In a striking rebuke to his former boss, Leon Panetta said Monday President Barack Obama should engage more with congressional Republicans to resolve the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.
“You have to engage in the process ... you’ve got to roll up your sleeves,” Panetta said at a breakfast hosted by The Wall Street Journal, The Hill reported
Asked repeatedly whether he was being critical of Obama, Panetta asserted, “I don’t want to put it all on the president” adding there is “enough blame to go around" —
but didn't spare Obama, either, the Washington Post reported
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Panetta, who served as Obama's CIA chief and then defense secretary, said Obama makes a “fair” point that it would be wrong to allow Congress to use a default on the debt ceiling to gain hostage-taking leverage in budget talks.
"We govern either by leadership or crisis," said Panetta. "If leadership is not there, then we govern by crisis. Clearly, this town has been governing by crisis after crisis after crisis.”
Panetta also said Washington “has gotten a lot meaner in the last few years," and that relationships have deteriorated, The Post reported.
“This president — he’s extremely bright, he’s extremely able, he’s somebody who I think certainly understands the issues, asks the right questions, and I think has the right instincts about what needs to be done for the country," he said, adding, however:
“You have to engage in the process. This is a town where it’s not enough to feel you have the right answers. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and you’ve got to really engage in the process ... that’s what governing is all about.”
The Hill reported Panetta also decried the "almost a total breakdown in trust among people on the Hill,” saying "the greatest national security threat we face is our ability to govern."
Panetta, who also was President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff during the last government shutdown in 1996, said Clinton was more engaged.
“They shut down the government but we were negotiating up until the last minute in the Oval Office,” he noted.
And he said just because talks between Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Obama on a deficit grand bargain broke down in 2011 is “no reason to walk away” from any further deficit talks.
“In this town, you’ve got to stay with it," he said, The Post reported. "You’ve got to stay at it.”
If Obama is not comfortable personally negotiating, he should empower another Democrat to speak for him, Panetta said.
“He’s at the point where he really has to look at the legacy,” Panetta said. He said that a deficit deal with Boehner could bring about a new willingness by Republicans to move away from confrontation to governing the country.
The former Pentagon head also criticized the administration for its handling of furloughs, The Hill reported -- slamming the decision to furlough 70 percent of intelligence personnel as not essential.
“Who the hell came up with that?” he asked.
And he also blasted the administration’s handling of death benefits for soldiers killed in combat, which were initially held up by the shutdown, and its decision to furlough 800,000 defense workers only to call half of them back to work later.
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“These decisions have been by the seat of the pants, what’s essential and what’s not essential. I think not enough though was put into how exactly this would be implemented,” he said, The Hill reported.
“Everybody could have done a better job, especially on this intelligence stuff,” he said.
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