WASHINGTON — After fielding a slew of questions ranging from insider attacks in Afghanistan to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, it was the final question of a nearly hourlong press conference Thursday that got Defense Secretary Leon Panetta the most fired up.
He was asked if he’d support “a short-term deal” by Congress to stave off sequestration. His retort? “I’ll take whatever the hell deal they can make right now.”
He laughed a bit, then turned serious.
“The problem is [lawmakers] have all left town and now this has been put off into the lame-duck session,” he said. “[It is] extremely important that when they return after the election, that they take steps to deal with not just with this issue – but the larger fiscal cliff problems this country is facing.”
The bottom line, he said, is that the U.S. cannot maintain a strong defense under the burden of sequestration. That it remains a possibility is in itself troubling.
“[The threat of sequestration] being out there continually is something that creates a problem for us as we try to plan for the future,” he said. “What exactly are we going to be facing? How are we going deal with it?
“You want a strong national defense for this county? I need to have some stability,” he said. “That’s what I’m asking Congress to do: Give me some stability with regard to the Defense Department and the future.”