Inhofe: US Budget Should Center More on Defense

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) wants to increase defense funding for US Africa Command. Here, Inhofe visits with troops at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. DOD photo by monier, Djibouti. DOD photo by MSgt. Loren Bonser.

Congress needs to reorganize federal spending around the “top priority” of providing for the national defense, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. While the $700 billion defense policy bill Congress finished this week is designed to achieve that goal, Inhofe said, enacting the bill would require getting around the spending caps of the Budget Control Act. He said he is ready to support “whatever mechanism it takes to do that.”

While he said it would be “difficult,” Inhofe believes a way forward can be found.

“The caps are put there by Congress and Congress can change what Congress puts there,” Inhofe said. While he would prefer to “make the adjustments within the budget … by shifting priorities” from non-defense to defense programs, Inhofe admitted such a move was unlikely to gain broad support in Congress.

The Senate is more likely to “extend the caps” and raise the ceiling for spending across the board, he said. While there is opposition to such a move in both houses, Inhofe believes that, in the Senate, budget hawks “would lose” a vote on raising the caps, paving the way for appropriations to match the $700 billion defense bill authorization.

One place Inhofe would like to see the benefits of more defense spending is US Africa Command. “When they set up AFRICOM, they didn’t resource it,” said Inhofe, who recently returned from “my 156th African country visit.” While the Oct. 4 deaths of four US Special Forces members in an ambush in Niger has drawn increased attention to the US military presence across the continent, Inhofe said he has long been an advocate for beefing up the command.

“They don’t have anything over there,” Inhofe said. While the US has 6,000 troops in Africa, he said 4,000 of those are stationed in Djibouti, where missions are focused on “a lot more than just Africa.” Another 750 troops are “Marines that are attached to the embassies,” leaving just “1,300 people in an area the size of Africa” to carry out all other US military missions.

As a result, AFRICOM often has to “borrow troops” from other commands to complete its missions, Inhofe said. The events in Niger may provide an opportunity to finally address the problem. “Now after what has happened and people are more aware of it, we’re going to be in a position to maybe get that done, and we’ll be working on that.”