Published February 28, 2012
Cutting the Pentagon budget to meet a "nutty formula" produced by Congress to reduce the deficit is not just "goofy," it will decimate the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday at a Senate hearing to review the 2013 fiscal year budget request.
Panetta told members of the Senate Budget Committee he hopes they will put a stop to the looming sequestration process, a law Congress put in place last summer that will trigger $600 billion in across-the-board cuts for the Defense Department over 10 years beginning in 2013, bringing total Pentagon cuts to more than $1 trillion.
Panetta said the cuts are so deep the Pentagon hasn't even bothered to prepare for such a scenario.
"We have made no plans for sequester because it's a nutty formula, and it's goofy to begin with, and it's not something, frankly, that anybody who is responsible ought to put into effect," he said.
The sequestration law was originally passed as an incentive for a group of 12 lawmakers, known as the super committee, to reach a compromise in a debt negotiation process that eventually failed along party lines.
That failure triggered a countdown clock for mandatory cuts -- that is, unless Congress decides to change the law.
"It was designed as a gun to the head," as Panetta put it Tuesday.
Fellow Democrat, Kent Conrad, chairman of the budget panel, sparked more emotion from the defense secretary.
"We're going to have to have additional savings if we're really going to deal with the debt threat facing the country," Conrad said.
Panetta, who formerly served in the Clinton administration as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, agreed, suggesting that raising taxes and cutting entitlements would be a good place to start.
"If you're not dealing with the two-thirds that is entitlement spending, if you're not dealing with revenues and you keep going back to the same place, frankly you're not going to make it," Panetta said.
"And you're going to hurt this country, you're going to hurt this country's security, not only by cutting defense, but very frankly by cutting discretionary spending that deals with the quality of life in this country," he added.
Panetta suggested members of Congress have lost their ability to negotiate and compromise.
"I was disappointed that the super committee failed in its job," Panetta said. "Having been in the budget process for a long time, there was a time when we had to be in a room negotiating with the administration on budget reductions, and, frankly, we were not allowed to leave that room until we had resolved the issue. And that's what should have happened here."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey responded to the prospect of an addition half trillion dollars in cuts with a simple, sobering statement.
"We would not any longer be a global power," Dempsey said.