There’s an odd disconnect in the Republican presidential field. They don’t like the super committee’s triggered defense cuts. They don’t like the Congress and White House that signed off on them. But the Republicans that negotiated the deal? They rarely come up.
After all the reason we have the threat of automatic cuts is a deal secured with Republican leaders, most notably Speaker John Boehner, to resolve a debt ceiling crisis that they were solely responsible for engineering. They had a second chance to stop them in the super committee by working out alternative savings with Democrats, but that fell through too. But the GOP’s role never got a mention in Wednesday night’s jeremiads against the cuts from Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
“[I]t was reprehensible, for me, for this president to stand in front of Americans and to say that that half a trillion dollars, $500 million-plus is not going to be on the table and we’re just going to have to work our way through it, putting young men and women’s lives in jeopardy,” Perry said. “And I will tell you, as a commander in chief, as an American citizen, that is totally and absolutely irresponsible. Even his own secretary of defense said it was irresponsible. As a matter of fact, if Leon Panetta is an honorable man, he should resign in protest.”
While Romney didn’t call for Panetta’s resignation, he still laid the super committee cuts at Obama’s feet.
“They’re cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget, which just happens to equal the trillion dollars we’re putting into ‘Obama-care,’” he said. “And so what you have is a president that has a priority of spending us into bankruptcy, but he’s not just spending us into bankruptcy, he’s spending the money foolishly.”
After the debate, I checked in with the candidate’s reps in the spin room to ask about the other party’s responsibility and specifically Boehner. And there was at least some ire generically directed at “Washington” and unnamed lawmakers.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around in Washington….that’s why he’s trying to bring an outsider message,” Nelson Warfield, a national security adviser to Perry, told TPM. “I don’t know how productive the blame game is, but Rick Perry knows there’s plenty of blame to go around.”
Romney backer Jim Talent also conceded the existence of other politicians in debt talks, but put said the prime responsibility was with the White House.
“I think Governor Romney would say, look, this is a position he has and he disagrees with anyone who’s on the other side regardless of what party they are,” Talent told me. “But Barack Obama is the commander in chief. The Congress looks to him for leadership.”
Former NATO Commander Wesley Clark, representing Democrats at the debate, ripped into the candidates afterwards for decrying cuts that he said were preventable.
“If Rick Perry’s really concerned about these defense cuts he’d call on his own members of Congress and his own party to stop being so intransigent,” he said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.