December 5, 2012

Fiscal cliff talks hint at more defense cuts

Donna Cassata / The Associated Press

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that a meat-ax approach to the Pentagon's budget presented by sequestration would do considerable harm.


At a news conference a few blocks from the Capitol, the group called the national debt "the single greatest threat to our national security." The coalition also was running full-page ads in major newspapers on Wednesday calling on Washington leaders to consider every possible step to help fix the fiscal crisis, from raising tax rates to changes to Medicare and Social Security to cuts in defense.

"In our judgment, advances in technological capabilities and the changing nature of threats make it possible, if properly done, to spend less on a more intelligent, efficient and contemporary defense strategy that maintains our military superiority and national security," the group said.

Among the members of the coalition are retired Adm. Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Frank Carlucci; Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve; and former secretaries of state James Baker, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.

Former Sens. Sam Nunn and John Warner, who once led the Armed Services Committee, also are members of the coalition.

Any deal between Obama and Boehner that avoids the fiscal cliff and reduces the deficit will still face some resistance among rank-and-file lawmakers over defense cuts, especially in the House. The reductions will be particularly hard for GOP lawmakers who were counting on Mitt Romney to win the White House and try to reverse the cuts in defense.

Some lawmakers said the nearly $500 billion in cuts in the budget deal last year were hard enough.

"I felt that those cuts were plenty deep," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "They caused considerable reduction in the number of service members and raised some concerns whether we're going to be stretched too thin, and whether we're going to hollow out the services."

Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., a retired Army officer, said the budget law cuts are "quite sufficient" and any more reductions would have a serious impact on the military.

"How many more combat tours of duty do you want these young men and women to be doing, five or six tours of duty?" West said. "We're starting to break our military's back. The world is a more dangerous place. After every major combat engagement, we decimate our military and then we try to ramp up to play catch up in the next war."

The next solution, West said, would be for some members of Congress "to put on a helmet and fix a bayonet and they could go fight."

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