Obama Calls for Compromise to Avoid Military Cuts

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is calling on both parties to compromise in order to head off cuts in military spending set to take effect next year -- and he made it clear he expects the wealthiest Americans to do their part, too.

"Democrats have to understand we're going to need some additional spending cuts, and Republicans have to understand we're going to need some additional revenues," Obama said Monday in an Oval Office interview with The Virginian-Pilot, part of a regional media outreach offered by the White House.

Some analysts have said that if the $500 billion in defense cuts set to begin in January go into effect, up to 200,000 workers could lose their jobs in Virginia -- a key swing state in this fall's presidential election.

Obama said he thinks Congress will figure out a way to head off the looming cuts, known as sequestration, and he rebutted criticism from some Republicans that he is partly responsible for them. Congress included a provision in last year's budget calling for across-the-board reductions if a bipartisan committee failed to find a way to reduce the deficit. It failed.

"We ran two wars on a credit card and that contributed to our deficits," Obama said. "We had, at the same time, big tax cuts, many of them going to the wealthiest Americans."

The president had a clear message for Republican lawmakers.

"The only thing that's standing in the way of us solving this problem right now is the unwillingness of some members of Congress to ask people like me -- people who've done very well, millionaires, billionaires -- to pay a little bit more, in part, to preserve the freedoms that we hold dear. There's no reason we can't get a deficit-reduction package that takes sequestration completely off the table."

Obama did not provide any details Monday about how the Navy specifically, or the Hampton Roads region, might be affected if the cuts happen. Asked whether orders for big-ticket military hardware -- like aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines built in Newport News -- are in jeopardy, Obama was noncommittal.

"We're preparing for contingencies," he said. "But I've been very clear in my budget that we need to continue to have aircraft carriers that do the job, that we can't scrimp on technologies that help keep our men and women safe and allow them to fight effectively where needed."

By Sept. 6, the Obama administration will issue a report to Congress about how the cuts would be implemented. The president referred to that process as "a useful exercise," giving people a sense of the magnitude of the cuts. But ultimately, politicians have to choose.

"If the choice is between sequester going through or tax cuts continuing for millionaires and billionaires, I think it's pretty clear what the American people would choose. And Congress needs to follow the lead of the American people in doing the right thing," Obama said.

In addition to raising income taxes on wealthy Americans, the president advocated closing corporate loopholes "like $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies right now when they're making big profits every time you go fill up at the pump."

Even if the cuts take effect, Obama said, the Navy's elite commandos need not worry.

"We're going to do what we need to keep our SEALs operating. They are the point of the spear in our battle against terrorism," he said. "We're not going to see our SEAL teams impacted. We need them to keep us safe."

He said he isn't bothered by charges from a political action committee called the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, founded by Scott Taylor, a former SEAL from Virginia Beach, that accuse Obama of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden last year.

"I don't take these folks too seriously," Obama said. "One of their members is a birther who denies I was born here, despite evidence to the contrary. You've got another who was a tea party candidate in a recent election. This kind of stuff springs up before election time."

He described the bin Laden raid, carried out by Virginia Beach-based Navy SEALs, as "an example of the United States government working as it should to protect the American people."

As for the possibility that the Navy will move an aircraft carrier from Norfolk to Jacksonville, Fla., Obama said that decision is at least five years off.

"I tend to view this entirely through the lens of how do we keep America secure and ensure that our naval operations are at peak form, that we're ready for any contingency? Obviously, Norfolk has done an extraordinary job. I will continue to get briefings from the Pentagon in terms of how they think we can best configure our forces to meet the challenges of the 21st century. But this is not something that's slated to happen any time soon."

The president said he plans to visit Fort Monroe, the historic Hampton fort that until recently was home to an Army base. He designated part of the bayfront property as a national monument last year.

He isn't sure whether he'll visit before the Nov. 6 election, but he will make an appearance there, he said.

"It's an important part of our history and our heritage that I want everybody to be aware of."

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