Tahlequah Daily Press

December 5, 2013

Defense bill a must-pass

Sen. Inhofe presses ahead with military spending compromise

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe will return to Washington, D.C., next week with a single, driving purpose: Pass the defense spending authorization bill.

He expects trouble, though, and it could come from within his own party.

Inhofe said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., probably will guide the bill to a quick vote, avoiding attempts to overburden it with amendments.

“There will be a lot of protest votes by Republicans, but I won’t be one of them,” Inhofe said during a meeting with the Enid News & Eagle editorial board Wednesday.

Democrats currently hold a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate.

Inhofe said the authorization bill is important because it sets guidelines and policy about how the Department of Defense spends its appropriations, which also are set by Congress. One of the policies includes restrictions on transferring terror detainees from the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay.

“If this expires and we don’t have a bill, the president can unilaterally take everyone from Gitmo and send them to Yemen if he wants to,” Inhofe said. “That’s how serious this thing is.”

Because there wasn’t yet an agreement on the authorization bill, and because both houses of Congress will only be in the Capitol for a short time before the end of the year, the legislation was drafted over the weekend between Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and the defense chairman from the U.S. House of Representatives. He had the agreement with him Wednesday, but declined to show it to reporters, citing confidentiality of negotiations.

Current defense authorizations expire Jan. 1.



Heart surgery

During his visit in Enid, Inhofe also discussed his recent surgery, a quadruple bypass to clear four blocked arteries.

He said that a friend, Oklahoma native and astronaut Thomas Stafford, recommended that he get a “virtual” colonoscopy rather than a traditional one.

Because it is a more thorough diagnostic test, doctors discovered that Inhofe’s arteries were severely blocked. He scheduled surgery immediately and is recovering well, he said.

“Tom Stafford literally saved my life,” Inhofe said. “I’m all overhauled and ready to go now.”



Base closures

Inhofe said that there likely won’t be another round of Base Realignment and Closure, commonly referred to as BRAC.

Closing a base is costly in the short term, and budget-watchers in Congress are keen on saving money, he said.

“One thing that’s certain about a BRAC run, you can always have a debate about whether it’s going to save money — but the one thing they don’t debate is that in the first four to five years, it costs money. And we can’t afford to do it,” Inhofe said.

He also believes that the government should not start shutting down bases to reflect a military that already is too small.

As for sequestration, the automatic fiscal policy that has reduced federal budgets because of a lack of agreement on overall spending, Inhofe said there appears to be no alternative in the near future.

“The Republicans will take control of the Senate in 2014. And if we can survive until we can get a president in the White House and Republican control of the House and Senate, we can go through with a budget that would change all these things,” he said.