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Leon Panetta: Sequester Hitting The Military Would Be 'Shameful'

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WASHINGTON -- Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday that allowing the sequester to go into effect would be damaging for both the military and the country at large.

"We will become less safe," Dempsey told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Under the sequester, the federal budget will be cut by about $1.2 trillion next month unless Congress acts to avert those across-the-board reductions. The looming sequester had been put in place as part of an attempt to push lawmakers to agree on budget cuts, by threatening less-targeted reductions if they failed to act broadly. The threat didn't work.

Panetta told "Meet the Press" that the Department of Defense is preparing for the sequester, despite assurances from some lawmakers that they will not allow it to go into effect.

"We've got a plan for that possibility, because there are so many members that are saying, you know, 'We're gonna let it take place,'" Panetta said. "But I have to tell you it is irresponsible for it to happen. I mean, why in God's name would members of Congress, elected by the American people, take a step that would badly damage our national defense, but more importantly undermine the support for our men and women in uniform?"

He also said he thinks that President Barack Obama is doing all he can to push Congress to avert the sequester, but that it is ultimately up to the legislators.

"If Congress stands back and allows sequester to take place, I think it would really be a shameful and irresponsible act," Panetta said.

Meanwhile, on ABC's "This Week," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) showed why averting the sequester will be contentious on Capitol Hill. A number of Republicans have said they will not couple budget cuts to replace the sequester with revenue raisers. Reid, though, said Democrats will not accept a deal without them.

"The American people are on our side," Reid said. "The American people don't believe in these austere things. We believe that the rich should contribute. We believe we should fill those tax loopholes -- get rid of them, I should say. And that's where we need to go."

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