“US can afford defense budget cuts” – former Pentagon official

Capitol Hill's cash may be scarce, but there will be no dipping into what is the world's biggest military budget. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave law-makers a firm ‘hands off’ and said cuts should come from Medicare and social services instead.

In light of the recent debt ceiling deal signed by the US president, Barack Obama, on Tuesday, Panetta said that US defense had already given up enough – about US$350 billion in cuts as part of the first one-trillion round of general cuts to come in the next ten years.

He added that possible further cuts of $600 billion would have dire consequences for national security.  

“We are already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt-ceiling agreement, and those are going to be tough enough,” Panetta told reporters in his first news conference as defense secretary.

“I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense,” he added.

The debt ceiling deal, which was signed into law on Tuesday, requires one trillion dollars of cuts right away, with defense cuts making up $350 billion of this.  A decision on an additional 1.5 trillion of cuts will be made by a special congressional committee, which might lead to the deeper US defense cuts Panetta is advocating against, possibly amounting to $600 billion.  

Leon Panetta’s comments come as he marks just over a month since he took over as Defense Secretary, replacing Robert Gates.  

But former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb believes that, despite Panetta’s opposition to further cuts, the United States is well able to afford them. 

“Secretary of Defense Panetta is trying to basically keep the spirits up of the organization he took over but as former director of OMB [Office of Management and Budget] he knows that the defense budget now, even if you control for inflation, is higher than at any time since World War II,” he said. “It is higher than it was at the height of the Reagan buildup, so yes we can afford to cut it.”