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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri GOP leaders bash White House for potential 'devastating' defense cuts

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 18, 2012 - WASHINGTON – Accusing President Barack Obama of holding the U.S. military “hostage” to his economic agenda, three top Missouri Republicans argued Tuesday that the White House is obscuring the real impact of “sequestration” budget cuts that could kick in at year's end.

“In my experience, it is unprecedented for a commander in chief, who is primarily responsible for the nation’s security, to propose and defend cuts to military spending that his own secretary of defense has condemned as tremendously dangerous,” said former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, a senior adviser on defense to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

In a conference call with journalists, Talent joined state Auditor Tom Schweich and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrinsonville, in asserting that the 394-page “sequestration transparency” report issued Friday by the White House budget office was a mostly political document that delayed listing the specifics of likely cutbacks.

“There’s a lot of pages in there, but there aren’t any details,” said Talent, adding that the report did not get into the specifics of which defense programs would be cut if the overall 9.4 percent Pentagon reduction is implemented. “It’s all an attempt to get past the election," he said. "We’re not going to like what we hear at that point, but it will be too late.”

The report estimated some effects of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts – amounting to $1.2 trillion over a decade, but including some exemptions – that would be triggered starting Jan. 2 by last year’s deficit-reduction law if Congress fails to approve an alternative plan to avoid the “fiscal cliff” created by impending sequestration and the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts.

Romney, Talent and other Republicans blame Obama for coming up with the “trigger” concept of an across-the-board cut (half of which would apply to defense spending) if the “super committee” set up by the 2011 Budget Control Act failed to approve a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan.

But Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., point out that the bill was approved by a bipartisan majority, which included many Republicans.

On Friday, McCaskill said in a statement that the White House report “shows exactly what’s at stake” in the deficit-reduction debate, and she called on both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come together after the election to “tackle our fiscal challenges” in a way that avoids the across-the-board approach of sequestration.

But Talent laid the blame on Obama, arguing that "he can’t escape his responsibilities by saying the Congress did this or the Congress did that. … The president has offered no plan" to avoid the sequester. “He’s holding the American military, and American safety, hostage to an economic policy that even [Democrats] would not vote for when he presented his budget."

Among the lawmakers who voted against the Budget Control Act were Hartzler and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, both members of the House Armed Services Committee. Hartzler, whose district includes both Whiteman Air Force Base and the Army’s Fort Leonard Wood, alleged Tuesday that sequestration “would hollow out our forces and be devastating” to the nation’s security and to Missouri defense installations and industry.

Schweich, a former State Department official, argued that defense cutbacks must be avoided at a time of “huge international and defense challenges” that face this country.

Asked why Akin – the GOP nominee for U.S Senate – was not part of Tuesday’s media call, Talent said “the people we have on these calls are people representing the Romney campaign, and [Akin] has his own campaign to run.”

But does Akin back Romney, who – along with Talent, U.S Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and many other prominent Missouri Republicans – called on him to step aside from the race after last month’s “legitimate rape” remarks? “He’s just not acting as a representative of our campaign,” said Talent. “You can ask him about what he feels about Gov. Romney.”

Republicans defend Romney’s recent comments

Talent insisted to reporters that Romney is still “in a very good position” in the presidential race -- despite recent political controversies. Those include Romney's remarks last week on the Middle East and the release Monday of his secretly videotaped comment that 47 percent of Americans believe they are “victims” who pay no income tax and rely on entitlements.

“If you look at all the battleground states, they’re virtually dead heats,” said Talent, arguing that an incumbent polling under 50 percent “is not a good place to be in mid-September.”

The reason polls remain relatively close, he contended, is that Obama’s administration still must defend “deep, substantial liabilities ... in issues and in areas that really matter to people” – such as the economy, unemployment and anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

As for the 47 percent comment, Talent conceded that Romney “didn’t phrase it as eloquently as he could have.” But Talent argued that the statistic was taken out of context as part of a much wider outline of Romney’s “vision for the country ... an expanding middle class with more opportunity for people.”

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