The remarks suggest that Pentagon leaders are all but hitting the panic button over the defense cuts -- totaling half a trillion over 10 years and set to take effect Jan. 1 -- and aren't taking for granted that Congress will act to avert them. They would occur along with $490 billion in existing defense cuts over a decade.
Neither party is happy with the sequestration trigger, even though both agreed to it as a deficit reduction fall-back if Congress failed to find budget savings elsewhere. House Republicans ditched their end of the debt-limit bargain and passed legislation last month to replace the defense with cuts to domestic programs for middle- and low-income people. But President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) insist they will not get rid of the sequester unless the GOP agrees to a balanced package that includes new revenues, i.e., taxes, which Republicans have refused to do.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who sat beside Dempsey at the hearing, also repeated his persistent call for Congress to repeal the sequestration cuts. Dempsey's offensive adds pressure on the White House -- which did not immediately comment for this article -- to either broker a deal or offer a more detailed stance on how Democrats want to deal with the sequester.
"There is a huge contrast between House Republicans and the Democrats who run Washington on the defense sequester. President Obama's Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, says the cuts that President Obama insisted on including in the Budget Control Act would 'hollow out' our Armed Forces, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went a step further yesterday, warning that the defense sequester could lead to a new war," said House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel in a statement. "House Republicans have acted to protect America's national security. ... Where is President Obama in all this? Does he agree with Sen. Reid or Secretary Panetta?"