- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mitt Romney said Wednesday that it was “inexcusable” for President Obama to try to shut down the District’s federally backed voucher pilot program that has sent thousands of the city’s students to private schools.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program, which falls under the direct jurisdiction of Congress, has been politically contentious from the start, with the powerful teachers unions opposing them but parents overwhelmingly backing them.

“The president shut that down, his party shut that down,” said Mr. Romney while campaigning at a small business in Chantilly, Va.

The Romney camp said the former Massachusetts governor is a supporter of the D.C. program in particular, and giving parents school choice more broadly.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been traveling the country to raise money and criticize Mr. Obama’s economic record, and his stop in Northern Virginia — the first since he chased most of his opponents from the race — comes as the state is viewed as a battleground in November.

Mr. Obama will be in Richmond on Saturday as he officially kicks off his own campaign.

Mr. Romney said Wednesday that he will ask voters to judge the president on his economic record.

“I say, look at what the president’s done, and do the opposite,” Mr. Romney said.

Also Wednesday, Newt Gingrich officially exited the GOP race and gave tepid support to Mr. Romney.

On Thursday, Mr. Romney will be in Portsmouth, Va., to campaign with Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican whose support for Mr. Romney during the primary season likely earned him a look-see as a potential vice-presidential pick.

Virginia Democrats said voters should reward Mr. Obama with another term.

“Romney should use this trip to explain to Virginians why they should replace a president with a record of growing jobs and investing in the middle class with a mediocre governor and corporate buyout specialist,” state party Chairman Brian Moran said.

The president has stepped up his own campaigning, saying Mr. Romney wouldn’t have made the same decisions on national security. He returned Wednesday from a surprise trip to Afghanistan, where he signed a long-term agreement setting out American involvement in that troubled nation.

In Chantilly, Mr. Romney didn’t touch on international issues, instead sticking to his domestic criticism of the president.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program was established by Congress a decade ago, sending federal taxpayer money to help parents in the city send their children to private schools.

Mr. Obama tried to end the program when he took office, eventually reaching a compromise that let students already in the program continue, but ending new applications.

When Republicans took control of the House last year, Speaker John A. Boehner fought to restart the program, and included funding in the first yearlong spending bill Mr. Obama signed.

But the program remains on edge, and Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget, submitted in January, doesn’t include any money for it. His administration argues that it has enough money to cover students for the next year.

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, questioned Mr. Obama’s decision, and Mr. Boehner has vowed to insist the program be funded.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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