WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Issuing perhaps their strongest warnings yet, Pentagon leaders said the budget impasse threatens to create a military readiness crisis Feb. 3.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined in interviews, televised Feb. 3, with CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" and NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press."
The budget provision known as "sequester," which is set to take effect March 1 unless Congress acts, would trigger a half-trillion dollars in defense spending cuts over 10 years, beyond major spending cuts already in place over that period. Defense Department staffs are preparing for the worst, Panetta said.
"If sequester goes into effect, and we have to do the kind of cuts that will go right at readiness, right at maintenance, right at training, we are going to weaken the United States and make it much more difficult for us to respond to the crises in the world," Panetta said.
"We've got to plan for that possibility,...but I have to tell you, it is irresponsible for [sequester] to happen," the secretary added. "I mean, why - why in God's name - would members of Congress elected by the American people take a step that would badly damage our national defense, but more importantly, undermine the support for our men and women in uniform? Why would you do that?"
Dempsey noted sequester is only part of the vise closing around DoD. Under the continuing resolution that sets government spending at previous levels when an appropriations bill isn't passed, Pentagon spending for the fiscal year already is out of balance, he said.
"The combined effects of sequester and the continuing resolution creates a magnitude of cut in the last half of the year," Dempsey said. "We have to absorb $52 billion when you count the effects of both sequestration and the continuing resolution in the last half of the year."
Panetta and Dempsey both have stated repeatedly that defense spending priorities always will be supporting troops in combat and training those next to deploy. The chairman yesterday detailed what civilian employees can expect if sequester happens and they are furloughed.
"They will lose two days per pay period, 20 percent less pay for the rest of the year," he said.
Dempsey noted that despite public perception, less than a quarter of defense civilian employees work in the Washington area.
"There's this notion that [civilian furloughs are] probably okay, because they are just a bunch of white-collar bureaucrats," he said.
But 86 percent of DoD's civilian employees "live outside of Washington, D.C., are in our schools, in our clinics, in our motor pools, in our depots, in our factories," Dempsey added. "This will affect the entire country, and it will undermine our readiness for the next several years."