05/21/04 — House votes to delay base closings

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House votes to delay base closings

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on May 21, 2004 1:58 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House broke with the Bush administration over military base closings Thursday, disrupting the otherwise smooth passage of a massive defense bill aimed at securing the nation's military strength and winning the war in Iraq.

The House voted 259-162 to delay base closings, now set for next year, by two years. Within minutes the White House issued a statement repeating that the defense secretary would recommend the president veto any bill that "weakens, delays or repeals" the base closing authority.

That was one of the few trouble spots before the House voted 391-34 to pass the $422 billion bill that authorizes defense programs for next year and adds $25 billion to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the first months. The new budget year begins in October.

There was relatively little debate on Iraq war policy, although earlier in the day President Bush traveled to Capitol Hill to rally Republicans on the war effort and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi criticized what she said was the president's "incompetence" in leading the nation to war.

The Democrats tried unsuccessfully to add language to the bill calling for a select congressional committee to investigate the prisoner abuse issue in Iraq, but were defeated on a mainly party line 224-202 vote.

The Senate, also debating its version of the defense bill, put off a final vote until after next week's Memorial Day recess.

There have been four previous rounds of base closings from 1988 and 1995, in each case over the objections of lawmakers concerned about the economic losses a closure would bring to their districts. The Pentagon argues that it still has more than 20 percent excess capacity and could save billions by closing unneeded facilities.

This time, opponents said the timing was bad because of the war on Iraq. The Pentagon, said Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., "is experiencing too many stresses and changes to make effective base closing decisions by May of 2005."

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican whose district includes Wayne County, voted to uphold the House Armed Services Committee's decision to delay the military base closing process by two years.

"Closing bases would result in immediate, permanent damage to not only the people of eastern North Carolina, but the country as a whole," he stated in a press release.

"Our infrastructure overseas, our growth in homeland security and lastly, our increase in troop end strength are three very good reasons to delay these permanent closures."

Under the "base realignment and closure," or BRAC, authority, the Pentagon draws up a list of excess capacity facilities and an independent commission picks which bases to close. Congress can accept or reject, but cannot change, that decision.