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Panetta Impresses on Both Sides of the Aisle Panetta Impresses on Both Sides of the Aisle

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Panetta Impresses on Both Sides of the Aisle

CIA Director Leon Panetta, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2011, before the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on his nomination for Secretary of Defense.(Chet Susslin)

November 18, 2011

After nearly five months on the job at the Department of Defense, the former CIA chief has won admirers on both sides of the aisle.

"It's early, but he has provided good leadership this far," said a Republican member of Congress. "Off to a strong start," said another, "with solid bipartisan relationships on the Hill."

"It's still early," agreed a Democratic member, "and budget cuts are on the horizon. However, he did a masterful job at the CIA, and I'm hopeful he can have the same success at Defense."

"Panetta is a professional who puts doing the job well and making government function well above everything else," added another Democrat.

Panetta's successes in the war on terror seem to have boosted his standing among Republicans who might have otherwise been critical of a Democratic nominee.

"We've made strides in eliminating senior al-Qaeda leaders, and he's ably made the case for funding our nation's defense at reasonable levels," said one Republican Congressional Insider.

"He's been steady, communicative about our mission, a hawk, and talks to both sides in the Congress," said another. "And getting bin Laden and the continuing deterioration of al-Qaeda is pretty hard to argue with."

A Democratic Insider agreed, stating simply, "He got bin Laden, got the U.S. out of Iraq, and has not started another war. A+."

There are signs, however, that Panetta's increasingly outspoken role in the ongoing deliberations over deficit reduction could begin to put dents in his armor. Panetta has been vocal about the negative outcomes he says would result from the sequestration cuts that are supposed to be triggered if the super committee fails to produce a sufficient proposal.

One Democratic Insider gave Panetta low marks for his advocacy. "His comments on the budget cuts are calculated to gain favor with the department, not to serve the nation or the administration. It's all about Leon."

Another Democrat said, "His insistence on no cuts in military spending is wrong," while a third added, "He has to face facts that the Pentagon must trim down."

Still, at least one Democrat saw Panetta's actions in the budget discussions as a shrewd strategic move. "Advocating early and often about the danger the Department of Defense faces from the sequester should earn him street cred with conservatives and Pentagon employees. Sets him up well to press for the tough reforms needed to make DOD more efficient and strategic."

For one Republican member, Panetta's role in the deficit reduction debate was the crux for his grade. "A+, assuming Panetta prevents Obama from allowing a sequester to occur. If he doesn't, the grade becomes an F."

That dramatic statement aside, the defense secretary has certainly won over his fair share of the Capitol's lawmakers.

"Leon for president," declared a Democratic member. "Decisive, great negotiator, and understands real people. And he has the humility to be president...I might write him in!"

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