President Obama accused the GOP of putting tax cuts for the wealthy above funding for American troops on Monday, saying Republicans are trying to “wriggle out” of the budget deal they voted for last year.
The president jabbed presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who has blamed Obama for the scheduled defense cuts through sequestration and cast his policies as weakening the military.
Romney will address the same VFW convention on Tuesday. The back-to-back appearances from the presidential rivals highlight the push the two campaigns are making for veterans, a significant bloc in battlegrounds like Virginia and Florida.
While the economy and jobs continue to dominate the race, both campaigns are trying to frame their candidate as the best choice for veterans at home and abroad.
Obama played up his foreign-policy record Monday, touting the killing of Osama bin Laden, the removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan.
“You don’t just have my words, you have my deeds,” Obama said in a swipe at Romney. “You have my track record. You have the promises I’ve made and the promises that I’ve kept.”
Democrats argue Obama’s foreign-policy record is one of his strengths, and say the military vote is more up for grabs than it was in 2008, when Obama was facing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a war hero.
“The lack of military experience on both sides is an equalizer that will drive voters to look at the policies and the political performance of the candidates as a key in judging their military credentials,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute.
The Romney campaign has made a play for veterans by highlighting the $500 billion, 10-year cut to the military that is slated to begin in January. The candidate attacked Obama on the issue while he campaigned in Virginia, accusing him of gutting the military in order to raise taxes.
“Your insistence on slashing our military to pay the tab for your irresponsible spending could see over 200,000 troops forced from service,” Romney wrote in an open letter to the president. “It will shut the doors on factories and shipyards that support our warfighters, take a heavy toll on the guard and reserves, and potentially shutter Virginia military bases.”
Congressional Republicans joined in last week, saying that Obama was to blame for the defense cuts. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Obama sabotaged the work of a supercommittee that was formed to find an alternative budget-cutting plan.
“The president and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] are the only parties who still refuse to come to the table,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement after Obama’s speech. “The president has a choice in how he deals with this crisis. He can begin to treat our troops as heroes, or he can continue to use them as leverage.”
In his speech, Obama flipped the Republican line of attack, arguing that the stalemate over sequestration should be attributed to the Republicans’ refusal to raise taxes.
“Now they’re trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to do,” Obama said. “Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military.”
The president has frequently talked about his administration’s efforts to support veterans back home, and on Monday announced an expanded “reverse boot camp” to help veterans get jobs when they leave the military. First lady Michelle Obama has made work for military families one of her biggest initiatives.
In polling, Romney has a big lead among veterans. A May Gallup poll put Romney firmly ahead of Obama with that demographic, 58 percent to 34.
When it comes to questions about which candidate would be a better commander in chief, however, polling shifts toward Obama. A CBS-New York Times poll last week found voters favored Obama over Romney on foreign policy, 47 percent to 40.
“Veterans always tend to prefer the guys who are always a harder-liner,” Thompson said. “People who have served generally think that military solutions deserve a first look before we try any other approach. I think that in practice Romney’s policies are not much different from Obama’s.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, said that it’s important to note how enormous the pool of veterans is in the United States. He said the notion that there’s a single “military vote” is unfounded.
“There’s obviously a great deal of breadth and variability in the demographic, with at least three major different wartime contingencies,” O’Hanlon said, referring to the World War II, Vietnam and Gulf War generations.
After Romney makes his speech at the VFW Tuesday, he’s headed overseas for a trip with stops in Poland and Israel, giving him a chance to build his foreign-policy credentials and play the role of statesman.
Romney has proposed boosting military spending and restoring some of the $487 billion cut that’s already on the books. He’s called for adding troops to the military rather than reducing them, as Obama has proposed, and spending more on shipbuilding.
“President Obama has failed to restore our economy, is weakening our military with devastating defense cuts and has diminished our moral authority,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. “Gov. Romney will restore the pillars of American strength to secure our interests and defend our values.”
This story was posted at 4:16 p.m. and updated at 9:02 p.m.