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Panetta faces lawmakers on cuts in military spending

Panetta faces lawmakers on cuts in military spending

Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2011 8:03 pm

Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is urging Congress to work with him on deficit-reduction-driven cuts in military spending, a task he says is made more difficult as the armed forces try to rebuild from a decade of war.
Rising deficits and deep debt have forced the federal government to slash spending — even at the Pentagon, whose budget nearly doubled to some $700 billion in the 10 years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“We have a strong military, but one that has been stressed by a decade of fighting, squeezed by rising personnel costs, and is in need of modernization given the focus of the past decade,” Panetta said today.
It was a reference to the heavy focus on fighting insurgencies and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than on the skills and equipment needed to fight traditional armies, navies and air forces.
Meanwhile, international security issues have grown more complex, Panetta said, noting the United States in the future must be prepared to continue dealing with violent extremism as well as the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the prospects of cyber attackers who may target American infrastructure, and other threats.
“Our challenge is taking a force that has been involved in a decade of war and ensuring that we build the military we need to defend our country for the next decade even at a time of fiscal austerity,” Panetta said in a statement prepared for a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Also testifying before the panel was Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since taking over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 1.
The possibility of a residual U.S. force remaining in Iraq after the end of the year, the drawdown in Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism also were likely topics for Panetta, who served as CIA director before taking over the Defense Department.
Earlier this week, Panetta said that lawmakers need to collaborate on cuts, warning that some lawmakers’ favored programs could be on the chopping block.
“This must be a partnership, Republican and Democrat alike,” Panetta said in a speech. “They must be a responsible partner is supporting a strong defense strategy that may not include their favorite base or their favorite weapons system.”
The debt accord reached this past summer between President Obama and congressional Republicans calls for a $350 billion cut in projected defense spending over 10 years. The Pentagon had already begun a review of strategy as it weighed Obama’s call this past spring for some $400 billion in cuts.
Panetta and defense hawks in Congress fear deeper cuts in the latest round of budget machinations. The special bipartisan deficit-reduction supercommittee must come up with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts from all federal spending by Thanksgiving, and defense could face additional reductions.
If the panel fails to come up with a proposal, or Congress rejects its plan, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion kick in, with half coming from defense.
Panetta said those cuts would be disastrous and urged Congress to ensure they don’t happen. Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services Committee will be making their recommendations to the supercommittee by week’s end.
Panetta said the Pentagon is taking a comprehensive look at its spending, from overhead costs to the size of the force as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, from modernizing weapons to personnel.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House panel, said in a recent interview that it would be wise for the Pentagon to provide details on its strategic review as Congress considers spending cuts.
“I urge them to get it out sooner,” Smith said. “We’re already deep into” the next budget.
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.

Published in The Messenger 10.13.11

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