When it comes to tough decisions on Capitol Hill these days, the trick is to save Congress from itself. That's why trade agreements, under presidential "fast-track" authority, are voted up or down in their entirety. To open them to amendment would expose individual legislators to irresistible pressures from special-interest groups. That's why, in the far touchier business of closing military bases, the same all-or-nothing approach is being used for the most sweeping defense retrenchment in decades.
President Bush has now given his "enthusiastic" approval to a plan to close 34 defense facilities nationwide and to phase down a couple dozen more. More than 100,000 jobs -- two-thirds military, one-third civilian -- will eventually be gone. Maryland comes out pretty well, losing 3,000 jobs here and there but picking up 3,200 in other adjustments, which is why cries of anguish are muted in our state. Not so just to the north, where the proposed closing of the historic Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and Base has prompted a court challenge from Pennsylvania lawmakers.
While political hearts are bound to bleed when Billy Penn's depressed city loses 9,000 (count 'em) jobs, the political fraternity would be aghast if the court challenge were to succeed. For at that point, Congress would be thrown back on the old system of every member having to prove his prowess by protecting home district pork. No excuses, no protection from angry voters -- and no way to downsize the armed forces with the Cold War at an end.