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October 13, 2011

Panetta faces lawmakers on defense cuts

WASHINGTON —

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is urging Congress to work with him on deficit-reduction-driven cuts in military spending and warning that some lawmakers’ favored programs could be on the chopping block.

Rising deficits and deep debt have forced the federal government to slash spending — even at the Pentagon, whose budget has nearly doubled to some $700 billion in the 10 years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Panetta faces questions about cuts in projected spending when he testifies Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee. Joining him will be Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who will be making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since taking over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 1.

The possibility of a residual U.S. force remaining in Iraq after the end of the year, the drawdown in Afghanistan and the terror fight also are likely topics for Panetta, who served as CIA director.

Earlier this week, Panetta said in a speech that cuts are inevitable and lawmakers need to collaborate to ensure the all-volunteer force remains ready.

“This must be a partnership, Republican and Democrat alike,” Panetta said. “They must be a responsible partner is supporting a strong defense strategy that may not include their favorite base or their favorite weapons system.”

The debt accord reached this past summer between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans calls for a $350 billion cut in projected defense spending over 10 years. The Pentagon had already begun a review of strategy as it weighed Obama’s call this past spring for some $400 billion in cuts.

Panetta and defense hawks in Congress fear deeper cuts in the latest round of budget machinations. The special bipartisan deficit-reduction supercommittee must come up with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts from all federal spending by Thanksgiving, and defense could face additional reductions. If the panel fails to come up with a proposal, or Congress rejects its plan, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion kick in, with half coming from defense.

Panetta said those cuts would be disastrous and urged Congress to ensure they don’t happen. Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services Committee will be making their recommendations to the supercommittee by week’s end.

Panetta said the Pentagon is taking a comprehensive look at its spending, from overhead costs to the size of the force as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, to modernizing weapons to personnel.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House panel, said in a recent interview that it would be wise for the Pentagon to provide details on its strategic review as Congress considers spending cuts.

“I urge them to get it out sooner,” Smith said. “We’re already deep into” the next budget.

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