Hill Air Force Base and research to develop alternatives to destroying chemical weapons by incineration - as is planned in Utah - could both be helped by a defense authorization bill passed Wednesday by the House.
But President Clinton is vowing to veto it because it would spend $12.4 billion more than he requested, and would impose bans on homosexuals, pornographic material and people with the AIDS virus in the military.In the bill, which passed 272-153, the House refused to change a law - as requested by Clinton - that requires 60 percent of military depot work to be conducted by the military's own depots, such as Hill Air Force Base.
Clinton wanted it changed so he could contract out more work to private companies, which he says would save money.
Clinton also wants to "privatize in place" work at the ordered-to-close Kelly and McClellan Air Force depot bases in Texas and California, which otherwise would be transferred to Hill and two sister depots.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, a member of the House National Security Committee, said Clinton is trying to save work at the California and Texas bases only to help his re-election chances in those vote-rich states.
"It is high time the president stopped risking military readiness for his own electoral gain. The Congress has spoken loud and clear. We are committed to protecting a strong core maintenance capability within efficient military depots."
Hansen added, "We are also committed to the free and open competition of non-core work with the private sector. The president's policy did neither of these things and was soundly rejected."
Also, the House authorized an additional $5 million - for a total of $21 million - for research in 1997 on ways to dispose of chemical weapons besides incineration.
Tooele Army Depot in Utah recently completed a huge incinerator and is expected to begin burning weapons there soon - but critics have sued to stop it contending it is unsafe. The former safety director of the plant also claims it is unsafe and says he was fired for refusing to certify it as safe.
The Army, however, says the process is safe and has been certified as such by such prestigious groups as the National Academy of Sciences.
However, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who pushed the increase for research into alternatives because he worries about an incinerator planned for an Army depot in Umatilla, Ore., said alternatives have not been fully explored.
"There are biological, chemical and other innovative ways of disposal that don't involve smokestacks spewing lead, mercury, dioxins, PCBs and potentially lethal nerve gas into the air. These alternatives offer a more environmentally safe and potentially cheaper option than incineration," he said.
Because Tooele's incinerator is already complete, however, the likelihood that alternative methods will be used there is slim unless courts block incineration or some major problem is proven with the process.
Hansen also took a shot at Clinton for threatening to veto the bill, which must still be passed by the Senate.
"Apparently he believes we spend too much on defense even as he commits our troops to every trouble spot around the world. Apparently he does not believe we should defend the American people against an increasing threat from the proliferation of ballistic missiles," Hansen said.