Obama Faces Backlash on Military Budget Cuts

Tuesday, 23 Oct 2012 06:30 PM

By David A. Patten

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The Romney campaign launched a new ad campaign Tuesday touting the GOP candidate’s pledge to protect defense spending — an apparent effort to woo swing-state voters who could be hit hard by the massive defense cuts that are looming as part of the budget sequestration process.

The ad contrasts the concerns former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney voiced in Monday’s debate over the dwindling ship count of the U.S. Navy, with President Barack Obama’s assurance that the nation “is stronger now than when I came into office.”

In the ad Romney promises: “I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars . . . That, in my view, is making our future less certain and less secure.”

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Republicans are hoping to use the military-budget issue in the closing weeks of the campaign, mounting a special appeal to swing-state voters whose livelihoods are linked to military spending. The administration has been trying to quell concerns about the scheduled cuts, which are part of the “fiscal cliff” that will take effect in January if Congress fails to act. Congressional Republicans passed a budget bill that would avert the cuts, but it has stalled in the Senate.

On Tuesday, retired Major Gen. Bob Scales told Fox News that the military is experiencing a “sense of unease” over what lies ahead as the nation winds down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I watched the Army and the Marine Corps almost break after 9/11, when too few soldiers and marines were applied to too many missions,” said Scales. “We have to be very, very careful as we move into the future that when we reduce the defense budget we don’t break the back of our services and force our young men and women to go to war unprepared, without sufficient numbers to win in the future.”

Former two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Fox News following the debate that defense spending has dropped from 10 percent to 4 percent of GNP since the 1950s and 60s.

“The idea that the trillions of dollars that this administration has imposed on future generations is a result of defense spending is simply false, it is not the case,” said Rumsfeld. “The growth of expenditures is clearly in entitlements, there’s no question about that, and Gov. Romney was correct.”

The president made several remarks about the military during the debate that have received widespread attention. Republicans believe the remarks could impact the political dynamics in military-dependent swing states such as Virginia. The commonwealth’s Tidewater region is home to Naval Station Norfolk, which supports the entire U.S. Atlantic fleet.

Obama appeared to dismiss Romney’s statement that the dwindling size of the U.S. Navy was “unacceptable.” Obama said the size of the naval fleet reflects changing technology and military needs, remarking: “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”

Those familiar with the importance of military expenditures to the economy in the Old Dominion immediately pounced.

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“President Obama’s comment about ‘horses and bayonets’ was an insult to every sailor who has put his or her life on the line for our country,” tweeted Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Fred Fleitz, the longtime U.S. intelligence officer and the managing editor of Lignet.com, Newsmax Media’s global forecasting and intelligence website, said Monday: “I thought it was very insulting, because we do still use bayonets. And we have to have a robust navy to defend our security.”

Added Fleitz: “I think that comment is going to cost him an enormous number of votes in Virginia, where there’s a shipbuilding industry that’s in trouble. I don’t know what motivated him to say that. It was just a silly comment.”

So widespread is the reach of U.S. defense spending that even swing states not generally associated with the industry figure to be affected. The pro-defense Center for Security Policy think tank, for example, has estimated that sequestration could cost swing-state Iowa some $406 million in economic activity — and nearly 5,000 jobs.

One indication the administration is sensitive on the sequestration issue: It has promised to cover the severance costs incurred by defense contractors, as long as they do not send out the ordinary notice of potential layoffs to their employees. The notices are due to be distributed Nov. 2 just four days before the election.

Since 1988, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act has required companies by federal law to give employees at least 60 days of notice prior to potential plant closings or layoffs, or be liable for financial penalties.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he believes the administration’s effort to incentivize contractors not to issue the notice of possible layoffs is “patently illegal” and “reeks of politics.” Democrats have said issuing the notices could needlessly alarm employees, as no one can say whether Congress will act to head off the defense budget cuts that are scheduled to take effect in January.

President Obama added to the turmoil surrounding the sequestration cuts during Monday’s debate, when he declared: “The sequester . . .  will not happen.”

That statement appeared to catch members of Congress by complete surprise. Republicans say they have been trying for months to engage the president on averting the cuts.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reacted by stating the president is “not a dictator yet.”

Urgent Poll: Romney or Obama to Handle Foreign Crisis? Vote Here!

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner told Reuters: “For the past year, the president has refused to show any leadership in resolving the sequester he proposed, so forgive us if we have doubts about his newfound desire to tackle the issue.”

White House aides immediately backed off the president’s ironclad prediction, however. Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe said “everyone in Washington agrees that sequester should not happen.”



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