Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday he will seek to close some military bases as part of the defense contribution to deficit reduction.
"I for one will be seeking to close bases," Goldwater said in a Senate floor speech reiterating his willingness to cut defense spending and seeking proposals from colleagues on ways to accomplish the goal.
"I am not opposed to military cuts, but I need some help," he said.
Goldwater suggested that closing 10 bases, about 1 percent of the number within the United States, could save roughly $1 billion a year after initial close-down costs are paid.
Even for congressional critics of the Pentagon, base closing is highly controversial because military installations create jobs and stimulate the economies in lawmakers' districts.
As a result, there have been no major base closings since the winding down from the Vietnam war in the mid-1970s, according to Armed Services Committee aides. A few have been added, such as those required as home ports of new Trident submarines, an aide said.
Including its smallest and most remote installations, the Pentagon claims more than 1,300 bases -- 911 in the 50 states, 25 in U.S. territories and possessions and 335 abroad.
President Reagan is expected to propose only modest cuts in his defense buildup in the fiscal 1986 budget he will send Congress next month, but Senate Republican leaders have targeted defense as a key area for savings in the alternative budget they are to begin drafting Wednesday.
Goldwater's support is critical in light of his long record as a friend of the Pentagon, although an intense controversy over base closings could complicate the drive for military cuts.
Pentagon supporters, such as just-retired Armed Services chairman John Tower (R-Tex.), have often pointed to a congressional pork-barrel approach to military spending, including protection of installations within a member's state or district, as a major contributor to defense costs.
But the warnings have largely fallen on deaf ears as lawmakers scrambled to protect and even expand installations in their areas. Yesterday, however, Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), responding to Goldwater, said he would offer several suggestions for cuts, including "some activities in Wisconsin."
An Armed Services Committee aide said that, while savings from base shutdowns would vary considerably with the size of the installations, the annual savings average $100 million per base.
In addition to base closings, Goldwater suggested that separate pilot-training programs for the three services might be a target for savings. He implied that he would support efforts to consolidate them.
Support for defense spending cuts was also aired yesterday by Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), the new deputy majority leader. "Obviously we're going to do some more cuts on defense," he told reporters.
He said he cannot tell yet whether the Republicans will go so far as to suggest freezing defense spending at current levels, as some have urged, but indicated that the big Pentagon spending increases that Congress approved over the last four years would weigh heavily in a compromise for next year.
After meeting with White House aides Friday, Senate Republican leaders said they expected to have their deficit-reduction proposals, probably including Social Security as well as defense cuts that the administration is reluctant to propose, in hand by Feb. 1, shortly before Reagan submits his budget.
Simpson said yesterday that much of the package will be ready earlier, probably by the time Reagan is sworn in for a second term later this month.