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Gates on D.C. lawmakers: ‘Oversized egos and undersized backbones'

Dec. 14, 2011 - 11:43AM   |  
By MARCUS WEISGERBER   |   Comments
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, called out lawmakers Dec. 13 for their inability to compromise and develop bipartisan strategies and policies. Above, Gates makes remarks in September after receiving the 2011 Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, called out lawmakers Dec. 13 for their inability to compromise and develop bipartisan strategies and policies. Above, Gates makes remarks in September after receiving the 2011 Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. (William Thomas Cain / Getty Images)

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called out lawmakers for their inability to compromise and develop bipartisan strategies and policies to "address our very real and serious problems."

During a speech in which he called Washington a town of "oversized egos and undersized backbones," Gates said "zero-sum politics and ideological siege warfare are the new order of the day."

"[The] moderate center, the foundation of our political system, is not holding," he said Tuesday during an Atlantic Council event honoring Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush.

Last month, a panel of Republicans and Democrats were unable to find $1.2 trillion in cuts to federal spending over the next decade. The gridlock has triggered sequestration, or automatic government spending cuts. The Pentagon's share of those cuts, which do not take effect until January 2013, is about $600 billion.

Gates, who retired in June, also criticized congressional redistricting "to create safe seats for incumbents in both parties, leading to elected representatives totally beholden to their party's ideological base."

He also lamented the decline of the once-powerful committee chairman who used to be able to broker deals within their caucuses. Today, "compromise means selling out."

Gates also expressed concern that many of the strongest, most influential backers of U.S.-European relations are departing pubic service.

"The politicians and policymakers who will follow us … will not have the same historical, personal and indeed emotional tie to Europe and may not consider the return on America's investment in Europe's defense worth the cost and that will be a tragedy," he said.

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