No Time For Base Closings

Would President Clinton play politics with the bipartisan commission created to shut down surplus military facilities? Nooo, that would be wrong, demur the Clintonites. But don't expect next year's round of base closings to be on the same massive scale as previous rounds, since widespread closings would wound 1996 Democratic election chances. Word at the White House is that future closings likely will be spread over several years, minimizing the pain.

Bill Clinton is exquisitely aware of the economic--and political--impact of base closings. When Clinton barnstormed California in late May, he heard pleas at every stop for easing the sting of defense cuts. At Sacramento's McClellan Air Force Base, a giant logistics center expected to be axed, protesters waved signs that read "Save McClellan."

The Pentagon recommends which bases to close, the special commission chooses the actual list, and the President must accept or reject it all. In the three rounds thus far under this system--in 1988, 1991, and 1993--103 facilities have been zapped.

While Defense Secretary William Perry still plans to go ahead with the 1995 round, don't look for a big impact in vote-rich California. "This will be strictly a Pentagon decision," says a White House pol, struggling to keep a straight face. "But you could certainly make a case that given the pain California has suffered, more cuts now are unwise."