Senate Approves Panetta as Pentagon Chief

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In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Leon Panetta to be the next secretary of defense.

Panetta will oversee the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as America's role in the Libyan conflict.

He leaves his post as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who retires June 30 after 4 1/2 years on the job through the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama.

Panetta received strong bipartisan praise.

"Just a home-run choice. The president made a very wise decision," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.

In a statement, Panetta thanked the Senate for its strong vote of confidence and promised to ensure that the U.S. maintains the strongest military in the world.

Panetta, 72, a former congressman, also served as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, one-time director of the Office of Management and Budget, and as Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff.

Obama has called for some $400 billion in cuts over the next 12 years amid intense budget pressures, which will be a test of Panetta's skills drawn from his years of experience.

"He is the most qualified individual to tackle the huge budgetary issues," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

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