In some of his strongest language to date, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Feb. 6 that looming, massive cuts in the Defense Department budget set to be triggered by sequestration next month would pose the “most serious readiness crisis” to the country in over a decade.
Panetta made the comments during a speech to students at Georgetown University, where he addressed the sequestration issue and other topics and took questions from the audience.
He warned sequestration is approaching on March 1, and that he, the service chiefs, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe if billions of dollars in cuts occur, they will trigger ìthe most serious readiness crisisî the country will face in over a decade.
President Obama, [and] obviously many leaders in Congress, share our concerns, Panetta said. There isn’t anybody I’ve talked to on Capitol Hill that doesn’t think this is crazy. No one that I’ve talked to doesn’t think that this a dangerous tool to impact the country.
Sequestration is a maneuver contained in the Budget Control Act of August 2011 under which across the board spending cuts would be triggered if Congress and the White House cannot agree on more targeted cuts aimed at reducing the budget deficit.
ìFor more than a year and a half, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have been extremely vocal about our deep concerns about taking another half-trillion dollars out of the defense budget in an across-the-board fashion that fits every area,î Panetta said.
ì[Sequestration] guarantees that we hollow out the military,î he added. Across-the-board cuts, he said, would deeply damage U.S. national security, adding that there would be a serious disruption in defense programs and a sharp decline in military readiness.
Panetta described sequestration as ìlegislative madnessî designed to be so bad that no one in their right mind would let it happen.
The secretary compared sequestration to a scene from the movie ìBlazing Saddles.
ìFor those of you that have ever seen ëBlazing Saddles,í it is the scene of the sheriff putting the gun to his head in order to try to establish law and order, he said.
Sequestration would do ìserious damage to the non-defense side of the budget as well, he said. It’s not just defense; it’s education, loss of teachers, it’s child care.
I think the estimate is that some 100,000 children will be kicked out of Head Start, he added. ìIt’s about health care – 700,000 women and children will no longer receive nutritional assistance.
Panetta said sequestration would also impact food safety, law enforcement, and airport safety, among other issues.
It’s about a number of other programs that support our quality of life in this country,î he said. ìAnd our quality of life is important to our national security.
All of this,î Panetta continued, would be the consequence of an arbitrary legislative mechanism so onerous Ö that it was designed not to take effect, but to force the right kind of action.
He noted that a day earlier, President Obama issued a ìstark warningî about the consequences of deep and indiscriminate budget cuts if sequestration occurs.
We cannot allow this to happen, and it is difficult to believe Congress would simply stand aside, and fail to make the decisions necessary to resolve this crisis, allowing the defense, economy, and quality of life of America to be irreparably damaged, Panetta said.
Even so, he said We have already begun an all-out effort to plan for how to operate under such a scenario, but it’s all also very clear that there are no good options, he added
[The] department and each military service are moving ahead with near-term actions, Panetta said. ìWe have got to reduce the spend rate that we’re in now.
The defense secretary said it is imperative to protect ìthe warfighters in Afghanistan and our force projection in the Middle Eastî From the effects of sequestration.
There’s only one place that comes out of, and it’s readiness, Panetta said. ìAnd that’s what will happen.
The defense secretary implored Congress to stop passing continuing resolutions and come to an agreement to de-trigger sequestration or the ultimate result is to lose the trust of the American people.
We will make whatever sacrifice is necessary to give our children a better life, a quality education and a more secure future, he said. There’s one thing I’ve learned in life — it’s that this future is not guaranteed.
You’ve got to work for it, he added, ìand you have to fight for it.”