Obama slams wasteful spending in visit - East Valley Tribune: News

Obama slams wasteful spending in visit

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Posted: Monday, August 17, 2009 10:25 am | Updated: 1:13 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

To defeat enemies and care for veterans of its armed forces, President Barack Obama said the United States must fundamentally change how the military industrial complex works to slash billions of dollars in wasteful spending.

Slideshow: President Obama's visit to the Valley

Obama protests, rallies heat up Phoenix

READ THE TEXT OF THE SPEECH

To defeat enemies and care for veterans of its armed forces, President Barack Obama said the United States must fundamentally change how the military industrial complex works to slash billions of dollars in wasteful spending.

Obama spoke Monday morning at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Phoenix, praising troops present and past and offering some detail about how the nation’s defense should function in the future.

Slideshow: President Obama's visit to the Valley

READ THE TEXT OF THE SPEECH

Obama protests, rallies heat up in Phoenix

Health care fight shadows Obama visit

“To all those who have served America — our forces, your families, our veterans — you have done your duty,” the president said. “You have fulfilled your responsibilities. And now a grateful nation must fulfill ours.”

The first step to do so is to change how the government does business with defense contractors.

“You’ve heard the story, the indefensible no-bid contracts that cost taxpayers billions and make contractors rich,” Obama said.

The president said he has changed the rules to forbid such deals and vowed to veto any spending bills that reach his desk loaded with contracts for extraneous weapons systems. “The impulse in Washington to protect jobs back home building things we don’t need has a cost that we can’t afford,” he said.

Savings that would result should fund increased pay for active military members, as well as equipment and training to help save lives during combat. Specifically, Obama said he intends to spend billions of new dollars on screening those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and to treat mental illness and brain injuries.

“We are not going to abandon these American heroes,” he said “We are going to do right by them.”

The president laid out a vision of a nimble, well-armed and multilingual fighting force of the future, not one that was built to fight land battles against the Soviets in Europe.

"Because in the 21st century, military strength will be measured not only by the weapons our troops carry, but by the languages they speak and the cultures they understand," the president said.

He praised Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and his opponent in the 2008 presidential contest, for joining him and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in opposing unneeded defense spending.

Shortly after Obama won the White House, McCain had pointedly suggested there was no need for the Marine Corps to bring on newer helicopters to ferry the president at a cost of billions of dollars.

"Now, maybe you've heard about this," Obama said of the helicopters. "Among its other capabilities, it would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack. Now, let me tell you something. If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack."

Obama reiterated his pledge to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq within a year, and for all other armed forces to follow by 2011. The nation plans to continue shifting military power to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban’s forces there and in Pakistan.

The president urged patience in that fight.

“The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight,” Obama said.

“This will not be quick, nor easy,” he added. “But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.”

Establishing an Afghan democracy is “fundamental to the defense of our people,” Obama said.

The president said the U.S. relies heavily on its increasingly versatile fighting force.

“Like mayors, they’ve run local governments and delivered water and electricity,” Obama said. “Like aid workers, they’ve mentored farmers and built new schools. Like diplomats, they’ve negotiated agreements with tribal sheiks and local leaders.”

For their service, veterans deserve better service from their country.

Obama said his administration is thoroughly examining the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs.

The result should be less wasteful defense spending, more money for veterans’ health care and a more responsive compensation process. “No one is taking away your benefits, that’s the plain and simple truth,” the president said to a standing ovation.

After Obama finished, some VFW members said they liked what they heard, but are unsure the president would follow through.

“Whether it’s a lot of smoke or not, it’s hard to say,” Jeff Dellenberger, a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran now living in Florida, said of Obama’s promises. “But I do think he supports the military.”

Donna Coulter, a U.S. Air Force flight nurse during Operation Desert Storm, enthusiastically praised Obama’s speech.

“I thought it was fantastic,” Coulter said. “It was for the VFW and the troops.”

Outside the Phoenix Convention Center, the hundreds of protestors overwhelmingly focused on the contentious debate over health care reform. A small handful called for total withdrawal from all combat zones.

“We can’t afford these trillions of dollars on wars and we’re not safer,” said Liz Hourican, a member of Women for Peace, an anti-war organization.

Tribune writer Michelle Reese and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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