Panetta: Allowing sequester to happen would be ‘shameful’

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Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday that it would a “shameful, irresponsible” act for Congress to allow the automated budget cuts known as “sequestration” to take effect.

During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Panetta pressed lawmakers to find a way to avoid the cuts, slated to take effect on March 1, warning that it would impact the military’s preparedness.

“If Congress stands back and allows the sequester to happen, it would be a shameful, irresponsible act,” he said.

Congress set up the package of sweeping across-the-board budget cuts totaling $1.2 billion that would take effect if they could not reach a deficit-reduction agreement in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

More than $500 billion of the proposed cuts, which have been pushed back from its original December implementation date to this spring as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal, would fall on the Defense department.

Panetta said the department had begun to prepare for the possibility of steep budget cuts “because there are members up on Capitol Hill that are saying ‘we’re going to stand back and let sequester happen.’”

But he added “if sequester happens, it is going to badly damage the readiness of the United States of America.”

“If sequester goes into effect, and we have to do the kind of cuts that go right at readiness, right at maintenance, right at training, we are going to weaken the United States and make it more difficult to respond to crises,” Panetta warned.