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A special commission recommended closing 31 US military bases from Massachusetts to California, and urged cutbacks at others in an effort to cut $1.7 billion from the Defense Department budget.President Bush is expected to approve the commission's recommendations, which were to cross his desk yesterday. The seven-member commission urged Bush to close nine Army facilities, eight Navy installations, 13 Air Force bases, and one Marine base. The panel's recommendations included closing Fort Ord and Long Beach Naval Station in California; the Naval Shipyard and Naval Station in Philadelphia; Fort Devens in Massachusetts; Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana; and the Naval Air Station at Chase Field in Texas. MacDill Air Force Base in Florida would stay open under the commission's plan. The panel also recommended sparing Fort McClellan, in Alabama, the country's only chemical warfare training school, and the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state. Sunday's recommendations were reached after intense debate on Capitol Hill in which the commissioners weighed the cost of closing bases against the savings to US taxpayers. The special panel, known as the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, is making the unpopular decisions to close the installations - which often mean economic hardships for the communities that surround them - because Congress could not agree on what to cut, and no lawmaker wanted bases to close in his or her home district. Predictably, the panel's recommendations did not please legislators where bases were slated for closure. Bush has until July 15 to revise the panel's recommendations. Congress then has 45 days to accept or reject them, with no changes possible.

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