The Obama campaign on Sunday sought to spotlight a divide on the GOP ticket as it jumped on Mitt Romney’s calling Republican support of the sequestration deal — including that of his running mate Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanRepublicans won't vote on ObamaCare repeal bill this week Overnight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline Senate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' MORE (R-Wis.) — a “big mistake.”
The division between Romney and Ryan was on display during the Sunday news shows, as Romney criticized the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” while Ryan defended his vote for the bill on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The Budget Control Act included sequestration as a forcing mechanism for the supercommittee to reach a deficit-reduction deal, and the across-the-board cuts became law when the supercommittee failed.
Romney blasted Obama on “Meet the Press” for proposing the cuts, but also said the GOP erred in agreeing to the deal.
“I want to maintain defense spending at the current level of the GDP. I don't want to keep bringing it down as the president's doing. This sequestration idea of the White House, which is cutting our defense, I think is an extraordinary miscalculation in the wrong direction,” Romney said.
When pressed about GOP support, Romney said: “I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it.”
On “Face the Nation,” Ryan gave no ground that voting for the BCA was a mistake, insisting it was not in fact a vote for the defense cuts.
“I voted for a mechanism that says a sequester will occur if we don't cut $1.2 trillion spending in government,” Ryan said. “We offered $1.2 trillion in various [cuts] — the super committee offered it. We passed in the House a bill to prevent those devastating defense cuts by cutting spending elsewhere. The Senate's done nothing. President Obama's done nothing.
“The goal was never that these defense cuts actually occur, the goal is that we get to work and cut spending so that we prevent those defense cuts,” he said.
The Obama campaign was quick to note the differences, as campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said that Romney and Ryan had “tripped over their answer” and contradicted each other on sequestration.
“The fact remains that we could prevent the automatic defense cuts if Congressional Republicans drop their refusal to ask for another dime from millionaires and billionaires,” she said in a statement.
Appearing on “Face the Nation” right after Ryan, Obama campaign advisor David Plouffe took aim at the GOP vice presidential nominee over sequestration — and his incorrect marathon time.
“He voted for the sequester. He voted for the Budget Control Act. He was running away from them with the kind of pace I guess he ran in that fictional marathon you asked him about,” Plouffe said, in reference to Ryan saying he ran a sub-3-hour marathon when his time was more than 4 hours. “They're acting as if they had nothing to do with this. They voted for this.”
Democrats are eager to highlight Ryan’s support of the BCA because it complicates Republican’s efforts to blame Obama for the sequestration cuts, particularly to defense.
Both campaigns have made a pitch to servicemembers and military families, who could prove to be a key block in many swing-states including Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.
Defense firms have also warned that the impending cuts could force workplace reductions, with some contractors considering issuing layoff notices ahead of election day.
Sequestration, which will take effect Jan. 2, would cut $500 billion in both defense and non-defense spending over the next decade, including $109 billion in 2013.
Republicans have frequently criticized Obama for not coming up with his own plan, while the House GOP passed a bill that would reverse the first year of cuts with reductions elsewhere in discretionary and mandatory spending.
Congress passed a bill requiring the Obama administration to issue a report on how it would implement sequestration, and the House is planning this week to vote on a bill forcing Obama to lay out his alternative to the cuts.
Republicans point to statements from Obama’s Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has said they would be “devastating” to the military, and Romney has accused Obama of harming the military through sequestration.
But Democrats counter that it’s Republicans who are really standing in the way of a deal to undo sequestration over their refusal to consider tax increases.
Obama said in a July speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention that Republicans were willing to allow cuts to the military in order to protect tax cuts for the wealthy.
While the defense cuts and sequestration are taking on a greater role in the presidential race, no movement on replacing the cuts is likely until after the election, when sequestration will be just one issue in the “fiscal cliff” deliberations during the lame-duck session.