WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday demanded Congress take action after November elections to ensure stable funding for the US military and to break a partisan deadlock over the country's budget deficit.
"When Congress returns to town after the election, there is a great deal of critical work that needs to be done," Panetta told a news conference.
He said that "after a tough national election (on November 6), the American people, I think, will expect both parties to roll up their sleeves, work together to solve the problems facing the nation and to protect our national security."
Panetta renewed his appeal for both Democrats and Republicans to strike a compromise that would avert dramatic spending cuts and tax increases mandated to take effect in January 2013 if the two parties fail to agree a deal to reduce the budget deficit and debt.
He has warned the mandatory cuts would have a devastating effect on the US military and undermine a carefully planned strategy to reduce the growth of defense spending over the next decade.
Under a law adopted last year, the Pentagon would be forced to slash an additional $500 billion from the defense budget in the absence of a compromise agreement among lawmakers. The administration already plans to reduce planned defense spending by $487 billion over the next decade.
Panetta also called on lawmakers to approve a defense budget for the fiscal year 2013, which began on October 1st.
The Obama administration has proposed a base budget of $525 billion, not including about $89 billion to cover the costs of the war in Afghanistan.
But while the Pentagon had started to prepare a budget for 2014, its work was hampered because Congress has "not done anything," he said.
The Pentagon was operating under a stop-gap "continuing resolution" for the current fiscal year, making it difficult for defense officials and commanders to make plans, he said.
"So I don't know what I'm going to get for 2013, much less what Congress provides for 2014.
"This is a strategic issue, what kind of stability I have in terms of defense planning for the future," he said.
Panetta added: "I have to have some stability with regards to where we're going from here and I don't have that and frankly that's a major concern."
Apart from budget matters, Panetta called on Congress to adopt proposed cyber security legislation and to promptly approve US General John Allen as the nominee for the next NATO commander as well as General Joseph Dunford to take over from Allen as the top commander of allied forces in Afghanistan.