By James Beaty
Now that sequestration has happened, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is hoping for bipartisan support for a bill to let the nation’s military leaders decide where Department of Defense cuts will occur.
Inhofe sat down with the News-Capital on Friday after piloting a plane to the city from Tulsa.
Inhofe, who is the ranking Republican member on the House Armed Services Committee, said he’s very much concerned about sequestration and how the mandated across-the-board budget cuts will affect the Department of Defense.
The sequestration measure, which went into effect Friday, calls for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years — with the first $85 billion in cuts required by the end of the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Unless something changed over the weekend — and no change was expected — McAlester Army Ammunition Plant employees were expected to get letters Monday telling them to prepare for one furlough day a week, according to McAAP spokesman Kevin Jackson. The furloughs weren’t expected to go into effect for about a month.
Inhofe said McAAP will not only be directly affected by sequestration as it now stands, but could also indirectly be affected as well, based on how sequestration affects the use of ordnance by the nation’s military.
“Any use of ordnance will affect McAlester. There will definitely be a reduction in ordnance,” Inhofe said.
He’s trying to build a coalition of Republicans and Democrats for a bill he says would let the military leadership choose specifically where the cuts will occur, as opposed to the across-the-board measures required by sequestration.
The senator concedes it won’t be easy to build the bipartisan coalition, but said he will continue trying. He will not only work to get Democrats on board, but all Republicans as well.
“There are a lot of conservatives rejoicing we have these cuts,” said Inhofe, who has long been considered one of the most conservative members of the Senate.
Some, he said, have even called him an “Obama-king-maker” for wanting to give the joint chiefs of staff the authority to decide where the defense cuts should be. That’s because the president is ultimately commander-in-chief. Ironically,
President Barack Obama had threatened to veto Inhofe’s measure if it passed, Inhofe said.
He’s hoping the fact that the president threatened to veto his measure will convince some conservative members of his own party to support the next bill he wants to offer on the issue.
Inhofe said he plans to be back in Washington on Monday or Tuesday, when he will further gauge support for the proposed measure.
Asked why the House and Senate members didn’t stay in Washington over the weekend to try and work out a solution, Inhofe said, “You’ll have to ask the leadership about that.”
He added that he wished they had stayed in Washington to try and reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, he plans to talks to some of his fellow senators by phone.
“Now, what we’re doing, is talking to them over the weekend,” Inhofe said.
He said the ultimate result of the measure would be to allow the chiefs to make the decisions where the cuts should occur, said Inhofe, referring to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Inhofe said it would be far less onerous in the five service areas if the military service chiefs decide where the cuts should occur. He referred to leaders of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Inhofe’s first attempt at the measure failed to garner enough votes to pass.
“I introduced the bill yesterday (Thursday)” Inhofe said.
He said Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid allowed two votes Thursday before sequestration went into effect — one on a Democratic option and another on a Republican option.”
Inhofe said he and Sen. Pat Tummey, R-Pa., filed the Republican option.
The Inhofe-Tummey bill failed Thursday by a vote of 38-62. With 60 votes needed to pass, it fell 22 shy of the needed number. Although a couple of Democrats supported the Inhofe-Tummey measure, nine Republicans voted against it.
“We got together with some Democrats about the cuts and how it would have a devastating affect on them,” Inhofe said.
Two Democratic senators, Mark Warner, of Virginia, and Max Baucus, of Montana, voted in support of the Inhofe-Tummey measure Thursday.
“I was shocked we got any Democrats,” Inhofe said.
The nine Republicans who voted against it included such high-profile GOP lawmakers as Sens. John McCain, Ariz.; Lindsey Graham, S.C.; Marco Rubio, Fla., and Rand Paul, Ky.
By contrast, the Democratic option fell nine votes short, failing by a vote of 51-49. It included spending cuts and ways to raise revenue, which included closing some tax loopholes.
While Inhofe said his and Sen. Tummey’s measure would concede the power to make the defense cuts to the military service chiefs, he said, “The cuts will have to be consistent with this year’s Defense Authorization Act.
That means lawmakers would, in effect, have “veto” power, Inhofe said.
It’s not expected to change the required defense and domestic cuts, although Inhofe says it’s unfair that the defense cuts are the same as domestic cuts under the sequestration measure, since defense spending accounts for approximately 18 percent of discretionary spending, but is now taking 50 percent of the budget cuts.
Asked if he could have done something different to help keep the sequestration cuts from going into effect, Inhofe said “No; I did it. I reminded everyone defense is 18 percent of the budget and is getting 50 percent of the cuts.”
He also said hearings were arranged where the nation’s service chiefs said they would prefer to decide where the defense cuts would come if sequestration did go into effect.
Inhofe said he has a hard time understanding why anyone would oppose a bill to let the military’s leaders decide where the defense cuts should be.
“Who can argue against it?” Inhofe asked, then answered his question.
“The president’s reason is he wants a tax increase.”
Inhofe knows his proposed bill would not do away with the effects of budget cuts on the nation’s defense.
“I’m not saying this solves the problem,” he said. He does hope to change the situation for the better, the senator maintained.
For now, Inhofe hopes more Democrats will support his proposed bill and he hopes some of the Republicans who voted against the first version will vote for it the second time around. However, the senator said he doesn’t plan to introduce the bill unless he knows he has the support beforehand for it to pass.
He plans to keep trying, though.
“This will be a very busy weekend,” Inhofe said.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.