Leading senators on the Budget Committee clashed Tuesday with each other and with military officials over whether the Pentagon could bear even deeper budget cuts.
Cutting the Pentagon budget to meet a "nutty formula" by Congress to reduce the deficit is "goofy," and will decimate the Defense Department, Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate panel that is reviewing the 2013 fiscal year budget request, Fox News
Defense officials warned that additional reductions would cause job losses and affect national security.
Panetta told members of the Senate Budget Committee he hopes they will put a stop to the sequestration process Congress implemented last summer in which a super committee of 12 lawmakers forged an agreement that will trigger $600 billion in across-the-board defense cuts over 10 years beginning in 2013. Fox News reported that Panetta said the cuts are so deep the Pentagon hasn't even bothered to prepare for them.
"We have made no plans for sequester because it's a nutty formula, and it's goofy to begin with, and it's not something, frankly, that anybody who is responsible ought to put into effect," he said.
The sequestration law was passed to prompt a group of 12 members of Congress, known as the super committee, to reach a compromise in a debt negotiation process. The debt process eventually was rejected by Congress.
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, the committee chairman, said that given the country's fiscal crisis, more savings must be found in the core defense budget, and that it would be impossible to address the nation's deficit without doing so.
"I don't think that, at the end of the day, we'll have an alternative here," said Conrad, adding that if lawmakers don't find a way to save "it will be forced on us."
The panel's top Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, said, however, that America's budget can't be balanced with just Pentagon cuts. The escalating costs of entitlement programs must be addressed, he said.
Panetta, a past chairman of the House budget panel who also served in the Clinton administration as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, agreed. He suggested that raising taxes and cutting entitlements would be a good place to start.
"If you're not dealing with the two-thirds that is entitlement spending, if you're not dealing with revenues and you keep going back to the same place, frankly you're not going to make it," Panetta said, Fox News reported.
"And you're going to hurt this country, you're going to hurt this country's security, not only by cutting defense, but very frankly by cutting discretionary spending that deals with the quality of life in this country," he added.
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