By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — As he blames the president for the prospect of large cuts in defense spending next year, Republican Mitt Romney is ignoring the role that Congress and members of his own party played in setting up that possibility.
Romney spoke Tuesday to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, one day after President Barack Obama addressed the group. In his remarks, Obama painted an encouraging picture of the additional resources his administration has poured into helping veterans get disability benefits and mental health treatment. But he glossed over just how much those problems have grown during his time in office.
A look at assertions by Romney and Obama to the VFW and how they compare with the facts:
ROMNEY: "The president's policies have ... exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify." He said the military faces "an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts. ... Strategy is not driving President Obama's massive defense cuts."
THE FACTS: Romney ignores the central role that Congress played last summer in setting the stage for such a massive cut in the Pentagon's budget. At issue was the need to increase the government's borrowing cap and avoid a disastrous default on U.S. obligations.
It was House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who originally insisted that the increase in the debt limit be matched by deficit cuts at least as large. After talks between Boehner and Obama failed to produce an agreement, top congressional leaders took the lead in crafting a fallback agreement that included nearly $1 trillion in cuts from projected increases to agency budgets over a decade and created a "supercommittee" to find at least $1.2 trillion in additional cuts — backed up by across-the-board cuts if the panel failed.
That agreement was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate. The idea was to force lawmakers to make the hard decisions to reduce future deficits. Republicans and Democrats share the blame for the failure of the supercommittee to produce an agreement. The deadlock is what has left the military and other agencies facing the automatic cuts Romney criticized.
ROMNEY: Obama has failed to work with allies to deter aggression, including "the sudden abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic. They had courageously agreed to provide sites for our anti-missile systems, only to be told at the last hour that the agreement was off. As part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government."
THE FACTS: Romney is talking about Obama's decision, announced in September 2009, to replace a Bush administration plan for missile defense in Eastern Europe that would have placed 10 long-range interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. The Obama administration says it made the changes to better address the emerging threat from Iran's missile program, not to appease Russia. While Russia initially welcomed the change as less threatening to its interests, Moscow has since ramped up its opposition.
A key part of the new system, a radar, will still be fielded in Poland. The administration also followed through with a related Bush administration deal with Warsaw to station a Patriot missile battery and a small number of U.S. troops in Poland near its border with Russia.
Romney's claim that the Czech government agreed to provide a site for the system ignores the fact that the plan faced serious domestic opposition and never won the necessary parliamentary approval. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served in both administrations, once said that the Bush plan "was not going to happen because the Czech Republic was not going to approve the radar."
OBAMA: Painting an encouraging picture of the additional resources his administration has poured into helping veterans get promised benefits, Obama said: "We've hired thousands of claims processors. We're investing in paperless systems. To their credit, the dedicated folks at the VA are now completing 1 million claims a year, but there's been a tidal wave of new claims." He called the backlog "unacceptable."