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Romney: President & GOP leaders made 'big mistake' on defense cuts

Michael O'Brien, NBC News

Mitt Romney said his fellow Republicans were wrong to agree to a deal last summer that included a series of automatic cuts to defense spending in exchange for an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

The Republican presidential nominee said in an interview airing Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that GOP lawmakers made a "big mistake" in signing off on the deal, which prevented a U.S. default on its borrowing obligations.

"I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it.  I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it," Romney said.

That deal included a series of automatic cuts, including $55 billion in cuts to defense spending, set to take place automatically in January. The automatic cuts, known as the "sequester," were designed to be so politically distasteful so that lawmakers would have an incentive to reach some alternative compromise. But they reached no deal, and the sequester looms just a few months on the horizon.

Congress earlier this summer passed a bill requiring the Obama administration to detail how these defense cuts would be implemented if they do go forth, and the president signed it into law. That deadline passed this week without the required report, and Romney pounced.

"The president was responsible for coming out with specific changes they'd make to the defense budget.  It was supposed to have come out this last week.  He has violated the law that he in fact signed," Romney said. "The American people need to understand how it is that our defense is going to be so badly cut."

As for the GOP presidential nominee, he said he would maintain defense spending at the current gross domestic product (GDP) level.

"Well, I want to maintain defense spending at the current level of the GDP.  I don't want to keep bringing it down as the president's doing," he said. "This sequestration idea of the White House, which is cutting our defense, I think is an extraordinary miscalculation in the wrong direction."