President Bush yesterday endorsed a plan for closing 22 major military bases and reconfiguring 33 others, leaving their fate to Congress.
Bush had until next Friday to either accept the entire report from an independent commission and send it to Congress or return it to the commission for further work.
The report will become final in 45 days unless Congress acts to reject it in full. Communities probably have little hope of a reprieve for their bases, as lawmakers have never rejected such reports.
Bush had said that for the process to be "nonpolitical" the commission's decision would have to stand. He got the report last Friday from the nine-member Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
Bush's submission of the report comes as his administration and Congress are preoccupied with aiding the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and other priorities. A GOP-led effort in the Senate to derail the base-closing process, which Republican leaders feared could embarrass them, has fizzled.
The commission said its recommendations would mean annual savings of $4.2 billion, compared with $5.4 billion under the plan it received in May from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld had recommended closing 33 major bases and reducing personnel at 29 others.
The commission largely endorsed Rumsfeld's vision to restructure the domestic network of military bases to save billions of dollars over the next two decades and streamline the Army, Navy and Air Force.
But commissioners did recommend keeping open several major bases against the Pentagon's wishes, including a shipyard in Kittery, Maine; a submarine base in Groton, Conn.; and Air Force bases in South Dakota and New Mexico.
The commission denied politics played a role in any decisions, even as it voted to keep open bases in the home states of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and other senators leading the opposition. That all but eliminated the possibility of congressional intervention.
In the House, a majority of members overwhelmingly support this round of closures and consolidations, the first in a decade.