Obama: GOP ‘playing politics’ with military

Looking to avoid cuts, parties shift blame for impasse

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Speaking to an audience of veterans, President Obama on Monday accused Republican lawmakers of “playing politics with our military” in the administration’s budget standoff with the GOP over looming cuts for defense and other programs.

“There are a number of Republicans in Congress who don’t want you to know that most of them voted for these cuts,” Mr. Obama said at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno, Nev. “Now they’re trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to do.”

Congress has yet to agree on how to avoid $1.2 trillion in cuts to domestic and defense spending that House Republicans and the White House agreed to last summer as part of a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. If both parties don’t agree by Jan. 1, the cuts will take effect, with about half targeted for defense and half directed at domestic programs.

Republicans are laying the blame for any cuts at Mr. Obama’s feet, with presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney referring to them as “President Obama’s defense cuts.” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the impasse is occurring “because the president didn’t lead.”

“He wanted an increase in the debt ceiling without spending cuts and reforms that are truly needed to reduce our deficit and our debt,” he told reporters late last week.

The president’s re-election campaign is working hard to win over more veterans this year, focusing on younger vets. The election presents an unusual choice for military voters; for the first time in decades, neither the Democratic nor the Republican presidential candidate is a veteran.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden didn’t serve in the armed forces, either. Mr. Romney, who will speak to the VFW convention Tuesday, has yet to name a running mate but few of the figures considered likely picks are veterans.

The Romney campaign released a list Monday of more than 20 former leaders of national veterans’ groups who are endorsing the Republican.

“I’m extraordinarily honored to have the support of such a large group of leaders from our nation’s veterans service organizations,” Mr. Romney said in a statement. “These organizations provide a crucial service to our heroes and their families after they’ve returned home. We owe our veterans a tremendous debt of gratitude and, as president, I will never forget their sacrifices.”

Mr. Obama told the VFW audience that America has “the best trained, best led, best equipped military in history, and as long as I am commander in chief, I am going to keep it that way.”

The president said he wanted to “set the record straight on the budget.”

“Those big, across-the-board cuts including defense that Congress said would occur next year if they couldn’t reach a deal to reduce the deficit? Let’s understand, first of all, there’s no reason that should happen,” Mr. Obama said. “People in Congress ought to be able to come together and agree on a plan, a balanced approach that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong. It should be done.”

Mr. Obama said the blame for the impasse lies with Republicans insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy, though the White House has said Mr. Obama would veto a bill that did not end the Bush cuts for families earning more than $250,000 per year.

“Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military,” Mr. Obama said of Republican lawmakers. “I’ve got to tell you, VFW, I disagree. If the choice is between tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need, and funding our troops that they definitely need to keep our country strong, I will stand with our troops every single time. So let’s stop playing politics with our military.”

The president said he has kept his campaign pledges on military matters, including ending the war in Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan, and eliminating top leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

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