* Automatic cuts would decimate defense, Panetta says
* "Do what's right for the country," he tells Congress
* Congressional committee faces Nov. 23 deadline
By Phil Stewart
GROTON, Conn., Nov 17 U.S. Defense Secretary
Leon Panetta on Thursday urged Congress to "suck it up" and
strike a deficit-reduction deal by next week, saying during a
visit to a submarine plant that America's defense industrial
base was at stake.
The 12-member congressional "super committee" is struggling
to reach an agreement by a Nov. 23 deadline to cut the deficit
by at least $1.2 trillion.
If the panel fails, automatic, across-the-board cuts would
kick in forcing the Pentagon to slash another $600 billion over
the next decade, on top of the $450 billion in spending cuts
already approved by Congress.
"It decimates defense," Panetta told a group of plant
workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat who appeared worried
about their jobs because of gridlock in Washington.
"I really urge the leaders of Congress - I urge this
committee: Suck it up. Do what's right for the country. I think
the country wants these people to govern - that's why we elect
people, is to govern, not to just survive in office."
Panetta had just toured the USS Minnesota, which, when
delivered early next year, will be the latest addition to
America's fleet of nuclear-powered, Virginia-class attack
The Navy has plans to build at least 21 more of them at two
plants in the United States, including the one run by General
Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. Spreading out
the work is aimed at safeguarding America's shipbuilding
Panetta tried to reassure Electric Boat workers, anxious
over the future at a moment of defense spending cuts.
"We cannot have a strong defense for the United States
without protecting this industrial base," Panetta said.
"I need to be able in this country to produce our ships, to
produce our submarines, to produce our planes, to produce our
fighter planes, to produce our tanks - to produce what we need
(for our) military."
"I don't need to rely on another country. We've got to rely
on the United States to do that," he said to applause.
Still, the Pentagon chief has also warned across-the-board
cuts would make it impossible for him to safeguard the defense
Panetta, in a letter to Congress released earlier this
week, warned that 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.
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
Panetta said the spending limits could also force the
Pentagon to delay its next-generation ballistic missile
"We can't afford to do that ... I've urged them: Please
confront the challenges," Panetta said.
(Editing by Eric Beech)