WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two senior Republican senators pressed the Pentagon Friday to release a detailed assessment of the impact more budget cuts would have on national security, saying Congress needs to hear specifics.
Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, two influential Republican voices on military matters, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urging him to “describe the specific options and types of actions” the Pentagon would have to take if forced to cut projected spending by an additional $600 billion over the next decade.
In doing so, they appeared to be trying to marshal evidence to argue against further cuts.
Panetta has said the cuts, which would come on top of $450 billion in spending reductions already approved by Congress and President Barack Obama, would be “devastating.” But he has offered no details.
Obama and Congress approved the $450 billion in cuts in August in a deal aimed at reducing the $1.4 trillion deficit and $14 trillion U.S. debt. They created a congressional “super committee” to find at least $1.2 trillion more in savings.
McCain and Graham noted that a November 23 deadline is quickly approaching for the committee to report its recommendations and that Congress would have to vote by January 15 on any deal.
A failure by the committee to reach a deal or the failure of Congress to approve such a deal would trigger across-the-board spending cuts starting in January 2013.
An automatic across-the-board reduction — known as a sequestration — that would slash another $600 billion in U.S. national security spending over the next decade.
McCain and Graham noted in their letter that Panetta had testified that the additional cuts would have “devastating effects” and be like “shooting ourselves in the head.”
“What is lacking in these characterizations, however, is a frank and honest assessment describing in concrete terms what defense spending cuts of this magnitude would entail,” the senators wrote.
“Given these looming deadlines, we believe it is imperative that the Congress be fully informed of the effects of a sequester on our military,” they said. “Therefore, we ask that you describe the specific options and types of actions the department would be required to take should a sequester result from a failure of the select committee to reach agreement.”
Pentagon officials said they had received the letter and would respond. They declined to be more specific about how additional budget cuts would affect the Defense Department.
Some analysts have questioned the Pentagon’s contention that it cannot deal with deep spending reductions, noting that defense spending has risen robustly since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The Pentagon launched a strategic review several months ago to help make decisions on spending cuts. Pentagon spokesman George Little said it was important to complete that before discussing where to make reductions.
He said Panetta met with top military leaders Thursday for another round of discussions on the budget, focusing on trying to define “our core national security interests and how the military will support those going forward.”
Little said there is no plan to publicly release any results of the strategy review. The discussions are being carried out as part of the process for developing the 2013 budget, which will be unveiled early next year.
Editing by Will Dunham