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Kerry, Panetta warn of budget cuts

Published: 2/21/13 @ 12:00


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Secretary of State John Kerry says the greatest challenge to U.S. foreign policy is not emerging China or Middle East instability. It’s Congress.

In a speech Wednesday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Kerry cited the adage that “we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home.” He called the budget impasse a threat.

The State Department has said automatic spending cuts would jeopardize $2.6 billion in aid, security assistance and other international programs.

Kerry said legislators need to avoid “senseless cuts.”

Otherwise, he said his credibility as a diplomat might be damaged.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday that if automatic government spending cuts kick in March 1, he may have to shorten the workweek for the “vast majority” of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian workers.

They would lose one day of work per week, or 20 percent of their pay, for up to 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.

To dispel the notion that this is mainly a problem for the nation’s capital, the Pentagon’s budget chief, Robert Hale, told reporters that the economic impact would be felt nationwide. The biggest potential losses, in term of total civilian payroll dollars, would be in Virginia, California, Maryland, Texas and Georgia, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

Hale said the unpaid leaves for civilian workers would begin in late April and would save $4 billion to $5 billion if extended through the end of the budget year, Sept. 30. That is only a fraction of the $46 billion the Pentagon would have to cut this budget year unless a deficit-reduction deal is reached.

Panetta also said the across-the-board spending reductions would “put us on a path toward a hollow force,” meaning a military incapable of fulfilling all of its missions.