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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Romney Charges That Obama Has Shrunk Military Commitment


SPRINGFIELD, Va. - Speaking to local veterans at an American Legion Hall here, Mitt Romney offered a military-heavy version of his usual stump speech Thursday, attacking President Obama over cuts to defense spending and arguing for doing more to help the servicemen and women returning from war in need of psychological treatment.

“We have huge numbers of our men and women returning from conflict that are seeking counseling, psychological counseling, and can't find that counseling within our system,” Mr. Romney said. “And, of course, record numbers of suicides. This is a crisis.”

He said that as president, he would devote more financial resources to the military, including to help treat psyc hological issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. (Mr. Obama's wife, Michelle, has also made helping military families one of her main initiatives as first lady.)

“How in the world, as commander in chief, you could stand by as we shrink our military commitment financially is something that I don't understand, and I will reverse it,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Romney also attacked Mr. Obama over proposed cuts to the military, calling the proposed sequestration legislation a “kind of a gun to your head opportunity, which is that Congress couldn't get the job done properly and the president couldn't lead them.”

“The world is not a safe place,” he said. “It is still a troubled and dangerous world. And the idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating. And when I become president of the United States, we will stop it. I will not cut our commitment to the military.”

The Obama ca mpaign was quick to point out that Mr. Romney, while publicly offering a muscular pro-military stance, had offered slightly different words behind closed doors; in secretly videotaped remarks at a May fund-raiser, Mr. Romney referred to “47 percent” of voters who don't pay income taxes and are dependent on the government - a group that would most likely include veterans.

“Mitt Romney would like Virginians to forget how he disdainfully wrote off half of all Americans, including veterans and active-duty members, at a fund-raiser with high-dollar donors,” Lis Smith, an Obama spokeswoman, said in an e-mail statement.

The Obama campaign pointed to remarks Mr. Romney made in South Carolina, when he seemed to float the idea of privatizing veterans' health care, though he never returned to the suggestion.

“His plan could result in deep cuts to the VA, and he has suggested privatizing veterans' health care,” Ms. Smith said in her statement. “And becaus e of his refusal to lead his party and demand that Congressional Republicans, including his running mate, drop their opposition to asking for a penny more from millionaires and billionaires, he's stood in the way of preventing devastating automatic defense cuts. These policies would be disastrous for America's military, military families, and veterans and we can't afford them.”

Tying a strong economy to a strong military, Mr. Romney held up Russia - which he once called the country's “No. 1 geopolitical foe” - as an example of a country whose military had faltered under a shaky economy.

“The old Soviet Union tried for a while to maintain a Grade A, if you will, military, but they had a Grade B economy and they couldn't keep up,” Mr. Romney said. “They finally had to - well, they collapsed. We have to have a strong economy.”

He pointed out that while Russia's gross domestic product is growing at about 4 percent annually, the United States' gr oss domestic product last quarter was down to 1.3 percent per year - “about a quarter or a fifth the rate of Russia's,” he noted.

But Mr. Romney also used his visit here to share some personal stories, albeit with a military twist. He talked about his experience Tuesday night in Toledo, when his private charter plane was getting ready to take off as an honor flight - full of veterans who had spent the day in Washington visiting the war memorials - was returning home. Mr. Romney delayed his flight in order to greet all of the veterans as they walked down the gangway of their plane, and one elderly, wheelchair-bound World War II veteran, he said, stood out in his mind.

“I said hello to him and shook his hand, and then he turned to go through this long alleyway that had been set up with flags and people who were there to recognize each of the veterans,” Mr. Romney recalled. “But he stopped the person who was pushing him, pushing him in the wheelchair, and then he reached inside his coat and took out a flag. And waved it.”

Mr. Romney also talked about how, as governor of Massachusetts, he was attending a ceremony to send his state's servicemen and women off to Iraq and Afghanistan when one of the soldiers raised his hand with an interesting proposal.

“He said, ‘I have a young lady that I'm in love with, and we haven't been married and I'm going to go off to conflict - could you marry us?' ” Mr. Romney said. “And I said, ‘I don't see why not.' ”

He added, jokingly, “I figured I was the governor, I could do whatever the heck I want to.”

Mr. Romney said that he called the soldier and his girlfriend up to the front of the entire audience and married them right there.

“When I got back to the office, they said, ‘You know there's this thing called a marriage license,' ” he said, before adding, “We were able to take care of all those things and make sure it was legitimate.”

Attendees said they appreciated hearing some of Mr. Romney's more personal anecdotes.

“He's much more compassionate than the press gives him credit for,” said William McCarron, 76, a veteran of the Korean War. “When he talks about that honor flight and that marriage, that shows a compassionate side to him that's not getting emphasized.”