Secretary Panetta planned to come out swinging Tuesday -- well, as much as anyone ever does in the Capitol -- with a new offensive designed to spur Congress to finally protect DoD from next January's guillotine.
According to an advance copy of Panetta's prepared testimony, he planned to tell the Senate Armed Services Committee there's no more time for games. You Hill-types got us into this mess, and now you've got to get us out. Said Panetta:
I understand how tough these issues can be, and that this is the beginning and not the end of this process. Make no mistake: the savings we are proposing will impact all 50 states. But it was this Congress that mandated, on a bi-partisan basis, that we reduce the defense budget, and we need your partnership to do this in a manner that preserves the strongest military in the world. This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action.How effective will Panetta's pitch be? Don't expect a miracle. In fact, as we've written before, no one seems to expect anything to actually happen before Election Day this year. AP's Lolita Baldor even wrote that senators were peeved that Monday's budget release did not include plans for January's automatic across-the-board "sequestration" -- implying, perhaps, that they're resigned to the possibility. But DoD is not going to play that game.
My hope is that now that we see the sacrifice involved in reducing the defense budget by almost half a trillion dollars, Congress will be convinced of its important responsibility to make sure that we avoid sequestration. That would be a doubling of the cuts, another roughly $500 billion in additional cuts that would be required to take place through a meat-axe approach, and that we are convinced would hollow out the force and inflict severe damage on our national defense.
So the leadership of this department, both military and civilian, is united behind the strategy that we have presented, and this budget. I look forward to working closely with you in the months ahead to do what the American people expect of their leaders: be fiscally responsible in developing the force for the future – a force that can defend the country, a forced that supports our men and women in uniform, and a force that is, and always will be, the strongest military in the world.
" The answer is no," Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said Monday. "I mean, we are not planning. And I know nobody believes this, but it's true. I think I'd know it if we were. And the reason, I think, was put well in the overall federal budget today. This is not a good policy -- that is, sequester. It was intended as a prod to ... the joint select committee -- which didn't work -- to get it to make deficit reductions. Now what we need is the Congress as a whole to enact a balanced package of deficit reductions that the president can sign and that will replace sequester, and do it in a -- in a sensible way, rather than this kind of meat-axe approach that's represented there. So no, we are not planning."
All this leaves us in the same place we started -- the fuse continues to burn, the Pentagon is still lashed to the giant gears high inside Big Ben, and we're no closer to a resolution.