Panetta Calls Potential Defense Cuts In Debt Deal Trigger ‘Completely Unacceptable’

Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen field reporters' questions.

Despite receiving an extra $50 billion for Pentagon spending in the debt ceiling deal reached Tuesday, military officials and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are already sounding the alarm over potential defense cuts that were part of the compromise. For the second day in a row, Panetta issued dire warnings about what would happen if Congress goes beyond the $350 billion in Pentagon cuts already included in the deal.

Those cuts are below the $400 billion over ten years that President Obama called for back in November, but additional defense cuts are among the so-called “triggers” that may happen automatically if Congress cannot agree on an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by the end of the year.

In a letter, Panetta warned that if a Congressional super committee could not agree on cuts to the nation’s deficit, “it could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation.” Defense cuts are viewed as one of the few concessions to Democrats in the deal.

Panetta followed up his letter with a briefing to reporters this afternoon. Sitting next to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Panetta called the spending triggers a “doomsday mechanism” and said deeper defense contained in the triggers cuts are “completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of Defense, the President, and to our nation’s leaders.” Watch it:

When asked if he would resign in protest if additional cuts to the defense budget occurred, Panetta answered, “I didn’t come into this job to quit, I came into this job to fight.” In his fight to keep military spending at record levels, Panetta is joined by powerful defense sector lobbyists, who are already rallying to protect their enormous 20 percent share of the federal budget. Defense spending has doubled over the past ten years.

Ironically, when Panetta was first tapped by Obama to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, several publications confidently predicted his appointment signalled major defense cuts were in the works. But Panetta is quickly proving his allegiance to preserving the military establishment. Democrats may worry that Panetta, who claimed to be speaking for President Obama as well, is giving away a key bargaining chip in the upcoming deficit battle with Republicans, who are trying to protect defense pork.