"Operations, maintenance and training will be gutted. We'll ground aircraft, return ships to port, and sharply curtail training across the force," Dempsey said. "We'll be unable to reset the force following a decade of war. Our readiness will begin to erode. Within months, we'll be less prepared. Within a year, we'll be unprepared."
He stressed, however, that he will not shortchange troops in combat or wounded warriors and their families.
Panetta's guidance was laid out in a four-page memo to department heads that outlined the "near-term actions" they should take including potentially firing any temporary hires, informing some contract employees that they will not be renewed, curtail travel, training, conferences, and spending on supplies, and cut money from base operations.
He said that by Feb. 15, officials must cancel ship, aviation and depot maintenance for the third and fourth quarters
Panetta, who has consistently been harshly critical of Congress' impasse on the budget, said he understands that the politics are difficult, but lawmakers in Washington need to have the same courage as the military troops fighting on the warfront. A former budget director in the Clinton administration, when afiscal impasse forced lawmakers to briefly shut down the federal government, Panetta said the political tenor in town has worsened.
"When we dealt with Reagan as president, and when we dealt with Bush as president, it was a Democratic Congress. The (House) speakers at the time really felt that if we could work out agreements with the president, that even though a Republican president would benefit, a Democratic Congress would benefit, as well, by governing the nation," recalled Panetta. "For whatever reason, that concept has been lost."
Now, he said, "I think that there's an attitude that governing isn't necessarily good politics, that gridlock and confrontation is good politics. And I think we pay a price for that."