Wesley P. Hester
Springfield, Va. --
The prospect of deep cuts to the military could help swing Virginia in his favor, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney suggested Thursday in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
While polling has shown Romney trailing President Barack Obama in this key battleground for months, growing anxiety over the automatic defense cuts triggered by the failure of the "supercommittee" established as part of last year's debt deal could hurt the president, he said.
"I think Virginia is more attuned to what's happening in the military than the average state in the country," Romney said after a military-focused event at American Legion Post 176 in Springfield. "And I think the president's sequestration effort and his own budget cuts to the military have combined to concentrate thinking about the impact this will have on Virginia."
Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts in defense and in domestic spending will be phased in beginning in 2013 if Congress and the president cannot reach a debt-reduction deal.
Romney has laid on Obama most of the blame for the looming sequestration — which the president and Congress agreed to as a last resort. Like Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen, Romney never supported the deal, and has gently suggested that Republicans were wrong to agree to what he on Thursday called "a strange proposal."
In Virginia, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-7th, and Gov. Bob McDonnell supported the debt deal. Earlier this year, House Republicans passed legislation, proposed by Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, that would avoid the defense cuts by shifting the reductions to domestic programs like food stamps and pension plans, but it gained no traction in the Senate.
If the sequestration is not averted, Virginia stands to lose 207,571 jobs from federal spending cuts — 136,191 resulting from Department of Defense cuts and 71,380 from non-Defense Department cuts — starting next year, according to an analysis released in July.
Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads would be especially hard hit as a result of the heavy concentration of defense contracting jobs and military posts.
In the interview, Romney said he would avert the automatic cuts if elected by first working with Congress to enact an emergency measure to extend current military spending by six months, and begin identifying alternate reductions.
Romney added that he would immediately begin work toward cutting $500 billion a year from the budget by the end of his first term.