Panetta urges Congress to block defense cuts
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is urging Congress to act quickly in order to avoid having to cut $500 billion in defense spending over the next 10 years.
Congress must act before January 2 when the cuts will automatically kick in as a result of the debt ceiling deal last fall.
"Congress can't keep kicking the can down the road or avoiding dealing with the debt and deficit problems that we face," Panetta told a news conference. "The men and women of this department and their families need to know with certainty that we will meet our commitments to them and to their families."
Panetta's remarks come at a time of renewed focus on the looming across-the-board defense cuts, which would be carried out under a process known as "sequestration." Industry officials met with House Democrats to discuss the cuts on Thursday and held talks with Panetta at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this month that several different groups of lawmakers were holding talks on how to deal with the threat of sequestration. Some lawmakers are pushing to delay the cuts by up to a year, well beyond the November election.
Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Friday accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, of blocking efforts to halt the new round of cuts due to go into force on January 2. They urged him to "put forward your own plan or stop obstructing plans others have already offered."
"Further cuts to the military don't affect some faceless bureaucracy," Republicans from the House Armed Services Committee said in a letter to Reid. "The White House has determined that sequestration will arbitrarily gut the funding to our troops who are putting their lives on the line."
The Pentagon has said that unless Congress acts to change the law, it will have to implement the cuts on January 2 by slashing all programs by the percentage needed to bring about the required spending reduction, regardless of strategic need.
Reid is holding up plans to restore defense cuts so that he can bargain for fewer cuts in domestic spending. He is also hoping that any cuts in defense will be seen as Republican's fault given their reluctance to raise taxes on the "rich." Both gambits are likely to fail but it's going to be difficult to restore some defense cuts given the trillion dollar Obama deficits and opposition to cutting domestic spending.