The Romney campaign blasted the president Thursday for looming cuts to defense spending. But they failed to mention — until they were reminded — that the cuts are required by last summer’s congressional deal to cut spending in exchange for increasing the federal debt ceiling.
The blast happened on a Romney campaign conference call this morning meant to “welcome” President Obama to Virginia when he visits the state on Friday. Campaign surrogate and former Missouri senator Jim Talent was joined by Virginia representative J. Randy Forbes and former Navy secretary John Lehman in taking the president to task for cuts to defense and explaining how that will hurt Virginia. Talent called the cuts, set in motion by Congress’s failure to strike a bipartisan deal during the Supercommitte’s deficit reduction negotiations, the “most irresponsible thing a commander-in-chief has done.”
The cuts are mandated by the Budget Control Act, which was signed into law last August by President Obama in exchange for a $2.4 trillion increase to the debt limit. House Speaker John Boehner had insisted that any increase to the debt limit be matched dollar-for-dollar in spending cuts and reforms, but as the federal government ran critically low on cash, Congress had only agreed to about $1.2 trillion in savings. Still, the debt limit was increased under an agreement where a “Supercommittee” would negotiate an additional $1.2 trillion in savings, or face sequestration (ie, automatic cuts). After the committee failed to strike a deal, the country was left with the sequestration.
The Obama administration, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have warned what the cuts would mean for the military, but Romney has also hit the president over the cuts on the campaign trail. The cuts would mean about $500 billion to defense and about $500 billion to entitlements or social programs.
Forbes said the president will visit Virginia tomorrow with a “huge box of pink slips” for defense contractors and military personnel in the state.
Lehman said he’s been in the service since 1964 and never seen anything “quite as irresponsible,” adding he doesn’t think the president did it out of “malice, necessarily.”
“The president doesn’t understand defense, doesn’t understand how it works,” Lehman said.
When Talent was asked about Congress’ approving the measures and setting the process in motion, he again blamed the president.
“I can just tell you that the president is the commander-in-chief and Congress takes its lead from him,” Talent said.
Forbes added that he did not vote for the cuts and they will be “catastrophic to the national security, catastrophic to the economic security.”
Talent was also asked if Romney has been “sufficiently transparent” with his financial disclosures as well as his “personal holdings and assets” or if should release additional tax returns as Democrats are calling him to.
Talent repeated the campaign talking point, calling the issue a distraction and “desperate.”
“I think at a time when the nation’s suffering through unemployment above 8 percent for longer than since the Great Depression — and would be higher than that if it were not for all the people who just got so discouraged that they just quit looking for work — this attempt at the White House to shift attention from the real issues of the campaign is getting to the point of being desperate,” Talent said. “Gov. Romney has released his 2010 tax returns, his estimate for 2011. He will release the rest of it when it’s available and he’s going to continue to talk about the issues that matter to the American people.”
Update: The Obama campaign has released a statement in response to the conference call:
“Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans are so determined to provide massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires that they’d put middle class military families at risk,” Obama spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. “The Romney-Ryan budget could slash Veterans Affairs spending by $11 billion, and Romney has even suggested privatizing veterans’ health care. The Administration has made it clear that sequestration would be disastrous for our national security, and that’s why Mitt Romney needs to demonstrate leadership and press his congressional allies to avoid it from becoming a reality.”
ABC News’ John Parkinson contributed to this report.
This story has been updated since it was posted.