Donna Cassatta, The Idaho Statesman
President Barack Obama’s choice of expert budget-cutter Leon Panetta to lead the Defense Department is a clear signal that the White House perceives the nation’s deficit crisis, not the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as its toughest challenge.
After winning the presidency in November 2008, Obama asked Robert Gates to remain defense secretary as the administration struggled to bring clarity to the fog of two wars. In tapping Panetta to replace Gates, Obama is turning to a Washington insider and veteran of budget fights as the administration wrestles with reining in an estimated $1.6 trillion deficit.
A military budget that has doubled since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks faces certain cuts amid the clamor from fiscal-minded lawmakers, emboldened tea partyers and an electorate insistent on Washington changing its spending habits. The prospect of the United States drawing down the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan pumps up the volume in the call for cuts.
Congress and the White House have moved to trim defense spending with the budget for the current fiscal year set at $513 billion, $18.1 billion less than the administration proposed.
In outlining his deficit-reduction plan, Obama called for slashing another $400 billion from defense over the next 12 years. The president’s bipartisan fiscal commission recommended Pentagon cuts of $1 trillion over a decade.