On ABC’s “This Week,” host Jake Tapper had this exchange with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:
TAPPER: There are massive mandatory budget cuts heading your way — I know you’re more than aware of this — if Congress doesn’t come to an agreement on deficit reduction. You’ve said that defense cuts would lead to a hollow military but in a recent interview, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this: “So now see the Republicans scrambling to do away with the cuts to defense that would be required by this agreement. I will not accept that. My people in the state of Nevada, and I think the country, have had enough of whacking all the programs. We’ve cut them to a bare bone and defense is going to have to bear their share of the burden.” Is that language okay with you, that language from the Democratic leader of the Senate?
PANETTA: Well — my view is that when you’re facing the size deficits and debt that we’re facing, that obviously defense has to play a role in trying to be able to achieve fiscal responsibility. We provided a budget that, we think, meets not only the goal of savings but also, more importantly, protects a strong national defense for this country. The thing that does concern me is the sequester which involves another $500 billion in defense cuts.
TAPPER: That’s these automatic cuts I’m talking about.
PANETTA: These automatic cuts that would take place that I think would be disastrous in terms of our national defense. And I would say this.
I think what both Republicans and Democrats need to do and the leaders on both sides is to recognize that if sequester takes place, it would be disastrous for our national defense and very frankly for a lot of very important domestic programs. They have a responsibility to come together, find the money necessary to de-trigger sequester. That’s what they ought to be working on now.
Wait a second. What is Panetta’s boss, the commander in chief, doing about this? Why has President Obama opposed an alternative to sequestration? Why no administration alternative to prevent devastating cuts in our defense budget?
Back in November, Bloomberg reported: “President Barack Obama told leaders of a congressional supercommittee on debt reduction that he opposes efforts to get around automatic cuts required if the group can’t reach an agreement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.”
Earlier this month, Panetta opposed the House Republicans’ alternative to sequestration. The Office of Management and Budget issued a veto threat against it in writing on May 9, which read in part:
The bill would break the agreement on discretionary spending made in last summer’s budget agreement; advancing the House Budget Resolution’s approach to increase defense spending and reduce non-defense spending relative to the levels agreed to in the BCA [Budget Control Act of 2011]. Moreover, it would do nothing to address the reductions in discretionary spending and sequesters in mandatory programs after 2013. The bill relies entirely on spending cuts that impose a particular burden on the middle-class and the most vulnerable among us, while doing nothing to raise revenue from the most affluent.
Rather than pursuing a comprehensive, balanced deficit reduction package to replace the sequester, H.R. 5652 undermines the intent of the BCA to bring both sides to compromise by proposing a short-term, one-sided solution. This approach sharply undermines critical domestic priorities, such as efforts to prevent hunger and support low-income families and communities; to expand health care access and implement the Affordable Care Act; to protect consumers and implement the Wall Street Reform Act; and to support homeowners struggling to stay in their homes. The Administration strongly opposes both the principles of this approach and specific legislative proposals included in the bill. If the President is presented with H.R. 5652, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
So how exactly is the administration acting to prevent “disastrous” cuts to our defense budget? If we didn’t know better, we’d think Panetta is providing rhetorical cover for an administration whose sole budget-cutting fervor is devoted to our national security expenditures. But wouldn’t that would entail extreme dereliction of duty by Panetta and the president? Yup.