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Senate Armed Services Committee Deadlock On Navy Home Ports

May 21, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senators on the Armed Services Committee balked when asked to endorse the Navy’s plan to build new ports for its fleet because they said the $799 million program must be weighed against other budget priorities.

Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on military construction, failed Tuesday to win approval of the controversial plan as the full committee deadlocked 9-9 on his motion to release start-up construction funds.

The vote was seen as a test of support for the program. Some senators rejected what they felt was Thurmond’s request for a blanket endorsement of the plan.

″We were being asked today to approve the whole homeporting concept, which involves an awful lot of money,″ said Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, the committee’s ranking Democrat. ″A lot of people feel we have to weigh homeporting against other very important priorities and I think that’s what the committee reflected today.″

The Navy’s homeporting plan has been criticized as too costly. The service acknowledges the plan is more expensive than accommodating the ships in existing bases, but says it would make it more difficult for an enemy to launch the type of attack which devastated the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The fate of the program is likely to be decided when the committee meets next month to consider the 1987 military construction budget. It faces several major obstacles.

Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, has criticized the homeporting program and voted against the motion Tuesday.

And Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who had voted against the motion last month when it was before Thurmond’s subcommittee, was absent from Tuesday’s vote.

Pete Loomis, Warner’s press secretary, said he did not know how Warner ultimately will vote. But he said Warner was concerned about ″what trade-offs would be necessary to fund homeporting, and he believes Senator Thurmond was unable to provide the committee with adequate answers at this time.″

According to senators interviewed as they emerged from the closed session, some committee members voted against the proposal because of uncertainties over what budget cuts would be needed to pay for the program.

″I think the main problem was that a substantial number of the committee members are not going to vote for this proposal until they’re told where the money is going to come from to provide the $799 million the Navy says it needs,″ said Sen. J. James Exon Jr., D-Neb.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., issued a statement saying that the vote ″if not redressed, would scuttle a program of such strategic importance to the United States.″

Thurmond’s motion, approved by his subcommittee last month, was to release $79 million that had been approved last year by Congress for spending this fiscal year. The money, frozen last year by Thurmond until the Navy answered questions about costs, is the initial construction money for the ports at Staten Island, N.Y. and Everett, Wash. The Navy plans also to build new ports in several Gulf Coast and West Coast cities.

But Nunn said he had reservations because ″the motion that Senator Thurmond made went beyond that $79 million. It was not just a $79 million question. It was an $800 million question.″

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