SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pledged here Thursday that he would reverse automatic defense cuts set for early January and add 100,000 more active duty troops, as he campaigned in a key swing state that is home to the Pentagon and numerous military installations.
President Barack Obama, who held an event in Virginia Beach, criticized Romney for not explaining how he would end the war in Afghanistan or pay for a bigger military. And a Virginia senator who is a Vietnam War veteran took Romney to task for not mentioning veterans in his convention speech and for suggesting that veterans on government programs were “takers.”
Romney spoke at an American Legion post about the looming defense cuts that were part of the 2011 budget agreement between the president and congressional leaders. The proposed cuts — about $500 billion over a decade — were intended as leverage to force Congress to develop a plan to reduce spending by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
But partisan differences over raising taxes stymied a deal, and the automatic cuts to defense and other spending will go into effect Jan. 2 unless the White House and Congress can head them off. The defense cuts would come on top of nearly $500 billion in reductions already planned for the military over the next decade.
“It is still a troubled and dangerous world, and the idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating,” Romney said here. “And when I become president of the United States, we will stop it.”
Romney said the cuts — referred to as sequestration — would also affect programs for veterans. Already, he said, the backlog of disability claims is one million people. The Department of Veterans Affairs told Congress that 870,000 cases were pending in mid-June.
“And of course record numbers of suicides,” Romney said. “This is a crisis. And in this kind of circumstance — given the challenges and threats around the world, given the need for employment here and given the needs of our veterans — how in the world as commander in chief you could stand by as we shrink our military commitment financially is something I don't understand, and I will reverse it.”
The Pentagon has proposed cutting 100,000 active duty troops — 80,000 from the U.S. Army and 20,000 from the Marine Corps — over the next few years, but Romney said Thursday he wants to add 100,000 active duty personnel.
“I want a military that's so strong no one wants to test it,” he said.
Before Romney's remarks, Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam War veteran and former secretary of Veterans Affairs, said Romney would restore the morale of the military and help veterans find jobs in an economy that has been tough for them.
Nicholson said Romney “knows the first responsibility as president is to protect the people. He knows you can't do that as a depleted and demoralized military.”
In Virginia Beach, Obama promised to “sustain the strongest military the world has ever known.”
“My opponent said it was ‘tragic' to end the war in Iraq, and he won't tell us how he'll end the war in Afghanistan,” the president said. “I have, and I will. And I'll use the money we're no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work rebuilding roads and bridges, schools and runways because after a decade of war, it is time to do some nation-building here at home.”
Romney has been criticized for not mentioning Iraq or Afghanistan or the U.S. veterans in his speech at the Republican National Convention. U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the U.S. Navy, took Romney to task Thursday at the Virginia rally for Obama.
Webb, D-Virginia, suggested that Romney made a choice not to serve in the military during the Vietnam War and said veterans were owed “at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect, when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech accepting his party's nomination to be commander in chief.”
Webb also made reference to Romney's recently revealed comments about people who don't pay income taxes and rely on government services.
Referring to the people with whom he served in Vietnam, Webb said that “in receiving veterans' benefits, they are not takers. They were givers, in the ultimate sense of that word.”