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Second-Rate Power: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday issued some dire warnings to lawmakers on sequestration during what will likely be his last time testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee before he steps down from the post. During the Feb. 7 oversight hearing, Panetta reiterated claims that the budget sequester would bring about a "terrible readiness crisis," and said the erosion of US military capabilities inevitably resulting from the across-the-board spending cuts would turn the United States "into a second-rate power." In addition, Pentagon leaders would be forced "to throw out" the nation's most recent defense strategy, he said. "My preference, frankly, is that the Congress would do the big deal. Get it done. Get this behind us, de-trigger sequester, [and] stop this constant uncertainty, this month-to-month situation where we don't know what the hell we're going to get," said Panetta. He is expected to retire later this month, pending the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as his replacement. However, the committee chose not to vote on Hagel's nomination at Thursday's hearing, following a request from some GOP members for more time to receive additional information they've requested on Hagel. The committee had not set a new date for the vote, as of Thursday. (See also Controversial Nomination.)