Panetta spells out budget cut doomsday fears

WASHINGTON Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:22pm EST

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta listens to questions during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, November 10, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta listens to questions during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, November 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spelled out a doomsday scenario Monday that he said could occur if Congress fails to take action to avoid a $1 trillion cut in defense spending over the next decade.

Panetta, responding to a letter from Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, said cuts of nearly $100 billion a year would leave the United States with its smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915 and the smallest air force in its history.

"The impacts of these cuts would be devastating for the department," Panetta wrote Monday in his letter, which was released by the senators.

Independent analysts say Pentagon spending has increased substantially over the past decade and $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade would not be out of line with similar post-war drawdowns.

But Panetta urged Congress to meet their goals for deficit reduction without reducing national security spending beyond the more than $450 billion already approved by lawmakers and President Barack Obama in August.

In addition to trimming national security spending as part of an effort to gain control over the country's $14 trillion debt, the August law created a congressional "super committee" to recommend ways to reduce federal spending by another $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

Failure to pass a compromise spending deal by early January would result in automatic across-the-board spending cuts expected to cut Pentagon spending by another $600 billion -- a result Panetta has said would be disastrous.

McCain and Graham sent Panetta a letter last week telling him that his warnings had been vague and needed to be more specific in order to help Congress understand how he views the severity of the situation.

Panetta said under the current law, failure to pass a compromise would lead to an immediate 23 percent, across-the-board cut that would have to be applied equally to all major investment and construction programs beginning in the 2013 fiscal year.

"Such a large cut, applied in this indiscriminate manner, would render most of our ship and construction projects unexecutable -- you cannot buy three-quarters of a ship or a building," Panetta wrote.

"We would also be forced to separate many of our civilian personnel involuntarily and, because the reduction would be imposed so quickly, we would almost certainly have to furlough civilians in order to meet the target," he added, saying that such a move would "seriously damage" military readiness.

Over the longer run, the Pentagon would have to impose cuts that could lead to termination of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the military's largest procurement program, which aims to buy 2,447 of the radar-evading fighter jets in the coming decades.

The cuts also could force the Pentagon to end its European missile defense program, terminate its new littoral combat ship, end all ground combat vehicle modernization programs and kill Army helicopter modernization efforts, Panetta wrote.

The cuts also could affect the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Panetta said the spending limits could force the Pentagon to delay its next-generation ballistic missile submarine and get rid of its intercontinental ballistic missiles -- two systems maintained to ensure deliver of nuclear weapons if needed.

Reacting to Panetta's letter, McCain and Graham said the forced cuts would "set off a swift decline of the United States as the world's leading military power."

"We are staunchly opposed to this draconian action. This is not an outcome that we can live with, and it is certainly not one that we should impose on ourselves," they wrote.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Comments (4)
LEEDAP wrote:
I wish this would happen. I can’t see how radar evading airplanes would be of much help in today’s interdependent world. Nuclear subs should also go away. The only nuclear war in the foreseeable future is a dirty bomb by a terrorist group, not a nation with a vulnerable infrastructure.

The jobs that would go away with the killing of these killing machines would be a problem. But if deficits are the evil the Tea Party says they are then good by to them, I say.

Of course, the best course of action would be for the super-committee to come to an agreement for a combination of modest spending cuts, modest cuts in corporate welfare, and modest tax increases on the wealthiest 0.5%. Since any revenue generation is unacceptable to the Republicans, any agreement seems impossible and these draconian cuts look inevitable. So be it.

Nov 14, 2011 8:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
KimoLee wrote:
I am “sooooo” sick and tired of hearing politicians with their doomsday scenarios. Americans like me are sick and tired of being “threatened” with bad things. It’s the bad things the government does not warn us about that actually happen. This financial mess was quite foreseeable, but the government did absolutely nothing to prevent it. The size of government has increased to an enormous amount since 9/11 and most of that increase has gone to “national security.” IT IS TIME TO START CUTTING. Panetta is just another phony.

Nov 15, 2011 12:03am EST  --  Report as abuse
ballbuster wrote:
McCain and Graham must and should be prosecuted for their actions in helping criminals as they will continue to do while still in office. The defense department is doing illegal things to unsuspecting American citizens which is not being investigated to it fullest extinct. The cutting of the budget is needed if it deter them from committing any more crimes and harboring corruption. However, I doubt that it will stop the crimes and corruption that is happening in the DOD but we as the people must make them answer and accountable for their crimes and corruption that is being used on unsuspecting American citizens. It is time the DOD be investigated properly.

Nov 15, 2011 5:15am EST  --  Report as abuse
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