establishment is aimed at the Pentagon, yet the real culprit often is a Congress that objects when the armed forces try to save money.

For example, in 1985, the Pentagon proposed closing 22 military installations it said were no longer needed - that's 22 out of 3,600 bases - but the storm of protest in Congress caused the plan to be dropped.It has now been 11 years since any military base was shut down. It was that long ago, in 1977, that Congress effectively slammed the door by erecting a series of legal barriers that must be surmounted before any installation could be eliminated.

Lawmakers object loudly when closure is suggested for any military base anywhere - no matter how unnecessary such a base has become. They always cite the loss of local jobs. Never mind that needless flab in the form of obsolete bases can weaken America's ability to defend itself.

In debate this week, one senator admitted that "Congress cannot act to close a single base because of the political ramifications."

However, faced with huge budget deficits, and the fact that up to $5 billion a year could be saved by closing useless bases, the Senate this week decided to face up to the issue - in a round-about way.

It voted to establish a Pentagon-appointed 15-member civilian commission representing all regions of the country. The panel would recommend what obsolete installations to eliminate. The House is expected to go along with the Senate plan.

Under the Senate bill, the commission would submit, by the end of this year, a list of U.S. military facilities to be abolished.

The list would automatically take effect in fiscal 1989 unless blocked by a vote of both houses of Congress. The Senate or House alone could not shoot down the all-or-nothing list.

What this does is give Congress a convenient scapegoat to blame if a local military base is on the list targeted for closure.

Creating a faceless commission to hide behind is hardly an example of statesmanship or political courage, but at least it opens the door to getting something done.