Panetta scoffs at GOP claims of dissent in the ranks over budget

Pentagon leaders are attacking Republican claims that there is dissent in the ranks over President Obama’s new military strategy and budget.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta scoffed at claims from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that there was dissent and unhappiness from military officials about the Pentagon’s plans to cut $487 billion over the next decade. He said Monday evening that top officials in the services and Pentagon were “a unified team” who worked together to craft the budget and strategy.

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“They sure as hell can be given a voice and they are given a voice,” Panetta said when asked about the budget at a press conference on sexual assault Monday evening.

“We've had 50 hearings on the Hill dealing with the budget in which they've been asked questions regarding both the strategy and budget decisions, and the bottom line is that this was a team effort,” he said. “And I think the fact that we are a unified team with regards to the strategy and the budget could be an aggravation to some, but it happens to be the fact.”

One Republican in the room with Panetta was not convinced.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who was at the press conference with Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Monday, said he did not feel Congress was getting the full story from the military officials who had testified in Congress over the past two months.

“I’m not convinced,” Turner told The Hill. “It’s easy to say there’s no dissent when people aren’t fully free to discuss it. I think there’s a chilling effect.”

Ryan first suggested last month that military leaders were not giving “their true advice” on the budget, a remark he later apologized for to Dempsey.

But Ryan stood by his criticism that the president’s budget hollows out the military, and McConnell added to a growing rift between the Pentagon leaders and Republicans by saying earlier this month there “has clearly been dissent” on the budget.

Turner said he feels there were still questions about the risks associated with the budget that weren’t answered in congressional hearings.

“There might not be wide dissent, but it has always been part of the deliberative process to have that additional information of what other items are being considered.”

When asked at Monday’s press conference if military officials were not expressing their dissent for fear of harming their career, Dempsey responded: “I've never heard of any such thing happening in my entire 38 years.

“How do I answer that question?” he said. “Look, all I can say is what I've experienced personally. I don't see that.”

Dempsey concluded with a request made directly to the generals below him: “If any generals are listening, come and talk to me.”