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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Bush should veto defense spending bill

Congress has given final approval to a $343.3 billion defense bill that has much to applaud. But its failure to address the need for a new round of base closings is its fatal flaw.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has not made up his mind whether to recommend a veto by President Bush. But 20 to 25 percent of existing bases are unneeded, a $3 billion-a-year drain on the Pentagon's capabilities.

Clearly Congress has dragged its feet on base closings out of concern for the negative effect on local economies — a sort of reverse pork-barrel effect. But four previous rounds of base closings between 1988 and 1995 have shown that localities can recover quickly.

The bill as passed has important rewards for our military members, including a pay increase and expanded housing and health benefits. These measures plus new funding for fighting terrorism are deserving, while the $8.3 billion that Bush requested for development of missile defense systems should be reduced.

But Bush should send the bill back to Congress, forcing it to bite the bullet on base-closing.