House members from 16 states have put together a new coalition to combat the Pentagon, and their first demand is for a moratorium on closing any more bases in the Northeast and Midwest.
Rep. Michael Harrington (D-Mass.), an old Pentagon foe who is chairman of the new group, charged in an interview yesterday that former President Nixon punished the Northeast and Midwest to build a political base in the South and West.
With the blessing of Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.), Harrington and his allies are demanding that President Carter aid the ailing economics of the Northeast and Midwest in the 1970s the way President Roosevelt helped the South in the 1930s and 1940s.
The economic tide has already turned against the Northeast and Midwest, Harrington said with the near bankruptcy of New York City only one example of why the Federal Government must redirect its flow of dollars.
He noted that in 1974 only 23.5 per cent of federal wages went to people in the 16 coalition states and the rest went to those in the South and West.
Because he and the other 203 House Democrats and Republicans in the coalition consider their regions' economic survival at stake, Harrington said, they have organized special taks forces to play political hardball with the executive branch.
The coalition's task force on defense, for example, is dominated by members who are on House committees which decide how much money the Pentagon gets each year.
"We talked about canceling the B-1 bomber just to get their attention," said one staff worker on the coalition, asserting that the days of the Pentagon brush-off are over.
For openers, coalition leaders have demanded in a letter to Carter that he declare a "moratorium on all activity by the Department of Defense associated with the closure or significant reduction of military installations, including the flow of missions and personnel, in our 16-state area."
The letter, which went to the White House on April 6, also requested a meeting with Defense Secretary Harold Brown to present the coalition's case for "a transfusion" to failing economies in the 16 states.
Rep. Donald J. Mitchell (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who is co-chairman of the coalition's defense task force, said last night he, is confident Brown will meet with the group. No date has been set.
The coalition's nine-member defense task force has four members of the House Armed Services Committee three members of the Appropriations Committee a member of the Ways and Means Committee, and the chairman of the Public Works Transportation Subcommittee.
Coalition members argue that the South and West over the years have gotten a disproportionate share of the Pentagon's dollar in the form of military bases and defense contracts.
Governors in the Northeast and Midwest have agreed to contribute funds to establish a research institute in Washington to help their representatives make the case for a redistribution of federal dollars.
Called the Northeast-Midwest Research Institute and headed by a 26-year-old former aide to Democrat Gov. Brendan Byrne of New Jersey, the new institute plans to spend $200,000 a year to provide facts to House members on the impact of Pentagon and other government actions on their regions.
"No governor on his own can get the leverage the coalition has to solve regional problems at the federal level," said institute director Thomas Cochran in explaining why governors have agreed to contribute from $5,000 to $20,000 to finance the institute's research.
"We provide action research that has to be done quickly," he said. The institute will start with a staff of three and is looking for quarters outside the temporary ones it has been using in Harrington's office.
Harrington said he and Speaker O'Neil had decided "there must be a better way" to affect what the Pentagon does instead of making one-on-one protests about base closings and other economic blows to their regions.
A coalition of members from the following 16 states was the result: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
Coalition leaders spent last fall sounding out state and local officials on their problems. They then organized task forces on military base closings, welfare reform, industrial expansion through new sources of capital, aid for small cities and energy needs.
The defense task force is the first to mobilize and test the coalition's strength.
John Moriarty, legislative assistant to Harrington who is leaving that job to become the coalition's full-time co-ordinator between the federal and state governments, said in an interview that the whole idea is "to stop the economic hemorrhage" the 16 states have been suffering.
He said the security of the United States is threatened just as much by the economic stagnation of the Northeast and Midwest as by potential enemies abroad. Therefore, he said, coalition leaders figure it is time that the Pentagon redirect its spending to buttress the failing regions of the country. Harrington said he is still against big defense budgets but wants what money is spent to be distributed equitably. His co-chairmen on the coalition are Reps. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Frank Horton (R-N.Y.).