Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has, for months now, said that the initial $450 billion in defense cuts that were part of the debt ceiling deal are all that he wants to see—meaning that Panetta doesn’t think the supercommittee should cut a single cent from defense spending when it decides on up to $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction.
Panetta reiterated this view to the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, and added an explosive revelation—that President Obama agrees with him:
During a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Panetta was asked by Representative William M. Thornberry, Republican of Texas, whether he believed that no further cuts in the military budget should be made beyond those already enacted.
“Correct,” Mr. Panetta replied.
When asked whether Mr. Obama shared that view, the defense secretary stated, “He does.”
If the supercommittee were to forgo any further defense reductions, then every dollar it cut would necessarily have to come from discretionary spending, which funds most of the government’s domestic functions, or from programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If Obama does endorse that principle, it would likely set off a firestorm in the Democratic base.
In the past, Obama has said that defense cuts are needed and that everything needs to be on the table for the supercommittee. But Panetta’s testimony raises important questions about where the president now stands.
The White House did not respond to my request for comment, but Representative Barney Frank, a longtime proponent of defense cuts, had some strong words of warning for the president. “It’s inconceivable to me that [Obama] would be for further reductions in military cuts, because he would be for saving military spending and cutting housing, education, environmental protection and other areas,” Frank told me.
“I hope that’s not true,” Frank added. “I’m not confident that it’s not true.”