House Panel Approves Bill to Delay Base Closings; Proposal Tucked into $422 Billion Defense Spending Plan Facing Likely Vote Next Week

Article excerpt

Byline: Gregory Piatt, The Times-Union

A broad defense bill approved by the U.S. House Armed Services Committee late Wednesday would postpone next year's base realignment and closure round for two years, and there is mixed support for the delay among Florida officials.

The proposed 2005 defense authorization bill, which is expected to be voted on by the full House next week, would also delay the Navy's efforts to rebuild its fleet with new destroyers and coastal attack boats.

The bill also would be the first steps to increase the Army's and Marine Corps' troop strength in decades. Over the next three years, the Army would add 30,000 troops and the Marines 9,000.

The $422 billion defense spending bill would include a 3.5 percent average pay increase for the troops next year.

However, it was the delay until 2007 in the base closure process that has set the stage for a showdown between the Bush administration and Congress. Contrary to the Pentagon, which is pushing for closures, some senators and representatives from both parties want to delay the process because they see the bases in their states as vulnerable for closure.

The Pentagon said a new round of BRAC could close about 25 percent of the domestic base structure.

Other legislators say that a base closure round shouldn't be carried out because a proper evaluation of the base structure can't be made while the country is fighting in Iraq and the future downsizing of troops in Europe and other places around the globe haven't been carried out.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., wants to delay the BRAC round. Stearns was the co-sponsor of the House bill to delay the process. …


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