Former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks at a press conference Wednesday held by FixtheDebt.org. (Marcus Weisgerber / Staff)
WASHINGTON — Even though the US Senate has reached an agreement to reopen the US government for the next three months and raise the federal debt ceiling, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is still eyeing a big deficit reduction deal.
Nearly eight months since he left the top post at the Pentagon, Panetta returned to Washington Wednesday pushing lawmakers to put all options on the table and strike a long-term budget agreement.
“My hope is that once you get into a budget conference, and once you’re dealing with the bigger issues of entitlements, and discretionary as well as tax reform, that the decisions you make will not only help in terms of debt reduction and bring this country on the right path toward a lower deficit, but also end sequester,” Panetta said during a press conference organized by Fix the Debt, a non-partisan group of leaders advocating for a long-term debt deal.
While at the Pentagon, Panetta — a former congressman, Office of Management and Budget director, White House chief of staff and CIA director — was among President Barack Obama’s most vocal Cabinet members advocating for a long-term, comprehensive deficit-reduction deal.
Senate leaders, just hours before Panetta’s remarks, struck a deal to fund the government thought Jan. 15. The government has been closed since Oct. 1. The deal reached Wednesday would keep sequestration spending caps in place.
Senators also agreed to create a budget panel where House and Senate conferees could hammer out a longer-term budget deal.
“Hopefully, having been through this experience of the shutdown and implications of not increasing the debt limit, will be a sufficient enough incentive for them to now turn to governing,” Panetta said.
A key element to achieving a long-term budget plan is restoring trust between those negotiating a deal and putting all options on the table, he said.