Panetta softens sequestration stance

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that he would take any deal Congress can make that would delay sequestration, the 10-year, $600 billion automatic across-the-board spending cut set to begin on January 2.   The comment is a significant change of position for the secretary, who previously opposed any proposals that pushed back the ...

DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that he would take any deal Congress can make that would delay sequestration, the 10-year, $600 billion automatic across-the-board spending cut set to begin on January 2.
 
The comment is a significant change of position for the secretary, who previously opposed any proposals that pushed back the sequestration start-date, whether by months or even a year, instead of wiping it from the books.
 
Panetta, in a Pentagon press briefing, was asked if he supported a "short term deal to avoid sequestration," in line with supportive remarks made by Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week indicating the shift DOD posture. 
 
"I'll take whatever the hell deal they can make right now to deal with sequestration," Panetta said, laughing.
 
The comment signals a serious change in the administration calculations, though. Where once officials privately believed Congress eventually would reach an agreement on the budget to avoid sequestration, the administration now indicates that moving the deadline is better than playing hardball.
 
Is that a victory for Republicans? A one-year delay for automatic defense spending cuts has been on the table since last December. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Senate Armed Services Committee RankingMember John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced bills offering a 1-year delay paid for in party by federal workforce layoffs. Since then, they have begged the administration to support it, and give more time to negotiators. Other trial balloons have suggested a three or six month delay before the penalty kicks in, to allow for the next administration to get settled.
 
But the heated finger-pointing between Republicans andDemocrats, the House and the Senate, the Pentagon and Congress, and Congress and the White House has not let up, and pressure from the defense industry and military-related associations has ratcheted up.
 
One senior defense official told the E-Ring the secretary still prefers a total dismissal of sequester, but at this point he would accept a delay.
 
"We cannot maintain a strong defense for this country if sequester is allowed to happen," Panetta said. "We need stability. You want a strong national defense for this country? I need to have some stability. And that's what I'm asking the Congress to do. Give me some stability."
 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that he would take any deal Congress can make that would delay sequestration, the 10-year, $600 billion automatic across-the-board spending cut set to begin on January 2.
 
The comment is a significant change of position for the secretary, who previously opposed any proposals that pushed back the sequestration start-date, whether by months or even a year, instead of wiping it from the books.
 
Panetta, in a Pentagon press briefing, was asked if he supported a "short term deal to avoid sequestration," in line with supportive remarks made by Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week indicating the shift DOD posture. 
 
"I’ll take whatever the hell deal they can make right now to deal with sequestration," Panetta said, laughing.
 
The comment signals a serious change in the administration calculations, though. Where once officials privately believed Congress eventually would reach an agreement on the budget to avoid sequestration, the administration now indicates that moving the deadline is better than playing hardball.
 
Is that a victory for Republicans? A one-year delay for automatic defense spending cuts has been on the table since last December. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Senate Armed Services Committee RankingMember John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced bills offering a 1-year delay paid for in party by federal workforce layoffs. Since then, they have begged the administration to support it, and give more time to negotiators. Other trial balloons have suggested a three or six month delay before the penalty kicks in, to allow for the next administration to get settled.
 
But the heated finger-pointing between Republicans andDemocrats, the House and the Senate, the Pentagon and Congress, and Congress and the White House has not let up, and pressure from the defense industry and military-related associations has ratcheted up.
 
One senior defense official told the E-Ring the secretary still prefers a total dismissal of sequester, but at this point he would accept a delay.
 
"We cannot maintain a strong defense for this country if sequester is allowed to happen," Panetta said. "We need stability. You want a strong national defense for this country? I need to have some stability. And that’s what I’m asking the Congress to do. Give me some stability."
 

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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