PENTAGON: House Republicans will probably be seething after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta scolded them today for adding several billion dollars money to the defense budget.
“If we’re prevented from retiring aging ships and aircraft that no longer fit strategic requirements, then Congress would be forcing us to look elsewhere for savings,” Panetta said at a press conference here. “There’s no free lunch here. There’s no free lunch here,” he intoned.
Among the items included in the House version of the NDAA is language requiring that the Navy keep three Navy cruisers slated for retirement in fiscal 2013. It also would force the Air Force to keep flying Global Hawk Block 30s that were to be put in storage.
While Panetta repeatedly urged compromise on budget issues, the veteran budget warrior’s tone was unyielding. After noting he had spent much of this week talking with Congress about the budget, including two hours this morning and dinner last night, he said Congress risked “gridlock” with passage of the House policy bill because the Senate probably won’t approve it.
On top of Panetta’s surprisingly tough language, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, politely hammered one of the GOP’s top goals in yesterday’s House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, aka the defense policy bill. They rammed through language authorizing $100 million for an East Coast missile defense site to be built in three years to protect America from the scourge of Iranian missiles. But Dempsey said that, in his “military judgment,” he didn’t “see a need beyond what we submitted” in the administration’s defense budget.
Democrats and Republicans went at each other yesterday like, well, representatives facing an election, questioning whether members who lived on the West Coast and didn’t support the missile site cared about people on the East Coast. Democrats said the missile system in question didn’t work very well. And so on. You get the idea.