U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta slammed Congress on Tuesday for failing to come up with a deal to prevent an additional half-trillion dollars in defense cuts, saying that the looming cutbacks would have a drastic effect on the nation’s armed forces.
“It’s going to hollow out our force and weaken our defense system,” Mr. Panetta said of the cuts that were part of a deal last summer to increase the debt ceiling. After $1 trillion in cuts were agreed upon, a Congressional supercommittee was tasked with identifying an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts or they would automatically kick in — half from defense, and half from other programs — starting next year.
The supercommittee failed to agree on a plan, however, so the cuts will take effect absent action from Congress before next year.
Congress also passed a law requiring President Obama to specifically outline where the defense cuts will come from. The White House missed a Friday deadline to do so, but said it would produce its plan by the end of the week.
Mr. Panetta said the Pentagon has not started to prepare for the cuts slated to go into effect, but bristled at the notion that such a move was irresponsible.
“What’s irresponsible is the fact that they put these cuts into place, and that they are failing to come up with the answer as to how to prevent this from happening,” he said in an interview broadcast on “CBS This Morning.” “They put a gun to their head — that’s what a sequester was all about. They said, ‘let’s put a gun to our head, and if we don’t do the right thing we’ll blow our heads off.’
“Well, now they’ve cocked the gun — this thing is supposed to take effect in January — but the whole purpose of it was for Republicans and Democrats to do the right thing and to prevent this from happening,” Mr. Panetta said. “That’s what’s irresponsible.”