Today, the Senate confirmed former CIA Director (and former CRFB Co-Chair!) Leon Panetta by a unanimous vote to become our new Secretary of Defense.
As Mr. Panetta steps up to face some tough decisions about policy in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, he will also be faced with some tough fiscal policy decisions as the nation looks for ways to trim the federal budget, including defense spending. Mr. Panetta will strike the right balance to handle both our security and fiscal threats. And as the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has said, “[t]he most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”
With forecasts of our nation’s fiscal trajectory worsening with each passing year, it has become increasingly important for a comprehensive fiscal plan that addresses all elements of the budget. Mr. Panetta’s experience as former chairman of the House Budget Committee and both former director of the Office and Management and Budget and former White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton -- where he played a significant role in the balanced budget negotiations of the 1990s -- proves that Mr. Panetta will be more than capable of tackling the tough decisions that will have to be made in the coming years.
At his Senate confirmation hearing today, Mr. Panetta already endorsed a review of the military pay and benefits structure as well as a plan to reduce the costs of some weapons programs. He has also expressed support for Secretary Gates’ plan to begin identifying $400 billion in defense savings, as called for in the President’s Budget Framework.
In a town where consensus is a rarity, the unanimous vote for Mr. Panetta's confirmation shows that policymakers agree with CRFB's sentiment -- that Mr. Panetta will be invaluable in the Obama administration with regard to the defense budget. As one example, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said in a statement, “[w]hether it is balancing budgets or fighting foreign insurgency abroad, Mr. Panetta has consistently proved himself as a strong and pragmatic leader.”
CRFB applauds Mr. Panetta’s confirmation as a step in the right direction toward getting the enactment of a comprehensive fiscal plan, and we wish Mr. Panetta the best of luck at his new position!