Obama, Panetta Urge Congress to Formulate Budget Plan

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)