Pentagon chief: Vote in lame duck on defense cuts ‘unacceptable’

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the move by lawmakers to delay action on automatic defense cuts until after the election is "unacceptable" and "dangerous."

"I think the greater danger is they'll try to kick the can down the road on all of those issues [and] I think that's unacceptable, particularly when it comes to the sequester issue," he told reporters Thursday while en route to multilateral security talks with U.S. allies in the Pacific. 

Despite heated rhetoric on both sides of the aisle, congressional Republicans and Democrats remain worlds apart on how to spare the Pentagon from nearly half a trillion dollars' worth of spending cuts over the next decade. 

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One thing lawmakers have apparently agreed upon is that no decision on the automatic defense cuts will be made until after the presidential election in November. 

But by then, it will be too late to come up with a viable compromise that will get the Pentagon off the budgetary hook, Panetta said. 

"I don't like the idea of putting everything off till after the election. I think it gets real dangerous when you start piling all of the crises into one period after the election and hope that you can solve all those issues," he said.

The cuts were triggered after a bipartisan supercommittee, created as part of the White House's debt restructuring deal last year, failed to come up with a plan to cut those dollars from government accounts outside of defense. 

The Pentagon is already staring down a roughly $450 billion decrease in spending spread across the next 10 years as a result of the debt deal lawmakers approved in August. 

Tacking on an additional $500 billion in automatic cuts would put the department in a nearly $1 trillion hole — a situation that Panetta and other defense officials argue would break the back of the U.S. armed forces. 

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was the latest Pentagon official to urge Congress to lay off the budget, warning that making changes was a "zero-sum game” as the Pentagon prepares for a cut of $487 billion over the next decade.

“Every dollar the U.S. spends on old and unnecessary programs is a dollar we lose from new and necessary strategic investments,” Carter said at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday. “When something is added to the budget that’s not needed, we are forced to take out something that matters.”

That said, lawmakers continue to bicker over where the additional revenue should be pulled from to spare the department those massive budget cuts. 

Congressional Republicans want to protect the Pentagon by stripping billions from a number of social welfare programs, including federal food stamps and the national school lunch program. 

Democrats want to impose a number of federal subsidies on the agriculture and oil sectors, restructure the tax code to increase rates on the wealthiest Americans and do away with the Bush-era tax rates.

Neither proposal has gained the necessary bipartisan support to make its way through the GOP-controlled House or the Democrat-run Senate. 

Panetta sided with Democrats in May when he argued that looming defense cuts should not be negated "by taking these funds from the poor, middle-class Americans [and] other vulnerable parts of our American constituencies." 

"It is not balanced. It is not fair," he said of the GOP plan during a May 10 briefing at the Pentagon.