GOP Sen. Inhofe gives final OK to $700M for Pentagon effort to fight Ebola in Africa

Associated Press

A powerful GOP senator lifted his objections Friday to a $750 million Pentagon request to fight Ebola in Africa, freeing up the money immediately.

Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gave his OK to shift leftover Afghanistan war money to the Ebola effort, which involves sending almost 4,000 troops to Africa to offer logistical support to health care workers fighting the epidemic.

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Inhofe said he still has big reservations about the mission and questions whether the Pentagon has a coherent strategy to fight the disease.

"After careful consideration, I believe that the outbreak has reached a point that the only organization in the world able to provide the capabilities and speed necessary to respond to this crisis is the U.S. military," Inhofe said.

Inhofe's approval came a day after other senior Republicans backed the effort to "reprogram" the war money to fight Ebola. It frees $700 million on top of the $50 million already approved as a first installment.

The administration originally requested $1 billion to send up to 4,000 troops to Africa. In briefings this week, lawmakers said, Pentagon officials estimated $750 million would cover a six-month mission that would include airlifting personnel, medical supplies, protective suits and equipment such as tents to house Ebola victims and isolate people exposed to the virus.

It takes the OK of the top Republican and Democrat on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations panels to "reprogram" Pentagon funds. It's a common practice within the huge $500 billion-plus Pentagon budget. Such transfers are rarely publicized, but the Ebola transfer is an unusually high-profile example.

The Ebola mission comes as the military is already stretched thin.

"Significant cuts to the defense budget have eroded the readiness and capabilities of our military, and I cannot support the indefinite commitment of our troops to this mission," Inhofe said.