By John D. Banusiewicz
Deep, across-the-board spending cuts slated to take effect March 1 in the absence of congressional action could severely affect military readiness and should not happen, President Barack Obama said today during a farewell tribute to retiring Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
The president noted he has nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to succeed Panetta, calling him “a combat veteran with the experience, judgment, and vision that our troops deserve.”
“And since we are now just weeks away from deep automatic cuts to federal spending, including defense, let me say this: There is no reason — no reason — for that to happen,” Obama said. “Putting our fiscal house in order calls for a balanced approach, not massive, indiscriminate cuts that could have a severe impact on our military preparedness.”
He called on both political parties to work together to avoid the automatic cuts in the spirit Panetta brought to public service: “solving problems, not trying to score points; doing right for the country, not for any particular political agenda; sustaining our economic recovery; balancing budgets; … but also maintaining the finest military in history.”
The president added that this spirit would be part of Panetta’s legacy upon leaving office.
“No one has raised their voice as firmly or as forcefully on behalf of our troops as you have,” he said. “You’ve served with integrity and decency and grace. You’re a reminder of what public service ought to be.”