FACT CHECK: Romney ignores other budget players

Tuesday - 7/24/2012, 5:32pm EDT

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - As he blames the president for the prospect of large cuts in defense spending next year, Republican Mitt Romney is ignoring the role that Congress and members of his own party played in setting up that possibility.

Romney spoke Tuesday to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, one day after President Barack Obama addressed the group. In his remarks, Obama painted an encouraging picture of the additional resources his administration has poured into helping veterans get disability benefits and mental health treatment. But he glossed over just how much those problems have grown during his time in office.

Here is a look at assertions by Romney and Obama to the VFW and how they compare with the facts.

ROMNEY: "The president's policies have ... exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify." He said the military faces "an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts. ... Strategy is not driving President Obama's massive defense cuts."

THE FACTS: Actually it was Congress, more than Obama, that set the stage for such a massive cut in the Pentagon's budget. Last summer's crisis over increasing the government's borrowing cap produced an agreement designed to force lawmakers to make the kind of hard decisions that would reduce future deficits. That agreement was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate.

Top congressional leaders took the lead in crafting a bargain that included almost $1 trillion in cuts from projected increases to agency budgets over a decade and established a so-called supercommittee to find at least $1.2 in additional cuts. But that panel, which had White House support, deadlocked, leaving the military and other agencies to face the automatic cuts Romney criticized.


ROMNEY: Obama has failed to work with allies to deter aggression, including "the sudden abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic. They had courageously agreed to provide sites for our anti-missile systems, only to be told at the last hour that the agreement was off. As part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government."

THE FACTS: Romney is talking about Obama's decision, announced in September 2009, to replace a Bush administration plan for missile defense in Eastern Europe that would have placed 10 long-range interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. The Obama administration says it made the changes to better address the emerging threat from Iran's missile program, not to appease Russia. While Russia initially welcomed the change as less threatening to its interests, Moscow has since ramped up its opposition.

A key part of the new system, a radar, will still be fielded in Poland. The administration also followed through with a related Bush administration deal with Warsaw to station a Patriot missile battery and a small number of U.S. troops in Poland near its border with Russia.

Romney's claim that the Czech government agreed to provide a site for the system ignores the fact that the plan faced serious domestic opposition and never won the necessary parliamentary approval. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served in both administrations, once said that the Bush plan "was not going to happen because the Czech Republic was not going to approve the radar."


OBAMA: Painting an encouraging picture of the additional resources his administration has poured into helping veterans get promised benefits, Obama said: "We've hired thousands of claims processors. We're investing in paperless systems. To their credit, the dedicated folks at the VA are now completing 1 million claims a year, but there's been a tidal wave of new claims." He called the backlog "unacceptable."

THE FACTS: Veterans can be eligible for help with conditions caused or aggravated by their military service. The government, however, has long struggled to keep up with the claims, and the backlog has grown worse during the president's term in office as soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In May 2009, about 135,000 claims for disability benefits had been pending for more than 125 days, representing about one-third of all pending claims. Today, that number has more than quadrupled, to 558,000 claims _ about two-thirds of all those pending.

As Obama emphasized, the Veterans Affairs Department has processed more claims than ever in the past two years. In 2010, the VA completed a million claims but received about 1.2 million new ones. In 2011, the department again processed more than 1 million claims, but about 1.3 million new claims came in.