Does Panetta nomination mean deeper defense cuts?
It is very probable that the nomination of Leon Panetta for Secretary of Defense signals an attempt to make much deeper cuts in defense spending than the approximately $800 billion over the next ten years that Obama and Gates have already proposed.
Panetta, whom President Obama will announce as his nominee on Thursday, will inherit a Pentagon that has completed a round of belt-tightening under Gates and is now getting ready for further cuts.
Obama two weeks ago said he wanted to find another $400 billion in savings from defense spending over the next 12 years, something Gates was said to be resisting. Now Panetta will be the man charged with pushing those cuts through a reluctant Department of Defense.
Shifting Panetta to DOD "probably means bigger cuts to the defense budget," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.
"Secretary Gates was strongly committed to maintaining a robust defense posture, but Panetta will be more interested in getting along with the White House, which must find ways of cutting the deficit," Thompson said.
Panetta resisted moving to the Pentagon but was convinced after a call Monday from Obama. GOP congressional aides and defense insiders said he will face a difficult task in lining up support in the military for further cuts.
That appears to be the bottom line. Gates was probably going to leave next year anyway, but was prematurely dumped because he wouldn't play ball with the White House over the next round of cuts. Panetta, a good soldier as I said yesterday, will dutifully shred our defense. Weapons systems will be stretched out over more years or cut altogether. Don't be surprised if Obama tries something with military pensions. Dependent's health care isn't off limits either.
The problem is that if Obama wants to maintain our force posture in the world, he's already flirting with the edge of disaster. He may be forced to find more savings at the expense of those who serve.
If he can get congress to go along.