WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday said Republican candidate Mitt Romney doesn't know what he's talking about when he criticizes President Barack Obama's proposed cuts in defense spending and is putting himself at odds with the nation's military leaders.
"He wants to attack the president as being weak on defense," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "The problem with his position is it runs headlong into the uniformed leaders, uniformed military leaders of this country who say this is their budget."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta provided an early look at the broad outlines of the president's budget last Thursday. It slows the growth of military spending, cuts the size of the Army and Marine Corps, trims war costs and calls for another round of domestic base closings. The budget would total $525 billion for the Pentagon in 2013, $6 billion less than the current budget and a reflection of the deficit-cutting deal that Obama reached with congressional Republicans last August.
Earlier this month, Obama unveiled the results of an eight-month strategy review on reshaping and shrinking the military as the wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan. He promised to maintain U.S. military superiority while focusing more on Asia and less on Europe.
In his bid to be commander in chief, Romney has assailed Obama's policies, arguing that the Democrat has put the nation on a course toward a hollow force.
In a speech last August, Romney said "this is the first time in my memory that massive defense cuts were proposed without any reference to the missions that would be foreclosed and the risks to which our country and its men and women in uniform would be exposed." The former Massachusetts governor has promised to reverse Obama's "massive defense cuts."
Speaking to a small group of reporters about the defense budget, Levin said a "bunch of Republicans" are simply attacking Obama for political reasons.
"And I hear Romney out there. I don't believe the man knows what he's talking about. It's just a totally political position that he thinks the president is weak," Levin said.
The Armed Services chairman said that based on his conversations with the nation's military leaders, they have embraced the budget as the "right way to go" after the strategic review.
"Romney is going to have to run headlong into the top uniformed officials of this country and say, I guess, he'll argue they're weak on defense," Levin said. "I don't think it's going to have much credibility when Romney says the top uniform leaders of the country are weak on defense."
The Romney campaign had no immediate comment on Levin's remarks.