Press Secretary George Little Reaffirms Department’s Sequestration Position

November 17, 2011

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little reaffirmed the Defense Department’s position that devastating effects would result if pending defense spending cuts are doubled.

Little and Navy Capt. John Kirby briefed reporters during a news conference today.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has laid out the consequences to the department if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction cannot reach an agreement, Little said, noting that the “sequestration” mechanism that would kick in would more than double the $450 billion the department must cut.

Panetta described the situation in a letter to Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. “The secretary made clear in his letter to Senator McCain and Senator Graham that there would be very serious consequences that would flow from sequestration,” Little said.

Little stressed that even if sequestration happens, it will not happen next week, when the so-called supercommittee’s deadline passes. “The sequestration bullet is fired in January, but it doesn't arrive until January of the following year,” he said. “That being said, this is a large department, and we would have to plan for those cuts nearly right away.”

Still, the Pentagon’s focus is on avoiding sequestration, and on building the fiscal 2013 budget bill in the absence of sequestration, he said.

Critics have said defense officials are overstating the effect sequestration would have, pointing to the hothouse growth of the DOD budget since 9/11 and saying that national security would not be endangered by draconian cuts.

“In terms of the budget growth since 2001, yes, in absolute dollar terms, the budget has grown,” Little said. “But if you’ll look at the defense budget as a pie, the pieces of the pie have shifted. And the percentages of the defense budget that are required to support military personnel and benefits, those percentages have grown dramatically.”

Therefore, Little said, it is important to remember that the percentages assigned to various accounts are different today from what they were in 2001.

“And some of those costs have … outstripped inflation,” Kirby said.

Panetta repeatedly has reached out to members of Congress on this issue, Little said. “There has been engagement over time with individual members of the supercommittee and at the staff level as well,” he said. There has not been a formal “sit-down” with the committee nor does he expect one.

“We’ve obviously made our views known,” Little said, noting that the secretary has reached out to the armed services and appropriations committees in both houses of Congress.

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