Archive for Saturday, September 8, 2001

Sen. Roberts backs base closings

September 8, 2001


— When the Senate Armed Services Committee voted behind closed doors for a round of base closings, Kansas GOP Sen. Pat Roberts supported the effort.

In an interview Friday, Roberts said base closings are necessary but cautioned, "I have an awful lot of reservations in regard to how it is done."

He added: "I do not see any of the three bases in Kansas endangered." Those installations are Wichita's McConnell Air Force Base, Fort Riley near Junction City and Fort Leavenworth.

The last round of base closings was in 1995. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has told Congress more closures are needed because the military has about 25 percent more base capacity than it needs.

Because it can disrupt the economy in targeted communities, shutting down military bases is extremely unpopular in Congress. The House Armed Services Committee deliberately left out mention of closing bases last month in approving its version of the measure funding the nation's defense needs for next year.

But the Senate panel voted 17-8 for the new round, though it met in secret and refused to make public who voted for or against the next round. Roberts said he voted for the proposal.

The case for base closings is made tougher by lingering GOP resentment over the last round of closures in 1995, when President Clinton eased the economic effect from two closings in vote-rich California and Texas.

Roberts said: "I think the difference is that people no longer are that concerned about politics, which is what happened under President Clinton.

"I think people understand there is excess base structure," Roberts said. "We will let our military strategists dictate the force structure. Given that basis, as opposed to a numbers game or percentage game, I think anybody ought to have a comfort level."

But Roberts is urging the Pentagon to name essential bases that should not be targeted for closure, "so everybody doesn't wind up in BRAC purgatory," he said, using an acronym for the last round of closings.

Kansas will be affected by Pentagon plans to slim down in other areas, including reducing the B-1 bomber force from 93 to 60, removing the planes altogether from Wichita.

Roberts and several other lawmakers are working to delay the B-1 decision and have helped to pass spending legislation that requires detailed analysis of the decision as well as a measure delaying the Pentagon's efforts.

"I think we've strengthened our hand" in negotiating with the Air Force for a mission to replace the B-1, Roberts said.

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