Keep Base Closings Fair

HE vetoed the recisions bill, broke with liberals on a balanced-budget plan, and stood by Dr. Henry Foster.

Is President Clinton in danger of losing his image as "waffle man"?

His next test of political fortitude comes in the form of recommendations from the military base-closing commission. Among the bases the commission would shut down are three in California, a move that would result in the loss of about 18,000 jobs there. The president is being tempted to reject the commission's recommendations in order to curry favor with California voters, a state essential to his reelection in 1996. California's congressional delegation is lobbying hard for the president to give California a special break.

But the nonpartisan base-closing commission was established in 1990 to be a buffer against just such political pressure. By requiring that the president and Congress either accept or reject the list in its entirety, the commission was designed to prevent the political wheeling and dealing that otherwise would inevitably occur.

Defense Secretary William Perry signaled this week that the Pentagon also might recommend that Clinton reject the report. Mr. Perry notes that the commission has made choices more at odds with the Pentagon's own wishes than in the past.

That's his role. But the commission was set up to give an assessment independent of Pentagon interests, too.

After three earlier rounds of cuts, the choices made by the commission this time were more difficult. Each base had some merit; the difficulty was in choosing fairly among them.

But the fact that the choices were tough is why the president should accept the list as presented and not send it back to the commission for revisions. California voters are not likely to make base closures a key issue when they vote in 1996. But voters in other states who lose bases may be deeply angered if they think California was given a special favor.

Neither Clinton nor his predecessor, George Bush, has ever rejected the recommendations of a base-closure commission. The president should keep that precedent intact.

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