Carl Levin: Mitt Romney criticism of Obama defense budget not factual

In recent Republican presidential primary debates, Mitt Romney has blasted President Obama's plan to trim defense spending. Senator Carl Levin says his criticism is just politics.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin speaks at the Monitor Breakfast, Thursday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin says Mitt Romney’s tough criticism of the Obama defense budget is “just a political statement which is not borne out by the facts.”

In the two most recent Republican presidential debates, the former Massachusetts governor has blasted President Obama’s plans to trim defense spending to comply with spending targets set by the Budget Control Act passed by both parties last August. 

At a Pentagon press conference Thursday afternoon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will spell out the Obama administration’s strategy for defending the nation while spending $487 billion less on defense over the next ten years. 

Mr. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, was briefed on the plans at a dinner with Secretary Panetta on Wednesday evening. The plan would involve spending about $513 billion, not including the costs of the war in Afghanistan

At the most recent presidential debate on Jan. 23, Mr. Romney said Obama's plan to build nine ships a year was inadequate. "We ought to raise that to 15 ships a year," he said.  

At the Jan.16 debate, Romney said, “The most extraordinary thing that's happened with this military authorization is the president is planning on cutting $1 trillion out of military spending.” He added, “Our Navy is smaller than it's been since 1917. Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947. We are cutting our number of troops. We are not giving the veterans the care they deserve. We simply cannot continue to cut our Department of Defense budget if we are going to remain the hope of the Earth.”

After dismissing that criticism as political, Levin told a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters Thursday, “Our military in incredibly strong ... no other military comes close. We have shown our capabilities, our adeptness, our ability to move quickly yesterday in Somalia, before that with Bin Laden.”

Levin said he has spoken with the nation’s top military officers who “were deeply involved in this budget request and they very much support this budget request not because they have to, but because they were involved in preparing it. They believe it is a sound budget, a strong budget.”

Military leaders are worried about one thing, Levin said. “The fear that they have is that the sequestration will be triggered. Then you have a totally different ball game.”

Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, there will be additional automatic budget cuts of at least $1.2 trillion over the next ten years, unless Congress acts. The Pentagon would take a major share of those cuts – some $600 billion starting in January, 2013.

At the breakfast, Levin said he thinks Republicans will vote to raise additional tax revenue to avoid those cuts at the Pentagon. “The dam has got to be broken on revenues. What will break it I believe is the threat of sequestration."

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