Panetta blasts congressional ‘dysfunction’ in farewell speech

Panetta, who will soon be stepping down from his Pentagon post, has been among the most vocal critics of sequestration, the across-the-board cuts that were set in motion by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

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He has warned repeatedly that they would “devastate” the military, and said Wednesday that the $46 billion cut to the Pentagon in 2013 would lead to a $35 billion shortfall in operating funds for active forces.

And while he laid out the dangers of sequestration in his Georgetown speech, his larger point was that the political environment itself is a threat to national security and the economy.

“My fear is that there is a dangerous and callous attitude that is developing among some Republicans and some Democrats, that these dangerous cuts can be allowed to take place in order to blame the other party for the consequences,” he said. “This is a kind of ‘so what?’ attitude that says, ‘Let's see how bad it can get in order to have the other party blink.' "

Panetta served in Congress and the Clinton administration before becoming CIA director and Defense secretary under President Obama. He compared today’s attitudes to 1995 when budget gridlock led to a government shutdown.

“When they did it in 1995, it badly hurt the American people,” Panetta said. “And it created a political backlash that damaged those who were blamed for that crisis. Same damn thing is going to happen again if they allow this to occur.”