●“a doomsday mechanism”
●a gunshot to the head
●“a goofy meat ax”
Panetta is especially fond of the “meat ax” descriptor, which he deployed no fewer than six times in congressional budget testimony last week.
The defense secretary’s rhetorical flourishes have, in turn, inspired an array of less-adept imitators throughout the Pentagon and Congress.
“It’s peanut butter,” Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stammered in September. (Mullen meant that sequestration would force the Pentagon to spread the cuts evenly across the entire Department of Defense, hence the peanut butter analogy).
Then, last month, Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, unleashed the most confounding mixed metaphor of the sequestration season. “It basically takes a chain saw to a budget, and out of the ashes of that budget, we’re going to have to write a new strategy,” he said. “That’s not the way we want to do business.”
(Is that the way we want to talk?)
Curiously, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who has a master’s degree in English from Duke University, has avoided florid metaphors. The Joint Chiefs chairman simply says that the cuts would pose an “unacceptable risk” to the country’s security.
The looming possibility of $1 trillion in automatic defense cuts emerged from the bitter partisan stalemate last summer over the federal debt limit. In August, lawmakers reached a compromise that allowed the president to raise the debt limit but forced the Pentagon to reduce its budget by about $487 billion in the next decade, a decrease of roughly 8 percent.
Under sequestration, that figure could double if President Obama and Congress fail by the end of this year to cut an additional $1.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade. Spending on non-defense programs favored by Democrats would be slashed, as well.
Both parties in Congress hate the cuts. The White House doesn’t like them, either. But Obama, who hopes the potentially painful cuts will compel bipartisan compromise, does not want to bash them too forcefully. Meanwhile, the Pentagon, which stands to lose $1 trillion, has incentive to complain as loudly as possible about them for the next 10 months.
Panetta, a far more effusive brand of Washington insider than Robert M. Gates, his buttoned-down predecessor, has wholeheartedly embraced his role as Pentagon’s doomsday poet.
In September, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked Panetta whether sequestration would be like “shooting ourselves in the foot?”
“You’d be shooting yourselves in the head!” Panetta countered.