WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2011 — President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today expressed hope that Congress will come up with a budget-reduction plan after a special congressional committee’s failure to agree on how to cut $1.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade.
The co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction issued a statement today saying no agreement on cuts would be possible before the committee’s Nov. 23 deadline.
By law, the lack of an agreement on specific cuts triggers a “sequestration” mechanism that achieves the reduction target through across-the-board cuts, with half of the additional reductions coming in defense spending.
Obama today urged Congress to continue to look for a bipartisan solution.
“Although Congress has not come to an agreement yet, nothing prevents them from coming up with an agreement in the days ahead,” the president said. “They can still come together around a balanced plan.” Sequestration would be triggered in January as a result of the committee’s failure to reach an agreement, but would not be put in place until January 2013.
Panetta called the committee’s failure “a setback for the country’s efforts to achieve fiscal responsibility while protecting our national security.”
“If Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation’s defense,” the secretary said in a written statement.
Obama pointed out that $1 trillion worth of spending cuts already are locked into the budget. “One way or another, we will be trimming the deficit by a total of at least $2.2 trillion over the next 10 years,” he said. “That’s going to happen, one way or another.”
The president said he will veto any effort by Congress to circumvent the automatic cuts.
“There will be no easy off-ramps on this one,” he said. “We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure.”
In his statement, Panetta said that despite the danger posed by sequestration, he joins the president in his call for Congress to avoid an easy way out of the crisis.
“Congress cannot simply turn off the sequester mechanism,” he said, “but instead must pass deficit reduction at least equal to the $1.2 trillion it was charged to pass under the Budget Control Act.”
In his four decades of involvement with public service, Panetta added, he has never been more concerned about the ability of Congress to forge common-sense solutions to the nation’s pressing problems. He noted the Pentagon already is moving to cut $450 billion in spending over the next decade.
“Since becoming secretary of defense, I have made it clear that the department has a responsibility to help the country get its fiscal house in order — and we are doing that,” he said. “I have been leading a strategy-driven effort to achieve the more than $450 billion in cuts over 10 years required by the Budget Control Act. We will move ahead with that plan.
“But as secretary of defense,” he continued, “my primary responsibility is to protect the security of the nation. The half-trillion in additional cuts demanded by sequester would lead to a hollow force incapable of sustaining the missions it is assigned.”
If implemented, Panetta said, the sequester cuts also would jeopardize the nation’s ability to provide its troops and their families with the benefits and the support they have been promised.
“Our troops deserve better,” the secretary said, “and our nation demands better.”
The only way sequestration will not take place, the president said, is if “Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.”
“That’s exactly what they need to do,” he added. “That’s the job they promised to do. And they’ve still got a year to figure it out.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)