Panetta tells lawmakers sequestration 'undermines everything' you represent

He reiterated his claim that budget sequestration will hollow out the United States military force and "devastate" the nation's national security.

Sequestration, automatic across-the-board cuts to civilian and defense spending, was triggered by the deficit-reduction supercommittee's failure last November to find at least $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade. Without congressional action, the sequestration cuts will begin in 2013.

He told the panel that it is the responsibility of Congress to prevent "a meat ax" approach to Defense Department budget cuts and called on lawmakers to find a way to "de-trigger" the sequester.

"It undermines everything that you represent," said Panetta, a former congressman and White House budget chief.

Panetta, however, said he opposed efforts by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) to undo the first year of sequestration by making cuts to the federal workforce.

"I don't think you should de-trigger sequester on the backs of our civilian workforce," he said.

The defense secretary said the budget proposed by President Obama, which reflects an effort to trim military spending over a 10-year period, is a "balanced and complete package" that would be detrimentally impacted if sequestration is allowed.

There is "no margin of error," he added.

Dempsey told the lawmakers that given nature of the sequestration, it would force cuts to come from equipment, modernization efforts, and training capabilities.

"We are living in most dangerous time in my lifetime" and sequestration would be "oblivious" to that fact, said Dempsey.