GOP senators berate Obama over looming defense cuts

COLORADO SPRINGS — Republican senators had a message for President Obama during a town-hall meeting here Tuesday on the looming defense cuts: Get off the campaign trail and come back to Washington.

The three senators — Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona — urged the president repeatedly to return to the White House and convene meetings with House and Senate leaders on how to avoid the $500 billion in automatic cuts to defense spending slated to kick in Jan. 2.

“We understand there’s an election going on, but the defense of our nation and the security of our country can’t wait for an election,” Mrs. Ayotte said. “We are willing to go to Washington now to resolve this, and I would hope that he would lead an effort now to resolve this, because it’s too important. It’s not about either party, it’s about making sure that our country is safe.”

Mr. McCain, who lost to Mr. Obama in the 2008 presidential race, noted that the president has found time for multiple campaign stops, including Colorado, which Mr. Obama has visited a half-dozen times in the last two months.

“The president of the United States was able to go on ‘The View,’ but he couldn’t meet with various world leaders today,” Mr. McCain said. “The president of the United States was in Las Vegas and also here in Colorado, and he was unable to find time in his schedule to meet with our closest ally in the Middle East, the prime minister of Israel.”

Added Mr. McCain, “I don’t question the president’s priorities. I can assure you, [they] wouldn’t be my priorities.”

The Office of Management and Budget released a report Sept. 14 warning that sequestration would be a “blunt and indiscriminate instrument.” Last year’s deficit-reduction law set into motion the automatic trigger unless Congress agrees on how to cut $1.2 trillion from the budget over 10 years.

The president has said he supports a “balanced” approach of tax increases and spending cuts to achieve the necessary budget reductions, while Republicans have balked at higher taxes.

The town hall came as part of the senators’ “Preserving America’s Strength” tour, a multistate effort aimed at spreading the word about the economic and defense impact of the budget sequestration. The senators, who are targeting communities with a heavy military presence, plan to make more stops before the Senate reconvenes Nov. 12, said McCain spokeswoman Rachel Dean.

Asked why only Republicans were participating in the town hall, held at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, the senators said they had invited both Democratic and Republican colleagues to join them. The three Republicans released a letter Monday with three Democratic senators urging the House and Senate leadership to enact a bipartisan deficit-reduction package.

“For us to go forward, we need the leadership buy-in of both parties, as well as the president,” Mrs. Ayotte said.

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