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Defense cuts looming, GOP senators launch tour to warn of impending "devastation"

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), rght, and Sen John McCain (R-AZ), left. Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images

(CBS News) Amid mounting concerns over $1.2 trillion worth of automatic spending cuts slated to go into effect next January, a handful of Republican senators are launching a multi-state campaign aimed at highlighting to voters the "devastating" impact they say cuts will have on the defense department, and national security in general.

In a series of town hall-style events in four battleground states -- North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire - Sens. John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham will "sound the alarm" about why they believe the cuts must not be enacted.

"President Obama's own Secretary of Defense called the looming defense cuts under budget sequestration 'devastating,' likening them to 'shooting ourselves in the head,' and yet to date, Congress and the Obama Administration have done nothing to stop them from going into effect," said Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte, in a joint statement on Thursday. "We look forward to visiting communities in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire to sound the alarm about the profound negative consequences of these cuts to our national security and economy."

The across-the-board spending cuts are the result of a bipartisan congressional committee's failure, late last year, to come to a deal to reduce the deficit. A law that tasked the so-called "supercommittee" with reaching that deal dictated that the automatic cuts, which will hit the defense department with about $500 billion in reductions, would go into effect in the event that no deal could be reached.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said yesterday in a joint House panel addressing veterans issues that he "sure as hell" hopes the so-called "sequester" cuts are not enacted.

"It would be, as I've said, time and time again, a disaster in terms of the Defense Department, as far as our budget is concerned and as far as our ability to respond to the threats that are out there," he said.

McCain, who like Graham and Ayotte is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted for the bill last August, along with 18 other Republican senators. Graham and Ayotte opposed the bill, which passed by a vote of 74-26.

Still, Republicans have largely targeted President Obama for the eventual enactment of the cuts, which Romney has argued reflects inherent flaws with the president's overall military strategy.

"Strategy is not driving President Obama's massive defense cuts," Romney said Tuesday, in remarks at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). "These cuts would only weaken an already stretched VA system and our solemn commitment that every veteran receives care second to none. I will not allow that to happen."

"Don't bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this, unless that rationale is wishful thinking," he said.

Mr. Obama, in remarks to the VFW the previous day, argued that Republicans were attempting to shirk responsibility for a measure for which they helped to pass.

"There are a number of Republicans in Congress who don't want you to know that most of them voted for these cuts," he said. "Now they're trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to."

Graham and McCain, along with a handful of Democrats, have floated an idea to delay the cuts by a year, but that plan has gained little traction among Republicans.

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