Speaking to a crowd of more than 3,000 Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Obama called out the congressional cadre of pro-defense Republicans for praising U.S. troops while stymieing efforts on Capitol Hill to eliminate more than $500 billion in automatic budget cuts under sequestration.
"It is important to look at deeds and not words," Obama said during the speech, held at the service's headquarters for Marine Expeditionary Force I.
Without naming names, the president's comments were clearly aimed at the block of GOP defense hawks in Congress that have dug in against White House efforts to circumvent spending cuts under sequestration via tax increases and subsidy cuts.
On the House side, that block includes House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and the majority of Republicans on the Defense panel.
Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeSenate teeing up Mattis waiver Lawmakers play nice at Russia hacking hearing Senate chairman meets Trump’s EPA nominee MORE (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the Senate Defense panel, is one of several GOP members of the committee who are digging in against the administration's sequestration alternatives.
However, congressional Republicans claim the administration's own hard line against cuts to entitlement spending and other social welfare programs has been the biggest hurdle to eliminating Defense cuts under sequestration.
"The biggest detriment to fixing the sequester is the White House," Rep. Randy ForbesRandy ForbesWhy there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary Trump likely to tap business executive to head Navy: report Congress asserts itself MORE (R-Va.) told The Hill in an interview earlier this month.
If the administration was willing to work with pro-defense Republicans in the House and Senate, Forbes said he was confident Congress could have an alternative sequestration plan wrapped up by September.
That said "even if you have that incentive [in Congress], I think the president's actions have kicked that [momentum] in the teeth," according to Forbes, who head's up the House Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.
Caught in the middle of the sequestration showdown between Obama and Congress is the Pentagon, which recently outlined a bleak scenario for the U.S. military should sequestration run its course.
In its sequestration strategy released in late July, the Pentagon said one scenario being considered would shrink the Army from 490,00 to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops.
The Marine Corps would be slashed from 182,000 to between 150,00 and 175,000, and the number of aircraft carrier strike groups would be reduced from 11 to eight or nine.
“This strategic choice would result in a force that would be technologically dominant but would be much smaller and able to go to fewer places and do fewer things,” Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelWho will temper Trump after he takes office? Hagel: I’m ‘encouraged’ by Trump’s Russia outreach Want to 'drain the swamp'? Implement regular order MORE said in announcing the strategy.
The reductions would be made to take into account $500 billion in spending cuts mandated by the sequester over the next decade. The cuts began in March and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.
The Pentagon still argues Congress should get rid of the sequester so that the scheduled cuts are not made.
Hagel on Wednesday called on Congress to ensure the scenarios outlined in the Pentagon strategy do not come to pass.
“It is the responsibility of our nation’s leadership to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration,” he said.