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Panetta: Congress Must Look at Whole Federal Budget for Cuts

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2011 – Budget concerns and the need for the Defense Department to work with the State Department dominated a discussion at the National Defense University here today with the Cabinet members who lead those departments.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta talked with students at the National War College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair. Frank Sesno, a former CNN correspondent who now works at the George Washington University, moderated the discussion.

Both State and Defense face budget cuts as a result of the debt-ceiling deal worked out Aug. 2. Panetta said the cuts will affect national security, and that he and Clinton want the American people to “recognize how important it is that we maintain our national security and that we be strong.”

But the defense secretary acknowledged that the fiscal outlook presents a challenge.

“We recognize that we’re in a resource limitation here, and that we got to deal we’ve those challenges,” Panetta said. “But I don’t think you have to choose between our national security and fiscal responsibility. And I want the country to know that we can get this done, but we have to do it in a way that protects our national defense and protects our national security.”

The Defense Department can handle the $350 billion in savings over the next 10 years that is mandated in the agreement, the secretary said. But if members of Congress cannot agree on further reductions, another $500 billion in funds would be sequestered from the department.

“If they do the sequester, this kind of massive cut across the board which would literally double the number of cuts that we're confronting,” he said. “That would have devastating effects on our national defense. It would have devastating effects on, certainly, the State Department.”

Congress must look beyond the “discretionary spending” in the federal budget -- most of which is in Pentagon funding -- to address the nation’s deficit, Panetta said.

“If you’re serious about dealing with budget deficits, you can't just keep going back to the discretionary part of the budget,” he said.

An across-the-board cut of that magnitude would hollow out the force and weaken America’s ability to respond to threats, Panetta said.

“More importantly,” he added, “it would break faith with the troops and with their families. And a volunteer [force] is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have today.”

Sesno asked Panetta about a report calling for changes to the military retirement system. A task group for the Defense Budget Board studied the issue and will submit a report later this month, Panetta said. He stressed that no decisions have been made with regard to retirement.

“It's the kind of thing you have to consider, in terms of retirement reforms in the broad form,” he said. “But you have to do it … in a way that doesn’t break faith … with our troops and with their families. If you’re going to do something like this, you’ve got to think very seriously about ‘grandfathering,’ in order to protect the benefits that are there.”

Panetta vowed to protect the benefit. “But at the same time, you know, you’ve got to look at everything on the table,” he added.


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Leon E. Panetta

Related Sites:
Photo Essay: Panetta, Clinton Discuss Defense Issues At National Defense University


Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

8/22/2011 9:37:30 AM
Mr. Secretary, I am encouraged to hear that you are keeping the service of our current and past veterans in mind as you deal with this budget situation. Why is it that everytime there is discussion on cuts,the military is always on the chopping block? Why everything I see or read labels it as benefits, Sir, I beg to differ, these are the entitlements I have earned as have so many of my comrads in arms, earned by our sacrefice and service to the country we love, at the risk of giving our life for this great nation. They try to compare our entitlements to the publice sector, there is no comparison ,as you stated "A volunteer [force] is absolutely essential to our national defense. ” The public has the same choice, volunteer. Thank you for allowing me to say my piece, I served this great country for 43 years and still serve. Respectfully George
- George Postell , Oklahoma

8/17/2011 5:48:15 AM
Suicides on the rise for both service members and their family members, Sailors exposed to radiation following the nuclear crisis in Japan, Al Qaeda seeking ways to deploy ricin, cybersecurity threats/vulnerabilities skyrocketing, our weaknesses (i.e., debt) vis-a-vis a rising China...the list of sacrifices the Armed Forces endure goes on and on. Grandfather the benefits of those who have served and those serving. With the state of the world, reducing benefits WILL hurt recruitment/retention only to have to build it back up again in a few years.
- JB, VA

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