Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlines possible budget cuts

The Takeaway

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Fewer boots on the ground. Cuts in medical benefits and retirement services. Reduced spending on new weapons.

Those are just a few of the ways new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hopes to begin meeting a requirement for $450 billion in budget cuts over the next 10 years, he told The New York Times.

Any one of those cuts will be controversial, but taken together it will likely be a tough road ahead for Panetta, who also faces the possibility of even more cuts, should the Congressional “super committee” fail to reach an agreement for more than $1 trillion in additional budget reductions. Elisabeth Bumiller, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, interviewed Panetta and said he was speaking out now because he wanted to “get out in front of the inevitable and give some broad categories of where he saw the cuts coming in.”

Bumiller said Panetta is really carrying on where his predecessors had left off. Robert Gates had been trying to years to cut back Tricare, the health program for military service members and their families. And with Panetta’s experience as a White House Budget Chief as well as a Congressman in charge of the House budget committee, he has some experience with these efforts.

Bumiller said the cuts, when you factor out the already-expected declines in spending as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will amount to about a 7 to 8 percent reduction, over 10 years. In the previous 10 years, basically since the attacks of Sept. 11, the defense budget has more than doubled. 

That makes Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan Administration, say that the cuts don’t nearly far enough, though he does like the progress.

“I think you’re moving forward,” he said. “You can go back to where we were before 9/11 and get 100,000 troops off the payroll.”

After Sept. 11, the Army and Marine Corps added about 100,000 new ground troops, to help fight battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under Panetta’s plan, there would be a reduction in the ground force, as greater emphasis is placed on special forces and cyber-warfare.

But there are already critics, especially as the war on terrorism continues.

“No one is talking about going to 9/11 (levels of spending). It’s basically doubled over the past decade so if you cut it by 7 to 8 percent, you’re not going back,” Korb said.

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“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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