Friday, August 26, 2005

Thune Saves Ellsworth - For Now

The military base closing commission yesterday ensured that freshman Senator John Thune (R-SD) will have his seat for as long as he wants it:

The base closing commission voted Friday to keep open Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota - rejecting the Pentagon's plan to close it - as the panel labored toward conclusion of a politically delicate task that has brought alternating sighs of relief and exasperation in communities across America.

The surprise decision was a setback for Pentagon leaders, a blessing for South Dakotans who feared losing some 4,000 jobs, and a victory for Senator John Thune and the state's other politicians who lobbied vigorously to save the base. Thune, a freshman Republican, unseated then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle partly on the strength of his claim that he would be better positioned to help save the base....

The commission reasoned that the Pentagon's alternative of transferring Ellsworth's B-1 bombers to Dyess AFB in Texas would save little or no money and hurt force readiness, in dramatic contrast to Pentagon claims that the move would save nearly 2 billion dollars over the next two decades.

Whichever argument holds more water, there's no doubt that Senator Thune is the biggest single winner from the decision, which saves him enormous political face by making him a local hero and bolstering his popularity even more for having saved Ellsworth despite the Bush Pentagon's attempt to close it.

Of course, the President can still reject the commission's recommendation and close the base anyway. But unlike back in May, when the Pentagon merely proposed the closure - causing Thune to break with the White House on the John Bolton nomination as a public protest - this would be a direct and pointed slap-down that would be a humiliation of the man that was the Administration's biggest senatorial recruit, and won the GOP's biggest senatorial AND comeback victory last November against Tom Daschle after having gotten screwed by Tim Johnson two years earlier.

Will GDub equivalently reprise that buggering when the base closure panel's final report hits his desk on September 8th? Not if he doesn't want yet another "maverick" on his hands.