A debt deal enacted by Congress earlier this month would cut $917 billion in spending over 10 years. The deal also creates a congressional committee charged with closing the deficit an additional $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion. If the panel deadlocks or Congress doesn't accept its plan, a prearranged set of spending cuts would kick in, including steep cuts to defense and entitlement programs poised as a guillotine to prod the committee and Congress to act.
Speaking before an audience at the National Defense University in Washington, Panetta said, "This kind of massive cut across the board, which would literally double the number of cuts that we're confronting, that would have devastating effects on our national defense. It would have devastating effects on, certainly, the State Department."
The most damaging effect, Panetta said, "would result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world. But, more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families. And a volunteer army is absolutely essential to our national defense."
Already facing $350 billion in cuts, the Pentagon would face an additional $500 billion under the trigger provisions.
Appearing with Panetta, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "We are a national security team, we're all on the American team." She said the cuts would have a similar effect on U.S. foreign policy efforts.
"I'm not saying we should be exempt and education or healthcare here at home should bear all the costs" of deficit reduction, Clinton said. "I'm just saying that as we look at everything that is on the table, we have to try to do a reasonable analysis of what our real needs and interests are."