Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s warning that 800,000 civilian employees will be furloughed under sequestration brings to mind the Pentagon reporter caught fretting about being laid off if Ron Paul became president and cut the defense budget.

“See this room?” the reporter said in January of last year, as CSPAN cameras waited for President Obama to unveil a new strategic review that cut defense spending by $487 billion over a decade. “Two-thirds of us [will be] laid off if Ron Paul is president.”

Panetta explained that sequestration doesn’t give him enough flexibility in how to achieve an additional $500 billion in spending cuts over 10 years. “We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DOD personnel — but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote in a message to the department. “The president has used his legal authority to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but we have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions.”

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough conceded on Sunday that sequestration could be replaced with spending cuts, rather than the new round of tax increases that Obama demands.

“Is it really impossible to find less than 3 percent of savings in a federal budget without making those kind of horrible cuts?” ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked McDonough.

“You know what, it’s not impossible,” McDonough replied.

House Republicans have passed two bills that identify alternative spending cuts, but their messaging on the issue has been “astonishingly bad,” according to The Washington Examiner’s Byron York.

“If the problem is one of substance — that is, if GOP leaders truly believe the cuts threaten national security but are nevertheless supporting them — then Republicans have put themselves into an untenable situation,” Byron writes. “If, as is more likely, the problem is one of message — that is, if Republicans believe the cuts are not only manageable without threatening national security but are also desirable as a first step toward controlling spending — then the Boehner article is sending all the wrong signals.”