In what he presumed to be his final press briefing as defense secretary, Leon Panetta today slammed Congress for failing to work with the executive branch and putting the nation's security at risk.
"Often times I feel like I don't have a full partnership with my former colleagues on the Hill in trying to do what's right for this country," Panetta told reporters. "I don't pretend we always make the right decisions, [but]... what I look for is members willing to work with us. We need to look for solutions. We can't just sit here and b***h... We have got to solve real problems facing this country."
Panetta continued, "This is not a time when we can kind of take a deep breath and assume the rest of the world is going to be fine. We can't do this alone. We have got to do this with a full partnership with the Congress."
The defense secretary has not been shy about his, which has so far failed to avert the $1.2 trillion "sequester" cuts, half of which would hit the Pentagon. "The looming cuts could jeopardize military readiness," Panetta said today. "I would again strongly urge the Congress to heed these warnings. This is not a game. This is reality."
Panetta said Congress' dysfunction was "on full display" during the Senate confirmation hearings for former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., President Obama's nominee to replace Panetta.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today scheduled a vote for Friday to break the GOP-led filibuster on Hagel's nomination. Reid noted this is the first time in history a defense secretary nominee is being filibustered. "What a shame," he said on the Senate floor. At least 60 votes will be needed to move Hagel's nomination forward, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he is optimistic they have the 60 votes.
Panetta said today, "I think the Congress will act and that they will confirm Chuck Hagel this week."
Still, Panetta said that in instances such as Hagel's hearings, "What you see on display is too much meanness."
"The thing that makes the Congress work is that... there will always be party differences... but there are also some lines that are there that make that process work, lines that involve mutual respect," said Panetta. "Lines that involve courtesy and a degree of respect for each other despite what their decisions are. And you kind of see that breaking down. It becomes too personal, it becomes too mean."
Panetta, who served in the House of Representatives himself for 16 years, said congressmen need to have respect for each other but also for the institution of Congress. "Somehow members on both the House and Senate side have to get back to a point where they really respect the institution they're a part of," he said.