WASHINGTON – Wednesday’s debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney featured plenty of discussion on government spending and looming budget cuts, but only a few passing comments on defense funding and no mention of veterans programs.
That’s not a big surprise, considering that jobs and the economy have dominated the campaign trail. The two men spent the first half of the debate focused mainly on tax rates and the national debt, trading barbs over whose plan was better suited to fix the country’s fiscal challenges.
For Obama, the only mentions of military spending were attacks on Romney’s plans to increase defense funding without detailing where that money would come from.
“If you believe that we can cut taxes by $5 trillion and add $2 trillion in additional spending that the military is not asking for … and you think that by closing loopholes and deductions for the well-to-do, somehow you will not end up picking up the tab, then Governor Romney’s plan may work for you,” the president said. “But I think math, common sense, and our history shows us that’s not a recipe for job growth.”
For his part, Romney blasted Obama’s plans to cut military spending by almost $500 billion over the next decade as dangerous for national security.
“We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none,” he said. “I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America’s military.” In his closing statement, Romney blamed Obama for both those planned defense cuts – which have been publicly endorsed the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – to the looming threat of sequestration, another $500 billion in automatic military spending trims that the military fiercely opposes.
“If the president is reelected, you’ll see dramatic cuts to our military,” Romney said. “The secretary of defense has said these would be even devastating. I will not cut our commitment to our military.” Democrats and Republicans in Congress approved that plan before Obama signed it into law last year, but both parties have spent the last few months blaming the other for advancing the plan and for not finding an alternative.
Obama did not have an opportunity to respond to that last Romney charge.
The debate was designed to focus on domestic policy, so issues such as the war in Afghanistan and unrest in the Middle East were ignored completely. Those foreign affairs topics – and the military’s role overseas – will likely be included in the next two debates, scheduled for Oct. 16 and 22.