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WASHINGTON, Sept 5 - The CEO of America's largest warship maker urged U.S. lawmakers and the defense industry to stop playing politics with military budgets and begin a serious debate about looming defense cuts.
"I think that we've got to get beyond all the politics," said Mike Petters, chief executive of shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries HII.N. "I believe that we ought to get people to quit playing the political games and they need to start coming together and trying to find solutions."
Petters, the son of a Florida orange farmer who majored in physics at the Naval Academy and served aboard a nuclear-powered submarine before earning a master's degree in business, said that he was willing to take a cut in pay if needed to advance a dialogue over budget cuts.
He said automatic across-the-board defense budget cuts, set to take effect in January unless Congress acts to delay or repeal a mandated $1.2 trillion in federal deficit-reduction measures, were sparking debate over how much of the nation's resources should be devoted to national security.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to deliver the message that the country needs to get into an honest discussion about how we're going to allocate our resources," Petters told Reuters reporters in Washington on Wednesday.
He said CEO pay had gotten "a little bit out of line" and added many company boards were addressing the topic.
"How much money do we need to do what we do? I think every CEO ought to ask themselves that question," said Petters, who assumed the top job at the shipbuilder after it was spun off from Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) last year.
But Petters also said he did not think executive compensation was the real issue amid the broader debate about budget cuts set to kick in next year under a process known as sequestration.
Petters had total compensation of $12.9 million for 2011, with more than $11.7 million of that consisting of stock awards, non-equity incentive plan pay and change in pension value, Huntington's proxy filing showed. That compared with total pay of $5.7 million in 2010.
Petters also said three Huntington Ingalls shipyards in Mississippi and Louisiana that had been shut down last week as Hurricane Isaac swept through the U.S. Gulf Coast region had resumed operations. He cited "minimal damage" to the facilities from the storm.
Shares of Huntington Ingalls rose 0.4 percent to $40.57 on Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Reporting By Karen Jacobs and Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Phil Berlowitz