Panetta Urges Congress to End Gridlock
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2013 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called today for Congress to end partisan gridlock and resolve issues affecting the economy.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks to students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Feb. 6, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Time and time again, we have postponed action and instead have fallen into a pattern of constant partisanship and gridlock and recrimination,” Panetta said, referring to lawmakers during an address to students at Georgetown University. “And not only have they failed to come together around a big plan to reduce the deficit, they've also failed in their basic responsibility to pass appropriations bills -- how we fund the government each year.”
Panetta pointed out that the government is operating on continuing resolutions because Congress has failed to pass appropriations bills.
“You know when the last time is that the Congress passed all of the appropriations bills in time?” he asked. “[In] 1994. [This] is a basic responsibility to be able to fund the government.”
Referring to massive budget cuts, known as sequestration, that are set to take effect next month if Congress does not act, Panetta said he fears there’s “a dangerous and callous attitude that is developing among some Republicans and some Democrats that these dangerous cuts can be allowed to take place in order to blame the other party for the consequences.”
“I've seen that attitude before,” Panetta said. “It was the same attitude that led to a government shutdown in 1995, same attitude.”
The defense secretary said the 1995 shutdown “badly hurt” the American people, and created a political backlash that damaged those who were blamed for that crisis.
“Those that do not learn the history -- lessons of history -- are bound to repeat the mistakes that were made,” Panetta said. “And we are about to see that happen again.”
If sequestration occurs, Panetta said, the defense department will have to contend with billions of dollars in cuts.
“We'll have to absorb $46 billion in sequester reductions,” he said. “And we'll be facing a $35 billion shortfall in operating funds for our active forces.”
The defense secretary said the department has already tried to slow down its spending rate by laying off temporary and termed employees, implementing hiring freezes and curtailing facilities maintenance.
“We're looking at putting 46,000 jobs at risk,” Panetta said. “But we're also being forced to contemplate what will happen if the sequester goes into effect -- that’s just happening based on the fear of what we may face.”
If sequestration happens, he said, the defense department will furlough as many as 800,000 DOD civilians around the country for up to 22 days, and they could face a 20-percent cut in their salary.
“You don't think that's going to impact on our economy? You don't think that's going to impact on jobs?” Panetta said. “You don't think that's going to impact on our ability to recover from the recession?
“This is no way to govern the United States of America,” he continued. “This budgetary crisis creates uncertainty. It creates doubt, and most importantly, from my point of view, it undermines the men and women in uniform who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to protect this country.”
Panetta said this “self-made” crisis puts at risk DOD’s fundamental mission of protecting the American people.
“[The] basic fact of life is that the Department of Defense can't do its job without the partnership of the Congress,” he said. “We cannot do it without Republicans and Democrats who are willing to work with us to protect our national security.
“In a world of responsible politics, members of Congress elected by the American people should never take a step that would badly damage our national defense and undermine our support for our men and women in uniform,” Panetta continued. “And yet today, we are on the brink of seeing that happen.”
The defense secretary cautioned Congress not to take temporary measures to prevent sequestration, and urged lawmakers “do what's right for this country.”
Panetta reflected on his time in Congress and talked about how leaders used to work in a bipartisan way to craft budget compromises.
“I've spent most of my life in Washington,” he said. “I'm not naive about the messy realities of governing in our democracy. I've been there. I'm proud to say that during the time I served in the Congress, I did witness a lot of what Congress did at its best.
“Ultimately, we all have a responsibility to hold our elected leaders accountable and to fight for the kind of country that we want to have,” he added.
The defense secretary referred congressional leaders to the preamble of the Constitution in guiding the nation.
“We must never forget that our democracy has survived because it was born in the crucible of public service,” he said. “The preamble of the Constitution says ‘We the people,’ not ‘We the Government,’ not ‘We the Republican Party,’ not ‘We the Democratic Party’ -- ‘We the people."