WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday for details on how looming cuts would affect the military and said he was surprised the Pentagon was just now asking the services to plan for the cuts.
Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Panetta in a letter that, “rather than simply blaming Congress,” he and President Barack Obama should work with lawmakers to prevent “further devastating cuts” to the military.
Speaking to troops in Italy on Thursday, Panetta said members of the military were putting their lives on the line and that elected officials should have the courage to do what's necessary to prevent the cuts.
“This is not an unsolvable problem,” Panetta said, according to a Pentagon transcript. “We can do this. People have just got to suck it up and take some of the — you know, take on some of the risks and take on some of the challenges that are required by people in leadership.”
The Defense Department, which already has been tasked to cut nearly $500 billion over the next 10 years, may face another $500 billion in reductions if Congress doesn't step in by March to stop or revise the automatic cuts known as sequestration.
Panetta told reporters last week that all of the Defense Department components had been asked to determine how they would implement the cuts. Panetta said furloughs of civilians would likely be necessary and that training and maintenance unrelated to the war in Afghanistan would have to be halted later in the year.
Such moves could have a huge impact at Tinker Air Force Base, where thousands of civilians are involved in aviation maintenance. There is flight training at two other Air Force bases in Oklahoma and artillery training at the U.S. Army post, Fort Sill.
Inhofe said in his letter to Panetta that the Defense Department should have provided details much earlier on how the cuts would impact the military so people knew the risks involved.
Inhofe also accused the Obama administration of pursuing “the systematic disarming of U.S. military power under the guise of defense budget cuts in order to maintain significantly higher levels of funding for nonsecurity related domestic programs.”
In his remarks to troops, Panetta put the responsibility on Congress to resolve the Defense Department's budget problems.
“And my hope is that Congress will ultimately come together and make the right decisions for the sake of national defense, for the sake of our country, for your sake, make the right decisions that have to be made in order to govern the country,” Panetta said.
“That's the responsibility we expect of people when we elect them, is to govern the country.”