WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Leon Panetta, who once battled the Pentagon over cutting its budget, now is defending the U.S. Defense Department from the fiscal knife as its secretary.
Panetta took over the Defense Department in July, shortly after President Obama said he would cut national security spending by as much as $465 billion during the next decade.
In August, Congress and the White House said as much as $600 billion more in defense cuts were possible unless a special congressional committee can agree by the end of this month on another way to reduce the deficit.
Panetta since has led a campaign against what he said would be a "catastrophic" setback for national security, The Washington Post reported Friday, calling the prospect of an additional $600 billion in cuts "a disaster" that would "hollow out" the military.
His comments have led some in Congress to scratch their heads, wondering what happened to their former colleague in the House who was a deficit hawk.
"Apparently a mind-meld was performed on him ...," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said. "Panetta used to boast about the accomplishments that he's now demonizing."
Panetta told the Post he champions fiscal discipline and noted the Pentagon showed its willingness to take fiscal hits for the budgetary good of the country. But, he said, the loss of $600 billion more would force immediate, deep reductions when the United States is at war in Afghanistan and confronting terrorists and other threats.
"Frankly, my fundamental beliefs have not changed," Panetta said. "Throughout the 40 years I've been in Washington, I've always worked hard, particularly with regards to the budget issues. Frankly, I never thought that this country would be careless enough to put itself into deep deficits again and have to face all of these difficult choices that we're facing now."