Bush to sign defense bill with base closings, pay raises, money for missile defense

Friday, December 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush will sign the $343 billion defense bill that Congress passed, giving full financing to his missile defense program while providing the largest military pay raise in two decades and setting up a new round of base closures.

An impasse caused by strong opposition to Bush's call for more base closings had delayed the bill for a month. Congress ultimately agreed to one round in 2005, two years later than Bush wanted.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Friday the administration would have preferred earlier base closings ``but the administration supports the legislation passed by the Congress.''

The vote in the House on Thursday was 382-40, followed several hours later by a 96-2 vote in the Senate.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had threatened to recommend a veto if the bill did not include a base-closing round in 2003, would not say Thursday whether the 2005 round in the legislation would allay that threat. ``I'm going to have to sleep on that,'' he told reporters at the Pentagon.

Announcing Friday that Bush will sign the bill, Fleischer told reporters: ``The secretary got a good night's sleep.''

The defense legislation authorizes spending by the Defense Department and military efforts of the Energy Department for the budget year that began Oct. 1. It contains a $33 billion increase, up 10.6 percent, over 2001 spending, matching Bush's request. A separate appropriations bill must be passed before the money may actually be spent.

In another action Thursday, the Senate unanimously gave final approval by voice vote to the intelligence authorization bill approved Wednesday by the House, sending that to Bush as well.

The intelligence bill places new emphasis on human spy networks and increased analysis of raw data, and calls for an increase of about 8 percent in spending. The actual spending on intelligence has generally been kept secret but has been estimated at about $30 billion for the past few years.

Under the defense bill, military service members would get a minimum 5 percent across-the-board pay raise _ a 10 percent increase in some cases _ effective Jan. 1. ``The most generous pay raise in 20 years'' was the assessment of Rep. Bob Stump, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The bill provides more help with housing costs and a major boost in construction spending, including improvements to family housing.

``Halfway around the globe, thousands of sons and daughters are engaged in a noble cause against the forces of evil and intolerance,'' said Stump, R-Ariz. He said the bill provides the necessary resources and tools to accomplish that task and ensure they come home safely.

Yet the bill also ``has something in it to disappoint virtually everyone involved,'' said Stump, who opposed base closings. Like other opponents, he opposed shutdowns while the nation is both at war and mired in an economic slump.

Rumsfeld pushed hard for a base-closing round in 2003, saying it could save $3 billion or more a year that could be spent on essential military activities. He criticized the legislation Thursday.

The Pentagon, he said, would be stuck maintaining and protecting up to one-quarter more bases than it needs, diverting dollars and military personnel from accomplishing ``something truly important with respect to the war on terrorism, and it's a shame.''

On missile defense, Bush would get his full $8.3 billion request, a $3.1 billion increase over 2001. Bush notified Russia Thursday that the United States was pulling out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty because it would impede progress on the program.

Of the $8.3 billion, Bush could use $1.3 billion for anti-terrorism efforts instead if he wants.

The defense bill includes another $7 billion for anti-terrorism spending, a $1 billion increase from 2001.

Regarding base closings, the president, in consultation with congressional leaders, would appoint a nine-member base closing commission in March 2005. That May, the defense secretary would submit a list of facilities to be closed.

It would take seven members to add a facility to that list, but just a simple majority to remove one. The president could approve that list and send it to Congress, or reject it and send it back to the commission. Neither Congress nor the president could make changes to the list.

Previous closing rounds _ in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 _ led to the closure or realignment of 451 installations, including 97 major ones.

The two votes in the Senate against the bill came from Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Republican John McCain of Arizona. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., did not vote.