Panetta renews call for Congress to lay off DOD cuts
August 6th, 2011
Omaha, NE – The U.S. Secretary of Defense visited Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue Friday. Leon Panetta renewed his call for Congress to lay off spending cuts to the DOD, making a strong case for a robust department of defense, and reassuring the troops he “has their back” in Washington.
The Defense Secretary addressed a room full of servicemen and women at Offutt, after receiving briefings from U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at the base. It was Panetta’s first visit to Stratcom, which is charged with deterring nuclear attacks and defending the nation in space, and cyberspace. Panetta, who has a long history of public service, thanked the troops for theirs.
“Our democracy cannot survive unless there are people that commit themselves to public service,” Panetta said. “It is the nature of our country that in order for us to have the strongest country in the world, we’ve got to give back to this community, we’ve got to give back to this country. That’s why we are strong.”
Panetta is just over a month on the job. He took over the post from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who retired earlier this year. He came to the DOD from the CIA, which he was appointed to by President Barack Obama and led during the successful U.S. raid on Osama Bin Laden. The son of Italian immigrants, Panetta has a long political career as a Congressman from California. But he said his most challenging task has been a new one: writing condolence letters to the families of fallen troops.
“So one of the most important things to me is to make sure that you are always supported,” he said. “And that we ensure that you know that we’re always watching your back as you go out there and put your lives on the line.”
And having their back, Panetta suggested, includes protecting them from more spending cuts in Washington. Panetta repeated a call he made Thursday during his first press conference on the job.
He said the defense department is willing to pay its fair share to help reduce the nation’s deficit, and will be able to absorb the $400 billion in cuts already approved in this week’s debt ceiling deal. But that deal includes a trigger that would slash spending later if a committee can’t agree on further deficit reductions. And Panetta said those cuts would be “disastrous” and would “seriously weaken defense.”
“The last thing we want to do is hollow our force,” he said. “The last thing we need to do is to weaken the United States of America, at a very important time in our history. People are questioning the political leadership; people are questioning the economic situation. The last thing people should question is the ability of the United States to defend itself.”
Panetta said America faces a dangerous and difficult time, and there are numerous threats that require a robust defense department; including global terrorism, engagement in two wars, rogue nations, and a new threat: cyber attacks.
“We could face a cyber attack that could be the equivalent of Pearl Harbor,” he said. “Cyber these days, or someone using cyber, can take down our power grid system, take down our financial systems in this country, take down our government systems, take down our banking systems. They could virtually paralyze this country. We have to be prepared to deal with that.”
Panetta’s strong words against more defense cuts have already drawn criticism in Washington, particularly as he suggested the government look to curb entitlement spending before defense. The Boston Globe reports Congressman Barney Frank asked the President on Friday to reject Panetta’s position and urged him to “make clear” that he didn’t “speak for the administration.”
But Panetta assured the room, which included Nebraska Senators Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns, along with Congressman Lee Terry, that as the troops go out to fight the wars they have to fight, he will fight the war in Washington “to make sure that we protect your back.”
“You have my guarantee I will do that,” he said.