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Panetta warns against automatic defense cuts

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Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Sunday said more than $500 billion in defense-related cuts scheduled to kick in early next year would be "disastrous" to national security and begged lawmakers to restore the money.

The cuts were included in last summer's bipartisan debt and budget agreement that allowed the White House to raise the debt ceiling. Since then, congressional Republicans have led an effort to undo the Pentagon's portion of the $1.2 trillion "sequestration" budget cuts that also target non-defense domestic programs.

"I think what both Republicans and Democrats need to do, and the leaders of both sides, is to recognize that if sequester takes place, it would be disastrous for our national defense and, very frankly, for a lot of very important domestic programs," Mr. Panetta said on ABC's "This Week" program that aired Sunday.

"They have a responsibility to come together and find the money necessary to detrigger sequester."

Mr. Panetta said the Defense Department has been diligent in trimming costs to help the federal government shrink its ballooning deft and deficit.

"We provided a budget that, we think, meets not only the goal of savings but also, more importantly, protects a strong national defense for this country," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has taken a hard line on keeping the automatic cuts in place, saying last week he wouldn't accept Republican attempts to do away with them.

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