PANETTA: I would hope that both Republicans and Democrats would be justly proud of what was accomplished.
TAPPER: There are massive mandatory budget cuts heading your way -- I know you're more than aware of this -- coming to domestic programs and the defense budget if Congress doesn't come to an agreement on deficit reduction. You've said that defense cuts would lead to a hollow military but in a recent interview, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this: "So now see the Republicans scrambling to do away with the cuts to defense that would be required by this agreement. I will not accept that. My people in the state of Nevada, and I think the country, have had enough of whacking all the programs. We've cut them to a bare bone and defense is going to have to bear their share of the burden." Is that language okay with you, that language from the Democratic leader of the Senate?
PANETTA: Well-- my view is that when you're facing the size deficits and debt that we're facing, that obviously defense has to play a role in trying to be able to achieve fiscal responsibility. I've also said you don't have to choose between national security and our fiscal security and that's what we've done. We were handed a number by Congress to reduce the defense budget by $487 billion dollars. To do that, we laid out a strategy that we want for our defense system both now and in the future and we provided a budget that, we think, meets not only the goal of savings but also, more importantly, protects a strong national defense for this country. The thing that does concern me is the sequester which involves another $500 billion in defense cuts.
TAPPER: That's these automatic cuts I'm talking about.
PANETTA: These automatic cuts that would take place that I think would be disastrous in terms of our national defense. And I would say this. I think the sequester, both on the domestic side and the defense side, doesn't make a great deal of sense that both Republicans and Democrats now have a responsibility to work together to make sure that sequester never happens. That's what should take place.
TAPPER: I've heard from a lot of people on Capitol Hill, Democrats too, who say they were alarmed with what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. It seemed to suggest that he is ready for a standoff and he doesn't care if the sequester cuts come down. Does this concern you, the language you're hearing from the Hill?
PANETTA: You know what, I know Harry Reid and I know he, the last thing he wants is for sequester to take place and I think that should be true, frankly, for all Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. They put this trigger into legislation in order to pressure Republicans and Democrats to work together on the super-committee to come up with the money necessary to ensure that that would not happen.
TAPPER: It didn't work.
PANETTA: It didn't work. And so now you have this automatic meat ax that will suddenly take place sometime in January. I think what both Republicans and Democrats need to do and the leaders on both sides is to recognize that if sequester takes place, it would be disastrous for our national defense and very frankly for a lot of very important domestic programs. They have a responsibility to come together, find the money necessary to de-trigger sequester. That's what they ought to be working on now.