(CBS News) INDIANAPOLIS - Taking a brief break from the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney on Wednesday touted his support of veterans' issues at the American Legion, saying it was important for him to deliver his remarks in person. "I consider any opportunity to address our nation's veterans a privilege not to be missed," he said.
Romney opened his address with a reference to Hurricane Isaac: "I appreciate this invitation to join you on dry land this afternoon," a comment that drew laughter. He then turned more serious: "For many in the Gulf Coast who just finished repairing their homes and getting their lives back to normal, this must be a heavy burden, and so today our thoughts are with them."
Romney reiterated his desire to modify the post-9/11 GI bill so that veterans are eligible for in-state college tuition regardless of residency. He also promised to make reforming the Department of Veterans' Affairs "a personal priority," citing the "reproachable failures" in swiftly processing claims, and vowed not to raise rates for Tricare, the military's health care program.
The presumed GOP nominee also repeated his opposition to looming defense cuts through sequestration under the budget deal struck by President Obama and Congress last year. Though the deal was bipartisan, he continued to single out his rival for criticism.
"A year ago President Obama told your national convention that quote, `We cannot, we must not, we will not balance the budget on the backs of our veterans.' I thought I'd finally agree with him on something," he said. "But now he's on the verge of breaking that promise. The Obama administration is set to cut defense spending by nearly a trillion dollars, my administration will not."
His remarks drew a swift rebuke from Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith, who blasted Romney for refusing to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire.
"Throughout this campaign, Mitt Romney has offered a lot of reckless bluster and vague platitudes, but zero specific national security policies - and that continued at the American Legion today," Smith said. "Lost in his speech was the fact that the only thing standing in the way of preventing the automatic defense cuts he decried is his refusal to ask for another dime from millionaires and billionaires."