Jennifer Talhelm: The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman said Thursday they hope to require the Pentagon to carry out a federal panel’s recommendation that a new mission be found for Cannon Air Force Base.
The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission last month handed Cannon a reprieve of sorts. Instead of recommending to close it, commissioners directed the Pentagon to send Cannon’s F-16 fighter squadrons elsewhere and to look for another use for the base.
Cannon would be closed if a new mission can’t be found by Dec. 31, 2009.
Domenici and Bingaman want to make sure the Pentagon follows the BRAC commission’s direction. They plan to add the requirement to a defense appropriations bill — which typically funds a variety of national security needs — that the Senate is expected to take up later this month.
Domenici, a Republican, said in an interview that the provision would be a “first giant step” toward finding a new mission for the base and staving off the devastating economic effects of closing it.
Closing the base could affect as many as 4,700 jobs.
Bingaman, a Democrat, said the intent is to emphasize how important it is for the Defense Department to keep Cannon open.
“They obviously have a lot of fish to fry, and we don’t want this to get lost in the shuffle,” Bingaman said.
Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood declined comment on the New Mexico senators’ effort, saying the BRAC recommendations aren’t yet final.
The BRAC panel’s recommendation on Cannon was one of hundreds made as it reviewed the Pentagon’s plan to streamline the nation’s military bases.
Thursday was the deadline for the commission to send its report to President Bush. But the routine process became bogged down as several states filed lawsuits to save their military bases. By the end of the day, Bush had asked the Supreme Court to step in, though his bid was rejected.
Bush had pledged to pass the BRAC recommendations to Congress without changes. Congress would then have 45 days to block the plan.
The tie-up probably won’t affect New Mexico’s plans, staffers in both senators’ offices said.
Domenici began working on legislation for Cannon earlier this week when he met with Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee.
New Mexico officials are still waiting on a response to their request to meet with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and to have Pentagon officials visit Cannon.