Base decision may occur next week

Although no date has been set for its start, staff members of Congressional committees say a Senate ouse Conference to work out the final 1994 US Defence Spending Bill will begin next week.

Washington sources said last night.

Although no date has been set for its start, staff members of Congressional committees say a Senate ouse Conference to work out the final 1994 US Defence Spending Bill will begin next week. A decision on the Bermuda base should be among dozens of issues settled almost immediately.

Sources say the Base issue will almost certainly be dealt with at the staff level, leaving Senators and Congressmen to debate more significant spending issues they differ on.

The aim of the Conference is to merge separate spending plans of the Senate and the House of Representatives into a single Defence Bill that the Congress can approve as a whole.

In the lead-up to the Conference, the Base became an issue when the House Armed Services Committee put forward a clause to withdraw funding for the US Naval Air Station in Bermuda within 90 days of its passage.

Because the clause did not exist in the Senate's spending plan, it needed to go before the Conference.

"The staff of the House and Senate committees will be meeting and they have to come to the same position on items in dispute,'' one source said.

"Whatever they come up with will have to be accepted by the members of the Conference. The most important people in this process are the senior representatives of the Senate and House.'' The Conference is made up of 22 Senators and 30 Representaives. Sen. Sam Nunn and Rep. Ron Dellums are the ranking chairmen.

"Mr. Dellums has told the staff that he wants to work something out that doesn't do damage to Bermuda,'' one source said.

Although Mr. Dellums' directive should carry the day, staffers will also be considering positions from his various subcommittees. One of them is the Readiness Subcommittee, which is responsible for the operations and maintenance of military bases.

Its chairman, Rep. Earl Hutto, is the Congressman responsible for the 90-day clause to close the Bermuda Base.

One source said Rep. Hutto wanted to take the money that would have been committed to the Bermuda base and spend it on something else.

Nevertheless, the source said Rep. Dellums is the principal conferee from the House and "whatever the Conference decides he has to agree to'' before it goes forward.

Mr. Dellums last week in Washington told Premier the Hon. Sir John Swan he would make sure Bermuda was not hurt by the Base closure clause.

In its current form, the clause would not only shut down the base 90 days after it passed but also the Bermuda Airport and emergency services which are operated by the US Navy.

Congressmen lobbied by Premier Swan, Bermuda's Washington lobbyist Mr. Ken Levine and the British Embassy are now aware the clause would hurt the Island.

So while it is almost certain the 90-day condition will be erased, there remains pressure to respond to the image created by the Sam Donaldson PrimeTime Live report that characterised the Bermuda base as the Navy's Club Med.

On the other side, the Pentagon and the Clinton Administration have said they're opposed to the House move.

One source in Washington last night said the best result for Bermuda would be a new clause agreeable to Senate and House representatives that would require the Navy to review its need for the Base.

The Navy, the source said, would probably want to keep the Base, albeit pared down. The Navy personnel would continue to operate the airport and emergency services and thus maintain the Navy presence's and the right to land here.

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