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.
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