The top two Pentagon officials warned Thursday that the spending cuts imposed by the congressional debt-ceiling deal are as deep as the military can stand.
Further reductions beyond the $350 million to $400 million already agreed by Congress and President Obama this week would be “completely unacceptable,” said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, in his first news conference since being sworn in to the post.
The budget cuts contained in the deal to extend the U.S. debt limit “are largely in line with what we were anticipating and preparing to implement” anyway, Mr. Panetta said, who was joined by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Those cuts would be “based on sound and balanced strategy and policy and [made] with the best advice that we can get from our service chiefs and from the service secretaries on how to proceed to build a strong defense not only now, but in the future,” Mr. Panetta added.
Mr. Panetta also argued that the Pentagon should not have to absorb any cuts that might be recommended by a special congressional committee charged with finding more than $1 trillion in further savings.
“We’re already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt-ceiling agreement, and those are going to be tough enough,” he said. “I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense.”
Mr. Panetta also opposed any further cuts to the State Department budget.
“National security is not just dependent on a defense budget. … It’s also dependent on the State Department budget and their ability to conduct diplomacy abroad,” he said.
“I think all of them represent, in a very real way, the security of this country.”
If the congressional committee fails to agree on cuts or if Congress refuses to adopt them, the debt deal could trigger mandatory cuts to budgets for both national security and social programs.
That “trigger” could potentially hack more than $700 billion from the Pentagon budget, which Adm. Mullen warned would be “very dangerous for the country.”
Mr. Panetta called the “trigger” a “doomsday mechanism” designed to force Congress to reach an agreement on future budget cuts. He said the department was not even making contingency plans for such massive cuts.
“I’m not even beginning to consider what would happen,” he said, adding that such cuts would be “disastrous to the defense budget.”