When the House approved the $577.9 billion fiscal 2017 defense spending bill on March 8, only 48 members — including four freshmen — voted against it. It’s politically difficult to vote against a measure that pays for the weapons U.S. forces need and supplies the funds for a 2.1 percent pay increase for Americans in uniform.
One of the freshmen was Jimmy Panetta, the youngest of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s three children. He explained that he opposed the bill because it did not spend enough. “It could have done more to help my area on the central coast of California,” Panetta says.
He reeled off the military facilities in his district that he thought were shorted by the bill: “the Navy Post-Graduate School, the Defense Language Institute — focusing on intellectual capacity — rather than on hardware. That’s what I’m focused on right now.”
For people who might think that defense spending simply means more missiles, helicopters and submarines, Panetta says, “They need to come to Monterey County and see how important the installations there are to our military.”
Panetta describes going to the Defense Language Institute and observing a class for enlisted men and women in Farsi, the language of Iran. “There were six students, ranging in age from 18 to 21, and it was amazing to see not only that they spoke Farsi fluently, but more importantly that they spoke it comfortably.”
Panetta’s district is also home to the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center that provides weather and oceanography data to U.S. forces worldwide and a satellite communications operations center at the Army’s Camp Roberts.
“I speak to people in The Building — excuse me, in the Pentagon — when they get out there and their first comments to me are, ‘You have a gold mine out here and more people need to know about this,’ ” he says. “So that’s going to be my job to continue to do that.”
Panetta’s father led both the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency during Barack Obama’s presidency. Years before, from 1977 to 1993, he represented an earlier version of the same district his son now represents.
The younger Panetta, 47, is a former Monterey County prosecutor and served in Afghanistan in 2007 as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer with the Joint Special Operations Command.
The four freshmen voting “nay” on the Defense spending bill were all Democrats. The other three — Pramila Jayapal of Seattle, Adriano Espaillat of New York City and Jamie Raskin of the Maryland suburbs north of Washington — are all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and had other reasons for opposing it.
Raskin says the bill was rushed to a vote without enough time to debate the larger fiscal policy choices that Congress must make. “I’m afraid that this sets the context for the president’s proposal to slash $54 billion from domestic spending on purposes like NIH and EPA and to put it into the Pentagon,” Raskin explained after the vote.