Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said there was “no strategic rationale for any cut” to defense in his first public speech as the head of the influential committee.
Speaking at the National Defense University at Fort McNair last week, Inhofe outlined his priorities as SASC chairman and discussed some of the threats facing the nation – from great-power competition with Russia and China to dangers posed by North Korea, Iran and terrorism.
But he said the nation also faces an internal threat in the form of harmful budget cuts and delays to the defense budget.
He pledged to pass future defense appropriations bills on time — much as Congress did earlier this year for the first time in several years — and said officials must work to remove the threat of severe budget cuts known as sequestration.
Inhofe said he is a conservative and against big spending, but said there is an exception when it comes to the nation’s military.
“Our No.1 priority in this country should be defense,” the senator said. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Inhofe was critical of the Obama administration and warned that a cut in defense spending could be repeating past mistakes.
With President Trump reportedly considering a $700 billion defense budget request, Inhofe said that $733 billion should be “the floor, not the ceiling,” for any defense budget.
Days later, Trump directed the Department of Defense to prepare a $750 budget request, following a meeting with Inhofe and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the House Armed Services Chairman, according to reports.
During his remarks to the National Defense University, Inhofe said the National Defense Strategy issued earlier this year must drive all defense decisions.
He called the document a “blueprint for peace” and warned that potential adversaries were also seeking to improve their military capabilities.
“Today our nation faces the most diverse and complex array of threats that I can remember,” Inhofe said. “We’ve got some problems out there … We can’t assume we have the best of everything.”
The nation must invest in advanced capabilities in space, cyber, electronic warfare and hypersonics, he said. And it must modernize its fighter and bomber fleets, increase its airlift capacity and improve power projection, missile defense and submarine warfare, among others.
“America’s military advantage has eroded,” Inhofe said. “We have a serious problem.”
In addition to passing authorization bills on time, the senator said his other priorities will be on rebuilding readiness, modernizing the force, caring for service members and their families, and contract and acquisition reform.
Those efforts require resources, Inhofe said. And, more importantly, it must be predictable funding — something the military has lacked in past years.
“This is the most significant thing we can deal with today,” he said.