Obama: "No reason" we cannot avoid sequestration

At a ceremony honoring departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today, President Obama said there is "no reason" we cannot avoid the automatic defense cuts contained in the so-called sequester, cuts that he said will have a "severe impact on our military preparedness."

"Since we are just weeks away from deep automatic cuts to federal spending, including defense, let me say this: there is no reason - no reason - for that to happen."

"Putting our fiscal house in order calls for a balanced approach," said Mr. Obama, "Not massive, indiscriminate cuts that could have a severe impact on our military preparedness."

The president called on Democrats and Republicans "to come together" to avert the cuts "for the sake of our prosperity."

At the ceremony, the president hailed his defense secretary and former CIA chief as "one of our nation's finest public servants."

"Leon, I'll always be grateful that you agreed to return to public service," Mr. Obama said. "Your leadership of the CIA will forever be remembered for the blows that we struck against al Qaeda and perhaps the greatest intelligence success in American history - delivering justice to Osama Bin Laden."

"You've served with integrity, with decency, and with grace," he continued. "You're a reminder of what public service ought to be

"Just think of the progress under his watch," Mr. Obama said, ticking off a list of accomplishments that include ending the war in Iraq, bringing the war in Afghanistan to an eventual close, helping defeat al Qaeda, repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell", and opening combat positions to women in the military. That record, the president said, will be remembered "for making our military and our nation that much stronger."

Panetta, for his part, thanked the president for the "tremendous honor" of being given "the opportunity to serve this country again as a member of your administration."

"I hope that, in some small way, I have helped to fulfill the dream of my parents," Panetta said. "The dream that they wanted, and the dream that all of us want, of giving our children a better life."