February 5, 2023
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D.C. Digest: Inhofe’s last defense bill clears committee | Politics

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‘Bill’ Inhofe: U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s last National Defense Authorization Act was reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week with his name in the title of the bill.

In his 27 years on the committee, and before that in the House, Inhofe has made the defense bill a chief priority during a 36-year congressional career.

“I always felt the most important things for me were defense and transportation,” Inhofe said. “I focused on them almost to the exclusion of other things.”

Inhofe declared himself pleased with this year’s product. It weighs in at $857.64 billion, $45 billion more than requested by President Joe Biden.

That increase was necessary, Inhofe said, because “we’re at war with opponents with, in some cases, better equipment than we have.”

Not everyone agreed with Inhofe. The United States spends more on defense than the next 10 nations combined, according to some estimates, and quite a few observers believe it is not getting its money’s worth.

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Expensive weapons systems such as Ford-class aircraft carriers and F-35 combat jets have drawn heavy criticism for costing too much and delivering too little.

Inhofe himself has leveled such criticism. But he insists the U.S. military is on the verge of being outstripped by China and Russia — Russia’s problems in Ukraine not withstanding.

“I consider it to be war anytime the other side is suiting up and rattling their armor,” Inhofe said, indicating he believes Chinese as well as the Russians are doing a good deal of that.

The James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Bill is still a long way from becoming law. It has to be passed by the full Senate, then a reconciliation process with the House version will occur before another round of votes.

Asked when he thinks it will be signed into law, Inhofe replied, “Probably down toward the end (of the year). That’s the nature of the institution.”

VA benefits: U.S. Sen. James Lankford took some flak for being one of 14 senators, all Republicans, to vote against a bill intended to give more veterans exposed to toxins access to health care and benefits.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe voted for the bill.

Lankford, though, said he believes the measure will prove detrimental to veterans’ health care overall.

“This bill will add more delays to service-connected veteran care by increasing care requirements for complications that may not be service connected,” Lankford said. “The bill does not increase community care for veterans or increase beneficial information from community care. It simply expands eligibility without increasing capacity.

“All veterans should be evaluated by medical professionals to determine their ongoing treatment needs relating to their service. We must do better at serving those who have given their lives for our nation. We cannot worsen the VA backlog and make it even harder for Oklahoma veterans to get the care they need.”

Guns: Lankford hasn’t signed onto a compromise Senate gun bill, but he did tell Politico he’s OK with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s willingness to talk about it.

“His issue has been: ‘We’ve got to be engaged in conversations. Typically we’re not. This time we are,’” said Lankford. “In this conversation, it seems to be more circling around that: ‘What do we both agree on? OK, let’s move on that.’ That doesn’t offend me. In fact, I think that’s helpful long-term.”

Indian affairs: Four Oklahomans were named to the first Interior Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Council.

The Oklahoma members are Choctaw Chief Gary Batton, Muscogee Second Chief Del Beaver, Pawnee Chairman Walter Echo-Hawk and Cheyenne-Arapaho Gov. Reggie Wassana.

Pulling rank: Lankford told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that putting a colonel instead of a three-star general in a key Middle East position is a bad idea.

Lankford is not alone in his concern about reports that the organizational slot for the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority may be downgraded from lieutenant general.

According to protocol, lieutenant generals have direct access to the secretary of state and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Colonels do not.

There is also concern that a downgrade in rank will signal a downgrade in priorities in the region.

“I am concerned that downgrading the USSC’s rank will weaken the USSC’s mission and imperil U.S. security interests in the Middle East,” Lankford wrote to Austin.

The change is proposed because the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 ordered a reduction of general and flag officers.

Dots and dashes: Reuters reported that Lankford was among six Republicans complaining to TikTok that it “has allowed Russian state media to flood the platform with dangerous pro-war propaganda.”… In a floor speech, 3rd District Congressman Frank Lucas said the Biden Administration and House Democrats have just about everything wrong on agriculture and energy policy and urged them to see the light. … Fifth District Congresswoman Stephanie Bice said she supports legislation requiring baby formula manufacturers to apprise the Food and Drug Administration of potential supply interruptions.

— Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World

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