POLITICO: Shrinking Defense Dollars and Biofuels

By:  By Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)


After nearly four months on the job, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel finds himself in an unenviable position. In the face of a global security environment that is as complex and dangerous as any time in recent history, he’s charged with overseeing a military teetering on an unprecedented fiscal precipice.

Sequestration has claimed $37 billion from the defense budget this year alone, and our forces are struggling with its impact on their combat readiness and capabilities. With no solution to sequestration in sight, an additional $52 billion in cuts is set to take effect next year. As these cuts continue to take a toll on our military, the secretary is engaged in a fierce debate with the Joint Chiefs to reassess the future of our military. As the secretary struggles to develop a new national security strategy to meet growing threats with a rapidly declining defense budget, there are no easy answers at the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continues to gut military programs, capabilities and the readiness of our forces, leaving our commanders with a hollow force unable to provide the global security needs of the U.S. and our allies. He has cut more than 100,000 military personnel from the ranks, reduced the size of our naval fleet, cut hundreds of Air Force combat aircraft — and allowed sequestration to impose devastating cuts in the funds used to train our military units, repair equipment and recover the preparedness of our armed forces.

In addition, unforeseen costs associated with the president’s call for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan have left the department billions of dollars short in vital warfighting funds. Rather than exhibit the leadership required of our commander in chief to ensure our brave men and women on the front lines receive the support they require, the president has ordered the secretary not to request emergency supplemental funding from Congress. Instead, the secretary is being forced by the administration to sacrifice other current defense priorities, leaving our combat forces in Afghanistan short nearly $4 billion and shortchanging other base defense accounts by $2.3 billion.

In the midst of this unprecedented fiscal pressure, Hagel has questioned every defense dollar that is not being spent on a critical defense priority. It is reported that he recently asked why, in the face of devastating cuts to civilian workers, carrier deployments, military training and equipment maintenance, the Defense Department is planning to contribute $170 million to a massive federal giveaway to private biofuels companies to aid in the construction of commercial biofuel refineries.

The White House quickly reminded the secretary that a top national security priority of the president remains to eventually be independent from a reliance on fossil fuels. The investment of Defense funds in the speculative development of a vast commercial biofuels refining capability is deemed as the panacea to break the military’s single-source dependence on oil — a key strategic vulnerability, according to biofuels advocates. But given the range of immediate vulnerabilities and the abysmal record of this administration’s use of taxpayer dollars to fund the president’s hobby as a venture capitalist, Hagel was right to question this misguided effort. At a time when our military is tasked with defending us from a growing array of threats while enduring the biggest cuts of any federal agency under sequestration, now is not the time for speculative adventurism with precious declining defense dollars.

There is another problem for the administration’s biofuels agenda. According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, a supply shock created by a surge in North American oil production is about to cascade through the global oil market. Furthermore, the U.S. is on pace to overtake Russia as the world’s largest non-OPEC oil producer by 2015, the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s biggest oil producer before 2020, and the U.S. will be energy independent by 2030.

So, if we are seriously interested in ensuring energy security over the next 50 years, why would we invest diminishing defense resources today to try to establish a competing interest to the fastest-growing sector of our economy? Like so many of the other decisions by this administration regarding our national security, it defies comprehension. Rather than use our military as a piggy bank to fund the president’s domestic energy agenda, we should be ensuring that every scarce defense dollar is going toward maintaining our military as the best-trained and best-equipped fighting force in the world. I hope the secretary of defense stands up to this White House and demands some common sense.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is ranking member on the Armed Services Committee and senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.