Panetta decries defense cuts, opposes plans to void them

When the deficit-reduction supercommittee earlier Monday announced its failure to find $1.2 trillion in federal cuts, it moved the Pentagon one step closer to facing $600 billion in spending reductions over a decade. It already is implementing a $350 billion cut, and Defense brass said nearly $1 trillion in cuts would be devastating.

“The failure of the congressional supercommittee to reach an agreement on deficit reduction is a setback for the countrys efforts to achieve fiscal responsibility while protecting our national security,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “If Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nations defense.”

He repeated his contention that a total of almost $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years would create a “hollow force.”

Even before the debt panel’s leaders had issued a news release formally ending the group’s efforts, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) issued his own, promising a bill soon to “prevent” the $600 billion in defense cuts. GOP Sens. John McCainJohn McCainLots of (just) talk about 'draining the swamp' 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Is Georgia turning blue? MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham: GOP Senate could rein in Clinton White House The Hill's 12:30 Report 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race MORE (S.C.) followed shortly with a news release vowing to lead a voiding effort in the upper chamber.

Speaking from the White House briefing room, President Obama addressed such promises directly, saying he had an answer for them: “No.”

Obama threatened to veto any bill Congress sends him that seeks to void the automatic Defense cuts or an equal amount of domestic spending cuts.

“I join the president in his call for Congress to avoid an easy way out of this crisis,” Panetta said. “Congress cannot simply turn off the sequester mechanism, but instead must pass deficit reduction at least equal to the $1.2 trillion it was charged to pass under the Budget Control Act.”

Then, the Defense secretary — a former Democratic House Budget Committee chairman — took a swipe at Congress.

“In my four decades involved with public service, I have never been more concerned about the ability of Congress to forge common-sense solutions to the nation’s pressing problems,” Panetta said.