U.S. TROOPS Legislators argue to save bases



Bush strongly supports 2005 base closings.
SCRIPPS HOWARD
WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress who want to ensure that military bases in their states don't close say President Bush's plan to move 70,000 troops stationed in Europe and Asia back to the United States strengthens their case.
But supporters say stateside bases must go through a closure-and-realignment round, known as BRAC, next May so Pentagon officials will know where to send the returning troops.
"Those who oppose it will argue, 'How can we close bases when we are bringing 70,000 troops home?'" said Ken Beeks, a defense analyst with Business Executives for National Security, a pro-base-closure policy group in Washington. "But I think BRAC still needs to go on, maybe even more now than ever."
It could be a tight fight.
Before the relocation plan was announced, the House had narrowly passed a two-year delay. That measure is part of the 2005 defense authorization bill, which is still being negotiated with the Senate. And even though leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- including its chairman, Sen. John Warner, R-Va. -- strongly oppose a delay, the whole Senate was just two votes short, 49-47, of including the two-year delay in its own authorization bill.
Not party-line issue
Fighting base closure isn't a party-line issue, even though Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry disagree on the matter. Bush strongly supports a 2005 round of base closings and has threatened to veto any defense bill that includes a delay. Kerry has said a delay is necessary to account for the Iraq war's effect on military needs.
But the real effort to delay base closings is being led by House Republicans and Democrats defending home-town bases.
In a House debate earlier this year, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, argued that a delay was justified by uncertainty in Iraq and a request to increase the Army's size. On Monday, Wilson cited the president's troop-shifting plan as a boon to her argument.
"It does not make sense to go ahead with a BRAC process that was authorized before the current situation was envisaged," Wilson said in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging a delay.
For the last several years, the high stakes of the impending base-closure round have been clear to Congress. The Pentagon says it has about 25 percent more military facilities than it needs and Rumsfeld is set on cutting that excess.

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