Panetta: Sequestration would be 'disastrous' for national defense

Defense Sec. Leon Panetta said Sunday that the looming sequestration would be "disastrous" for national defense in an interview with Jake Tapper.

While Panetta did not directly criticize Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), the secretary was speaking in response to a question about Reid's recent comments to Politico. Reid said he would not accept Republican efforts to prevent the defense-based parts of the sequestration.

The sequestration is the product of last summer's Budget Control Act, which stipulates $1.2 trillion in spending cuts effective Jan. 1, 2013, if Congress does not agree on a comparable deficit reduction plan. Included in the sequester is $500 billion in defense cuts.

TAPPER: There are massive mandatory budget cuts heading your way—I know you’re more than aware of this—if Congress doesn't come to an agreement on deficit reduction. You’ve said that the defense cuts would lead to a hollow military. But in a recent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this:

"To now see the Republicans scrambling to do away with the cuts to defense (that would be required by this agreement), I will not accept that…my people--in the state of Nevada and I think the country--have had enough to whacking all the programs. We've cut them to a bare bone, and defense is going to have to share the burden."

TAPPER: Is that language okay with you? That language from the Democratic leader of the Senate.

SEC. PANETTA: You know, my view is that, when you're facing this size deficit that we're facing, that obviously defense has to play a role in trying to be able to achieve fiscal responsibility. And we provided a budget that we think meets, not only the goal of savings but also more importantly, protects a strong national defense for this country. The thing that does concern me is the sequester that involves another $500 billion in defense cuts.

TAPPER: That’s these automatic cuts that I’m talking about.

PANETTA: These automatic cuts that would take place that I think would be disastrous in terms of our national defense. And I would say this, I think, what both Republicans and Democrats need to do, and the leaders on both sides, is to recognize that if sequester takes place it would be disastrous for our national defense and very frankly for a lot of very important domestic programs. They have a responsibility to come together, find the money necessary to de-trigger sequester. That’s what they ought to be working on now.