Perry To Recommend Clinton Reject Panel's Base Closing Plan
Jul. 05, 1995
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon is urging that a proposed base closing list be revised to save thousands of jobs in California _ a state crucial to President Clinton's re-election strategy. Defense Secretary William Perry has embraced a compromise that would turn half the jobs over to private business.
California's economy would be hit hard by the recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The nation's most populous state has 54 electoral votes.
Perry was to brief the president Wednesday on the commission's extensive package of proposed base closings and realignments, said deputy White House press secretary Mary Ellen Glynn.
The commission says its plan would save the Pentagon $19.3 billion over the next 20 years. In three previous rounds of base closings, the independent commission's recommendations were accepted in their entirety by the White House.
Perry intended to recommend that Clinton press for just the one change in California, according to defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Pentagon is willing to accept the commission's dozens of other recommendations.
The Perry compromise is intended to defuse a politically charged debate over the proposed closing of McClellan Air Force Base and the loss of its 11,000 military and civilian jobs. McClellan, near Sacramento, is the largest of six military bases in California that the commission has recommended be closed.
The Perry plan would not stop McClellan from closing, but it would be designed to keep roughly half of the 11,000 jobs in the area by allowing the Air Force to hire private companies to do the base's depot maintenance work, the officials said. It is presumed the work would go to California aerospace firms.
Chuck Pizer, a spokesman for the base closing commission, said the Pentagon had discussed its proposed compromise with the commission's staff but not the voting members.
``Quite honestly, we stand behind the recommendations we have sent to the president,'' Pizer said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, has criticized the Perry approach for McClellan as not going far enough to shield California from job losses. She has urged Clinton to reject the commission's recommendations outright.
The White House does not want to be accused of interfering with the base-closing commission's work, since the panel was created to keep politics out of the economically painful process of shutting down Cold War-era bases. Yet that is the charge being leveled by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In Marietta, Ga., on Tuesday, Gingrich suggested Clinton was trying to shore up political support for 1996 by rescuing the McClellan depot maintenance jobs.
``Given the president's desperation about California, you can understand what he's trying to do,'' Gingrich told a news conference before a Fourth of July parade.
``I think with every base on that list, you could ask the question, `Why doesn't the president care about us?' If the purpose is to have honest people meet as a commission, what does it mean to have politicians interfere?'' Gingrich said.
The commission recommended that McClellan be closed and that its communications and electronics maintenance work be transferred to an Army depot in Pennsylvania. The commission said the Air Force had more depot maintenance capacity than it could justify keeping in this era of tight defense budgets.
The defense officials said Perry's compromise would give the Air Force the same flexibility in privatizing depot maintenance work that the base-closing commission already has recommended in the case of Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, which it also said should close. The Pentagon is not challenging the Kelly recommendation.
Clinton has until July 15 to accept the commission's list of recommendations or return the list to the commission for revisions. The panel then would have until Aug. 15 to make the suggested changes or not. If Clinton accepted the resubmitted commission package, it would go to Congress for approval or rejection. If he rejected it, no bases would be closed.