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Obama Blasts Defense Pork

MELISSA BLOCK, host.

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama wrapped up a four-day trip through the West today in Phoenix. Mr. Obama spoke to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was his first appearance before the veterans' group as president.

BLOCK: He pledged to modernize the military and to cut wasteful weapons programs. And he restated his commitment to victory in Afghanistan and his promise to draw down troops from Iraq. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Phoenix.

DON GONYEA: This is an audience with an intense interest in national security, most of the more than 5,000 people in the audience served in an overseas war. The oldest are World War II vets, the youngest pulled duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president provided an update on those ongoing missions. He said good progress is being made toward handing responsibility for security over to Iraqis. As for Afghanistan, he cited the difficult fighting U.S. forces are engaged in, as part of a new military offensive. It has brought a sudden increase in the number of U.S. casualties.

President BARACK OBAMA: This will not be quick nor easy. But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans.

GONYEA: As for the overall military budget, he noted that national security concerns led him to increase the amount of money for defense. That line won cheers, but not as loud as the applause he got when he said he's committed to fighting wasteful military spending. He said he will push back against programs that don't make sense.

Pres. OBAMA: Billions of dollars for a new presidential helicopter - now, maybe you've heard about this. Among its other capabilities, it would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: 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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: And the president talked about medical services for veterans. He said he's increased the budget to deal with posttraumatic stress: brain injuries, depression. And he noted the rise in the number of troop suicides. And as the country engages in a noisy debate about the nation's health care system, he offered reassurances.

Pres. OBAMA: One thing the reform won't change is veterans' health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That is the plain and simple truth.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: We're expanding access to your health care, not reducing it.

GONYEA: That line was good news for 80-year-old California resident Joseph Steinberg. He served in the Navy at the very end of World War II.

Mr. JOSEPH STEINBERG (Navy, World War II Veteran): He's giving the veterans what they need and what they want.

GONYEA: But if this veteran is satisfied with the president's message about health care, he still has reservations about Mr. Obama when it comes to national security.

Mr. STEINBERG: You know, I got to wait and see what he's going to do, you know. Personally, I did not feel he is the right man for the job.

GONYEA: Has he reassured you at all?

Mr. STEINBERG: Somewhat. Somewhat, but not completely. Not - I'm not - I'm not dyed in the wool.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: But Steinberg says he was encouraged by what he saw today.

Don Gonyea, NPR News in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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