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Defense Secretary Panetta warns against 'pet projects' in defense budget

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned legislators Thursday against adding unnecessary “pet projects” to the defense budget. The warning came one day after the House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment authorizing $100 million to conduct an environmental survey for missile defense shield silos that the Pentagon did not request.

Republicans in Congress managed to obtain bipartisan support for the measure to find potential sites for 20 land-based interceptor missiles to protect the East coast of the United States.

They say they are worried that the president is not serious about missile defense, especially in light of his “hot mic” moment with then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in which Obama said he would have more flexibility on missile defense after the US presidential election in November.

“He has some secret deal or plan,” said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. “We want to make certain that we're making the missile defense system robust, while he is at the same time announcing internationally that he wants to weaken it.”

Republicans argue that the East coast of the United States needs to be protected the way the West coast is from potential North Korean and Iranian missiles. California and Alaska have interceptor sites at the Vandenberg and Ft. Greeley military bases.

Democrats think the Republicans are simply trying to force Obama into vetoing the measure so that he looks weak on national security defense.

North Korea and Iran don't have any intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the East Coast. Iran's longest range missile, the Shahab 3, can travel about 1000 miles, but the distance from Tehran to Washington, DC is 6,352 miles. North Korea's longest range missile, the Taepodong, has a range of 1864 miles, according to GlobalSecurity.org, which also falls 5000 miles short of the East Coast of the United States.

"Of course this is election year politics, of course it is,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., told Fox News. “Beating the national security drum is something the Republicans do often, usually 6 months before a national and a regional election."

The 100 million dollar request passed the House Armed Services Committee in a late night bill mark-up by 56 to 5.

The Pentagon says it never requested the money for an East Coast missile defense shield, nor does it think it is necessary. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey said as much from the Pentagon during a briefing today:

“On the ballistic missile defense issue as you know  we went through a strategic review back in the fall and we mapped our budget to it,” said Dempsey in response to a question from Fox News. “In my military judgment the program of record for ballistic missile defense for the homeland as we have submitted it is adequate and sufficient to the task.  And that's a suite of ground and sea based interceptors so I don’t see need beyond what we have submitted in the last budget.”

Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent.