Before the end of the year, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants the lame duck Congress to act on four critical items: avert mandatory defense spending cuts, pass Pentagon policy and appropriations bills, pass cybersecurity legislation, and confirm generals nominated for two top military posts.
Leading Panetta’s list for lawmakers is dealing with $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade — know as sequestration — scheduled to begin on Jan. 2. Panetta has been lobbying against these cuts all year.
“There are only 70 days until that happens and Congress is certainly on the clock when it comes to that potential sequestration occurring,” Panetta said during an Oct. 25 briefing at the Pentagon.
Congress is in a month-and-a-half long recess to campaign for the Nov. 6 elections.
Earlier this week during a debate with his Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama said sequestration “will not happen.”
In an off-the-record interview with the Des Moines Register, made public by the White House this week, Obama seemed to suggest such a “grand bargain” will come during the first six months of the next presidential term, which will begin in late January.
As for pending legislation, versions of the 2013 defense authorization bill have been approved by the Senate and House Armed Services committees. The full House has passed its version while the Senate has not voted on its version.
The House also has passed a version of the 2013 defense appropriations bill, however the Senate has not voted on a measure approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In addition, Panetta called for Congress to pass new cybersecurity legislation, which lawmakers attempted to complete this past summer.
Earlier this month, during a major cybersecurity speech in New York, Panetta sent a clear message to cyber attackers that the United States would find them and respond with action as needed. The secretary also outlined advances in cyber forensics and capabilities.
During the briefing today, Panetta also called on Congress to confirm Gen. John Allen and Gen. Joseph Dunford for two top leadership positions.
Allen, the current commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has been nominated to become NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander. Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, has been nominated to replace Allen as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.