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Panetta warns against defense-spending cuts

By Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday that it would be “disastrous” for Congress to allow cuts in defense spending as scheduled in January.

In an interview that aired on ABC’s “This Week,” Panetta said the Pentagon “has to play a role in trying to be able to achieve fiscal responsibility,” but warned against allowing the cuts, which would take place as a result of the failure to reach a deficit reduction deal last year. The cuts to Medicare and defense spending are to be made through a process known as sequestration.

“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,” Panetta said. “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.”

Panetta also responded to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the drawdown in Afghanistan.

Romney said earlier this year that it was “naive” and “misguided” to announce withdrawal plans publicly.

“Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the day you’re pulling out your troops?” Romney said at a campaign event in February.

Panetta dismissed Romney’s criticism as “campaign rhetoric.”

“I think you’ve got 50 nations in NATO that agree to a plan in Afghanistan,” Panetta said. “It’s to take us to a point where we draw down by the end of 2014. That is the plan that has been agreed to, and it’s a plan that is working.”

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