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July 14, 2021

Biden Defense Budget Harms Military Readiness, Weakens Our Defense Strategy and Fails Our Troops, Inhofe Says on Senate Floor

In floor speech, Inhofe calls on President Biden, Senate colleagues to make a “generational investment” in national defense

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor to describe the real-world impacts of President Biden’s defense budget, which cuts spending below current levels by not keeping pace with inflation. 

As Prepared for Delivery: 

This is my fourth speech this year arguing that we must match defense resources to our National Defense Strategy, but my first since the Biden administration actually released details on what’s in the defense budget — or more accurately, what’s been cut.

Remember, our expert, bipartisan NDS commission report says we need 3-5 percent real growth in the defense budget each year to actually execute that strategy. The defense budget the Biden administration sent us does not achieve real growth. In fact, it’s a real cut.

Even worse, the Fed has predicted inflation next year will be bigger than predicted. If that continues, this budget will be an even bigger cut than expected and will hamstring our troops even more than we thought.

A lower defense topline than last year is just the first problem. The details of this budget are also worse than we were forecasting.

This budget puts shipbuilding on a starvation diet. The Navy tells us we need at least 355 ships, probably more than 400. Right now, we’re under 300 ships, and the trend is down – not up.

What’s the administration’s answer? They joke about having a 355-ship Navy with only tugboats. But we don’t have the luxury of jokes. The Chinese Navy already has 355 ships, and they’ll reach a fleet of 460 ships by 2030.

I’m not the only one who’s concerned about this. Democratic congresswoman Elaine Luria said it well. She said, “The Navy budget is not a serious budget for great power competition.”

Without objection, I’d like to add her recent article about the Navy’s fleet to the record.

This budget also fails to make any progress on growing or modernizing the Air Force. Instead, in the Biden budget, procurement actually decreases by almost 15 percent across the entire military. In the Air Force, it’s 20 percent.

President Biden’s own nominee for Secretary of the Air Force told us that one of the best thing we could do is accelerate buying additional F-35s. But this budget doesn’t do that, and the fleet just gets older and smaller.

Perhaps the greatest casualty of the Biden budget is the Army. Instead of investing, it deeply cuts the Army across the board: modernization, procurement, force structure, readiness.

I can’t understand why we’d decrease full-spectrum training just as we start to get healthy after the readiness crisis of 2017.

Again, don’t take my word for it. General McConville told us last week that most of the Army's weapons systems are 1980s vintage, yet the Biden administration is slow-walking the Army’s modernization efforts—while our adversaries are relentlessly advancing.

Secretary Wormuth said the service is still “under stress” in some areas, including air defense – which is a critical priority. That’s unacceptable.

Additionally, while Sec. Austin kept his promise to fully fund nuclear modernization, I remain concerned about the $600 million cut to NNSA’s deferred maintenance budget.

That would have fixed crumbling infrastructure that is necessary keep the nuclear weapons programs on track.

The reality of this budget cut is on display in the unfunded priorities lists put together by the military services and combatant commanders. No one knows more than the combatant commanders. In total, we’re looking at $25 billion in key equipment, weapons, and more that our services could use, but that this budget can’t support.

Many people call these “wish lists.” I call them “risk lists” because it’s one way our commanders tell us the risks we’re taking with this budget and with the lives of our troops.

We can only kick the can down the road for so long, generating more and more risk—but we don’t talk about that risk. We never do. We just demand that the military will do more with less. We keep divesting, but the investments never follow.

And this trend of increased risk will only accelerate. It’s already clear the administration is signaling they want to cut the military even deeper next year.

Earlier this month, I read in the press about a memo by the Acting Secretary of the Navy as he tries to minimize the damage and risk to his sailors resulting from this significant budget cut.

He says the Navy is forced to choose between modernizing ships, subs, or aircraft. Does anyone think the Chinese are choosing between ships, subs, or aircraft?

Recently, our nation’s highest-ranking military officer General Milley told us that the Chinese and Russians combined actually spend more than us on defense. Think about that for a minute.

Nobody’s talking about this. We’ve been told for so many years that we don’t need to spend more on defense because we already spend more than our competitors. Turns out, that’s not true. And the American people aren’t aware of this.

Now part of the difference is that the Chinese and the Russians don’t take care of their people. I’ve talked a lot about that. Remember all the problems with housing? The greatest expense we have is for housing and quality of life ofr our troops.

Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown made this point recently, and I agree with him.

He wrote, “We spend $1 billion more on Medicare in the defense budget than we do on new tactical vehicles. We spend more on the Defense Health Program than we do on new ships.”

Congressman Brown concluded: “In total, some $200 billion in the defense budget are essentially for nondefense purposes — from salaries to health care to basic research.”

I’d like to add Congressman Brown’s article to the record because I think he gets it exactly right from the other side of the aisle.

We can disagree sometimes about how we compete with China in nondefense areas—that’s an important debate. But we’ve got to be on the same page when it comes to national security.

Now, some people would say my criticism of cutting the military is because President Biden is a Democrat. I want to be very clear. This is not about politics.

It’s about protecting this nation and making sure our men and women in uniform have the training, resources and equipment they need to complete the mission and come home safely.

I told President Trump when he sent us inadequate defense spending requests. I went to the White House with Secretary Mattis to tell President Trump that we couldn’t cut defense when the threats are growing. And he listened, and we adjusted the defense budget.

Now, I happen to think President Trump wanted to spend even more on the troops, but I think he got some bad advice from some advisers.

I think the same is true of President Biden. I think he wants a strong military when he’s up against our adversaries.

I know this president believes that a strong military underpins all our other tools of national power, including diplomatic efforts. I know this president believes in America’s role in the world and the value of deterrence.

And I know this president believes in the importance of our allies and partners, who look to us for both commitments and investments to know we’re serious.

We all know how painful the Obama readiness crisis was. Flight training hours slashed. Pilots were forced to take spare parts from museums in order to repair their aircraft.

This administration should remember how dangerous that was – not just for our deterrence, but also because there will be a human cost. That’s one of many reasons I’m struggling to understand the administration's cuts to the defense budget.

One thing we’ve been told is that anything more than this defense budget isn’t affordable. We’ve been told that the Pentagon must live in “fiscal reality.”

That’s one way to tell the military you don’t care about them. This administration wants to spend trillions of taxpayer dollars on everything else under the sun—but not one cent more for defense or for our troops.

In reality, the investments we need to strengthen our military for the decades to come are minimal when compared to the overall federal budget.

Defense spending compared to our GDP is half what it was in the Cold War. And we live in a much more dangerous world now.

We’ve been told that the Pentagon must make “hard choices,” as if “hard choices” are a substitute for strategy-based budgeting.

But we're not making hard choices. We’re making bad, short-sighted choices.

All of our current military and senior DoD officials agree we have a good military strategy for China and Russia.  But this budget doesn’t support that strategy. 

As a result, I’m worried deterrence will fail: maybe today or in five years. And when it does, the cost will be much higher than any investment we would make today to prevent it.

We’ve made a sacred compact with our service members. We tell them we’ll take care of them and their families — we do that very well. We also tell them that we’ll give them the tools to defend the nation and come home safely.

But we’re not holding up our end of the agreement. With this proposed budget, and the prospects of further cuts, we are failing to give them the resources they need.

We can’t simply spend our way out of our military problems. But we can spend too little to give ourselves a chance.

We’ve seen the high cost of underinvesting in our military. Underfunding the military tempts our adversaries, raises doubts in our allies, and makes war more, not less, likely.

We need to make a generational investment in our defenses so that our children and grandchildren don’t have to, and we’re not doing it now. 


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