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Pentagon surrenders on base closings, passing up cost-cutting opportunity

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks during a news

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. (Aug. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

The U.S. military has thrown in the towel. The world's pre-eminent fighting force has decided it can't win Capitol Hill's approval for a new round of domestic base closings right now, so Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to stop trying. He announced Monday that the Department of Defense is abandoning its request for a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2013.

It's a shameful example of Washington talking a good game on spending cuts but refusing to wield the knife.

Congress has loudly committed to making $1 trillion in military spending cuts over the next decade. Meanwhile the Pentagon says it has domestic bases it doesn't need and could save billions of dollars by shutting them down. Base closings in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 netted $8 billion in annual recurring savings. The latest round in 2005 is expected to shave another $4 billion, Panetta said.

The need to cut spending and spending that needs to be cut should be a match made in heaven. But Congress wasted no time blasting the idea as DOA.

Empowering base closing commissions to determine which installations to shutter was supposed to take the not-in-my-back-yard politics out of these decisions. The plans are implemented unless killed by Congress in an up-or-down vote.

Closing bases would cost jobs in somebody's state or congressional district. But military spending should be about maximizing national security. It shouldn't be a jobs program. If creating jobs is what Congress wants to do, there are more productive ways to spend a few billion dollars -- building roads and bridges, for instance.

With domestic bases off the table, Panetta says he'll close a few overseas, mostly in Europe. Some of those bases should be closed. A government with big deficits, too much debt and voters averse to increasing revenue can't maintain its far-flung military footprint.

But with tough talk of parsimony all the rage in Washington, you'd think officials could find the will to close a few unneeded bases at home. If Congress isn't willing to pluck this low-hanging fruit, there's little chance it will deliver on the tough cuts and tax hikes necessary to help the federal government live within its means.