Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Congress to come up with a plan to avoid another $500 billion cut to defense budgets.  Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee on the FY2013 defense budget request this week, Panetta said he hoped that Congress would “adopt a large, balanced package of savings that de-trigger sequestration, reduce the deficit and maintain the strongest national defense in the world.”


He was referring to the $1 trillion in automatic cuts (sequestration), including $500 billion from defense, that would go into effect on January 3, 2013 if Congress did not come up with an alternative plan to reduce federal deficits.  Panetta has consistently warned that such cuts, which he called the “sequester meat ax" in the hearing, would “hollow out the force and inflict severe damage to our national defense.” 


Recalling his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee (during his 16 years in Congress), Panetta acknowledged the difficult job Congress has to “try to achieve fiscal discipline and help set the government's overall spending priorities.”  But, he told the committee “no budget can be balanced on the back of defense spending alone. For that matter, no budget can be balanced on the back of discretionary spending alone.”  He said all spending areas should be on the table.


Panetta argued forcefully that Congress cannot cut the deficit by only cutting discretionary spending, which is only 1/3 of total federal spending, and ignoring entitlement spending (2/3 of total federal spending) and revenues.  Doing so, he said, “hurts this country’s security, not only by cutting defense, but, very frankly, by cutting discretionary spending that deals with the quality of life in this country.”


He disputed arguments that the president’s FY2013 budget plan, which calls for reducing defense budgets by $487 billion between FY2013 and FY2021, would create unacceptable risks to national security.  He told committee members he does not believe that a choice has to be made between “fiscal discipline and national security.”  DoD can participate in deficit reduction and still have the strongest military in the world, he maintained.


Panetta contended that the president’s budget plan achieves that goal.  He said the plan is based on a new national security strategy that reshapes defense priorities.  He described a military force that is smaller, but should be more agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced.  He said the global posture of these forces will be rebalanced to emphasize Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.  To deal with other US responsibilities around the world, Panetta said the US would build and strengthen alliance and partnerships. 


In addition, he asserted US forces will have the capabilities needed to “confront and defeat aggression from any adversary, anytime, anywhere.”  According to Panetta, the budget prioritizes and protects key investments to enable US capabilities “to grow, to adopt, and to mobilize.”  And, he emphasized that the budget supports US servicemembers and their families, the “fundamental element of our strategy.”


In making the difficult decisions on where to cut the budget, Panetta said he and military leaders were determined to avoid mistakes made during past drawdowns.  Therefore, he said their decisions followed set guidelines:  1) maintain the strongest military in the world; 2) do not hollow out the force; 3) take a balanced approach to making reductions; and 4) do not “break faith” with servicemembers and their families.


Panetta said reductions to the budget can be made by making “more disciplined use of defense dollars.”  He said the budget achieves efficiencies by streamlining support functions, consolidating Information Technology enterprises, re-phasing military construction programs, and cutting service support contractors.  The budget also proposes to lower force levels by over 100,000 and to reduce investment funding totaling $75 billion to investment programs, including cuts to Joint Strike Fighter (-$15 billion), shipbuilding program (-$13 billion), and Global Hawk (-$2.5 billion).  Panetta pointed out that the budget also requests congressional approval for two more Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds.  He acknowledged that more base closures would impact local economies, but said he didn’t know of “any other effective way to achieve infrastructure savings in the long term.”