Romney's Defense Argument Misfires

There is a curious omission in Mitt Romney’s speech to the VFW today.

He warns against the dire consequences of the massive Pentagon budget cutbacks scheduled to take effect at the end of the year. And that’s an absolutely legitimate issue, prompting concern in both parties.

But here’s the rub that Romney neglects, at least based on excerpts released by the campaign: The Republicans agreed to these cuts. The GOP-controlled House went along as part of a bipartisan deal last summer to prevent the government from sliding into default.

Romney describes the looming threat as “an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats. Don’t bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this, unless that rationale is wishful thinking. Strategy is not driving President Obama’s massive defense cuts. In fact, his own secretary of Defense warned that these reductions would be ‘devastating.’ And he is right.” (Mindful of his audience, Romney adds that this will hurt VA health care as well.)

Fine. But is Romney saying John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were wrong to agree to this?

How can it all be Obama’s fault if Romney’s party signed on the dotted line?

Obama tried to exploit this argument in a speech Monday, saying Republicans would "rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military"--cuts that he also agreed to.

The defense cuts were part of an intricate deal in which both sides swallowed provisions they didn’t want. There are deep domestic spending cuts as well, along with the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts.

The idea was to create such pressure on Congress that a Super Committee would forge a rational plan. Well, you remember what happened with that. Hill leaders could still strike a deal to modify the cutbacks and extend the tax reductions, but there’s no sign of that happening until after the election, if then.

The truth is, Democrats added the defense reductions as a sort of poison pill to force Republicans to seriously negotiate a way of the endless budget crisis, including potential tax increases.

Defense cuts are a perfectly fair target for Romney. But restoring hundreds of billions of dollars in planned reductions, along with the tax cuts he’s pushing, would blow a deeper hole in the deficit. And that needs to be part of the conversation as well.