He parted ways with the president over the budget. The White House wanted tax hikes but had no interest in beefing up defense spending. So James Mountain Inhofe voted "no."
The year was 1987. The president was Ronald Reagan.
If Reagan thought Inhofe was a troublemaker, it's easy to imagine what President Obama must think of the seasoned Oklahoman who last month was seated as the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The first days of this congressional session show that Inhofe has lost none of his passion and could prove a formidable problem for the president.
Inhofe led the opposition to Chuck Hagel's confirmation as secretary of defense. That all the Democrats voted for their president's pick is not surprise. Inhofe, however, managed to line up almost universal opposition on the other side of the aisle for the cloture vote. Uniform resistance is far from axiomatic in confirmation hearings. That Inhofe effectively made the case questioning Hagel's qualifications has to make the White House nervous for the future of pushing its defense agenda through the Congress.
In particular, the president and Hagel -- who last week narrowly won confirmation for the Pentagon's top spot -- can expect a tough time pressing their nuclear disarmament agenda. Recently, Inhofe and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, penned a Wall Street Journal column that flat-out rejected the president's plan. Their conclusion: The president's plan to unilaterally cut America's nuclear arsenal "is likely to cause the very instability that the U.S. seeks to avoid."
Rather than weaken the U.S. nuclear deterrent, Inhofe is likely to put modernizing the arsenal and expanding missile defense at the top of his agenda. An early indication of that: One of Inhofe's first staff hires as ranking member was Rob Soofer. Dr. Soofer was a longtime staffer for recently retired Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who for years was the Republican Yoda on nuclear and missile defense issues.
Also, look for Inhofe to pick apart the Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR, which the Pentagon is supposed to deliver to Congress early next year. There is already a requirement on the books to appoint an independent panel to evaluate both the findings of the QDR and the process of how it was put together. Inhofe was one of the sharpest critics of the "strategic guidance" that the administration put out last year -- a strategy-free document that proved little more than a rubber stamp for a half-trillion in defense cuts. The senator pointed out, for example, that the president's promises just don't add up. The Pentagon insists it's "pivoting" towards Asia, but the number of ships in the Navy is dropping. Already, there are not enough craft to deploy the Marine forces available, and in a few years that gap is going to get bigger, not smaller.
As the Pentagon-heavy sequester cuts take effect -- on top of the administration's previous defense cuts -- the gap between what the military needs to defend vital U.S. interests and what the military has will widen dramatically. Inhofe is determined to bring that inconvenient truth out into the open, and to expose the even sadder truth that the White House has no real plan for how to protect all of us.
In Inhofe, Obama has a determined and effective "loyal" opposition. That's not something this administration much enjoys.
-Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation
First appeared in The Examiner.
Protect America Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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