Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rejected on Monday recent GOP allegations that there are unheard budget dissenters to President Obama’s spending request in the Pentagon ranks.
The comments represent the defense leaders’ first reactions to the specific charge made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., two weeks ago as he defended controversial comments by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that senior military leaders did not support Obama’s fiscal 2013 spending request.
“They sure as hell can be given a voice,” Panetta said of any Pentagon dissenters. “We’ve had 50 hearings on the Hill dealing with the budget, in which they’ve been asked questions regarding both the strategy and budget decisions. And the bottom line is that was this was a team effort.”
“The fact that we are unified as a team, with regards to the strategy and the budget, can be an aggravation for some but it happens to be a fact,” he argued, speaking in the Cannon House Office Building at a press conference about military sexual assault.
Earlier in the day at a Pentagon briefing, Panetta argued military and civilian Defense Department leaders "stand unified" behind the strategy and budget.
Since McConnell’s statement, members of the Joint Chiefs have said any such dissention is not at their level. Some conservatives, in declining to name names, have argued that no senior officers would publicly voice their disagreement in the president’s budget after it was introduced to Congress because it would be a career-ending move.
“I’ve never heard of any such thing happening in my entire 38 years. How do I answer that question?” Dempsey said, to laughter. “Look, all I can tell you is what I’ve experienced personally—I don’t see that. And if anybody," he said, turning to the television cameras, "any generals are listening, come and talk to me if you feel that way.”
Dempsey said he agreed with Panetta’s claim that the budget-writing process of last fall was inclusive and open to dissention.
“Dissent was not disloyalty,” Dempsey said Panetta made clear to him at the outset of the budget process. “It’s been a very challenging process, but the climate has been one in where we have been able to cooperate.”