Debt Reduction ‘Sequestration’ Concerns Panetta, Mullen

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2011 — The “seques­tra­tion” mech­a­nism in the nation’s new debt-reduc­tion law is unac­cept­able giv­en the mul­ti­tude of threats fac­ing Amer­i­ca, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said here today.

The mech­a­nism auto­mat­i­cal­ly would kick in exten­sive spend­ing cuts — $500 bil­lion from defense spend­ing over 10 years on top of $350 bil­lion in spend­ing reduc­tion already iden­ti­fied over that peri­od — if Con­gress fails to take fur­ther deficit-reduc­tion action.

This kind of ‘dooms­day’ mech­a­nism that was built into the agree­ment is designed so that it would only take effect if Con­gress fails to enact fur­ther mea­sures to reduce the deficit,” Panet­ta said, speak­ing at his first Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence since tak­ing office July 1. “But if it hap­pened – and, God will­ing, that would not be the case – but if it did hap­pen, it would result in a fur­ther round of very dan­ger­ous cuts across the board — defense cuts that I believe would do real dam­age to our secu­ri­ty, our troops and their fam­i­lies, and our military’s abil­i­ty to pro­tect the nation.”

He said seques­tra­tion would pro­duce an out­come “that would be com­plete­ly unac­cept­able to me as sec­re­tary of defense, to the pres­i­dent, and to our nation’s lead­ers.”

The Amer­i­can peo­ple also would reject such an action, the sec­re­tary added. “They expect us to pro­tect our core nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests while meet­ing rea­son­able sav­ings tar­gets,” he said.

Reduc­tions in defense spend­ing must be made “based on sound strat­e­gy and pol­i­cy, and with the best advice of our ser­vice chiefs and ser­vice sec­re­taries on how to pro­ceed,” Panet­ta said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said all the ser­vice chiefs agree with Panetta’s assess­ment of the leg­is­la­tion. The chair­man has long main­tained that an unchecked and ris­ing nation­al debt is the great­est threat to nation­al secu­ri­ty, and that he under­stands defense spend­ing must be con­trolled.

But [the Joint Chiefs] also – to a one – share your con­cerns about the dev­as­tat­ing impact of fur­ther auto­mat­ic cuts should the Con­gress fail to enact addi­tion­al deficit reduc­tion mea­sures,” Mullen said dur­ing the news con­fer­ence. “The Defense Depart­ment may rep­re­sent 50 per­cent of the dis­cre­tionary bud­get in this coun­try, but there is noth­ing dis­cre­tionary about the things we do every day for our fel­low cit­i­zens.”

Panet­ta said the first round of cuts called for in the new law – some $350 bil­lion over 10 years –large­ly are in line with what DOD lead­ers were expect­ing and prepar­ing to imple­ment.

Make no mis­take about it, we will face some very tough chal­lenges here as we try to meet those num­bers,” Panet­ta said, “but those num­bers are with­in the ball­park that we were dis­cussing with both the pres­i­dent as well as with [the Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get].”

Across-the-board cuts imposed in the 1970s and 1990s result­ed in a force left under­sized and under­fund­ed rel­a­tive to its mis­sions and respon­si­bil­i­ties, Panet­ta said. The process “hol­lowed out” the mil­i­tary, he added, and the nation can­not accept this because the Unit­ed States is at war.

We face a broad and grow­ing range of secu­ri­ty threats and chal­lenges that our mil­i­tary must be pre­pared to con­front – from ter­ror­ist net­works to rogue nations to ris­ing pow­ers wait­ing to see if we have lost our edge,” the sec­re­tary said.

The Pen­ta­gon will do its part to fight the deficit, Panet­ta said, acknowl­edg­ing that the Unit­ed States is fac­ing tough eco­nom­ic times. But these times can­not impinge on the country’s need to pro­tect itself, he added.

We also have to always remem­ber those who are doing their part in the defense of this nation: our men and women in uni­form and their fam­i­lies,” he said. “Through­out this process, I will be work­ing close­ly with the lead­ers of this depart­ment … to ensure that we do not break faith with our troops or their fam­i­lies. I have no high­er respon­si­bil­i­ty as sec­re­tary of defense than to do every­thing I can to pro­tect and sup­port them.”

Panet­ta stressed that the mil­i­tary is an all-vol­un­teer force and that this is what makes the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary the best in the world. “I have no high­er respon­si­bil­i­ty as sec­re­tary of defense but to do every­thing I can to pro­tect and sup­port them,” he said. “Every deci­sion I make will be made with them in mind. They put their lives on the line, [and] too many have made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice on behalf of this coun­try. We owe it to them to do this right and to do this respon­si­bly.”

Mullen said the depart­ment already has start­ed look­ing for effi­cien­cies, not­ing that a com­pre­hen­sive review is under way to assess the impact of bud­get reduc­tions on force struc­ture and capa­bil­i­ty, and ulti­mate­ly, on mis­sions and America’s role in the world. “The cuts required by this agree­ment over the next 10 years are cer­tain­ly in keep­ing with the president’s pre­vi­ous bud­getary direc­tion, and we are already hard at work inside the com­pre­hen­sive review process to find the req­ui­site sav­ings,” he said.

The U.S. mil­i­tary is involved in two wars and a num­ber of oth­er actions in the world. Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers have had to be ready for a range of mis­sions from earth­quake relief in Haiti to pro­vid­ing sup­port to NATO over Libya, Mullen said.

The U.S. mil­i­tary remains a lynch­pin to defend­ing our nation­al inter­ests,” the chair­man said. “To loosen that pin unnec­es­sar­i­ly through debil­i­tat­ing and capri­cious cuts near­ly dou­ble to those already in the off­ing puts at grave risk not only our abil­i­ty to accom­plish the mis­sions we have been assigned, but those we have yet to be assigned as well.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)