President Obama lambasted Mitt Romney's tax plan as a giveaway to the "wealthiest" Americans at a campaign stop Wednesday in Ohio, but found himself dealing with a controversy on the side over the military base his campaign chose for a landing strip.
The Mansfield National Guard Base, where Obama's plane landed before noon on Wednesday, is slated for steep budget cuts under the Obama administration's own budget plan -- though that plan may now be in flux in light of the pushback.
The White House was caught seemingly unaware of the implications for Mansfield National Guard Base when questioned about the cuts at Tuesday's press briefing. "I'm not aware of even the policy implications or what issue you're discussing," Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
But Ohio lawmakers and service members are all too familiar with a budget plan that could threaten the Mansfield guardsmen and women, the four C-27J aircraft stationed there and the base itself
"If President Obama has his way, his Air Force One arrival would be one of the final flights into Mansfield Lahm Airport," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said. "Despite numerous reports highlighting the value of the 179th, and the critical capability they and their C-27J aircraft provide to our deployed soldiers, President Obama wants to do away with the mission for the 800 Guardsmen at the base."
Though Carney was initially stumped on the matter, White House spokesman Josh Earnest later said Obama is "committed to working with the Department of Defense to find a mission for Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base."
Portman on Wednesday put out a memo welcoming this statement but also questioning the details. "Since the new mission is unclear and has yet to be relayed to the Pentagon or the base itself, we hope that the president uses his campaign trip" to clarify, he said.
Obama, though, did not mention the base issues during his stump speech Wednesday.
The Mansfield News Journal first drew attention to the base's potential plight, prompting the questions to Carney at Tuesday's press briefing. According to the paper, base commanders will have the C-27Js positioned so Obama can see them when he arrives. "It's critically important to us. We're still very optimistic about keeping the C-27Js," Col. Michael Howard, 179th Airlift Wing vice commander, told the newspaper.
Local leaders and activists have rallied to try and press Congress to preserve the base. One Senate committee has voted to block cuts to Guard bases.
The Pentagon budget proposal has called for a cut of about 5,000 from the Air National Guard as well as 134 aircraft, including four C27-J aircraft based in Mansfield. The Obama administration was also coming under fire Wednesday for allegedly not doing enough to head off a separate set of defense budget cuts timed to go into effect starting in January -- those cuts, as the administration has pointed out, were set into motion by Congress' failure to reach a broader budget deal last year.
Meanwhile, Obama was making two campaign stops in Ohio Wednesday where he pushed his plan to extend the Bush-era tax rates for households making less than $250,000 -- while letting rates rise for top earners.
While doing so, Obama blasted Romney's campaign tax plan, calling it a gift for the wealthiest 1 percent. He cited a new Tax Policy Center study that showed Romney's plan would result in cuts for top earners but tax hikes for most households.
Obama decried the idea that "spending more money" on tax cuts for the wealthy would stimulate growth. "We tried that, it did not work," he said.
The president looked to reprise the tax debate as Romney wrapped up a three-country foreign trip and the monthly jobs report loomed on Friday. The House on Wednesday is expected to consider Obama's plan to extend President George W. Bush's tax cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000, along with a Republican proposal to extend the tax cuts for everyone.
Obama's campaign released a new ad Tuesday focused on taxes and the deficit, calling Romney's approach a way to provide a "new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires."The ad said Romney's approach on tax cuts, coupled with increased military spending, would add "trillions to the deficit."
The spot was airing in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Florida, part of what detailed advertising records show is a heavy investment in the range of $30 million during August.
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams called it a "ridiculous ad coming from a president who shattered his pledge to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term."
Home from meetings with foreign leaders in Britain, Israel and Poland, Romney released a new television commercial designed to introduce him to voters in battleground states who know little or nothing about his personal background.
In the ad, Romney speaks of his years in private business, in government and as the head of the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City a decade ago, saying, "I want to use those experiences to help Americans have a better future."
Romney was spending Wednesday in private meetings at the campaign's Boston headquarters as speculation swirls about the selection of his running mate. The campaign is preparing to ramp up his public schedule in the weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., at the end of August.
Obama's ninth trip of the year to Ohio was taking him to Mansfield, home to many small auto suppliers and manufacturers, and Akron, the nation's longtime tire and rubber capital. Obama carried Ohio in 2008 with 52 percent.
Richland County, where Mansfield is located, has been fertile territory for Republican presidential campaigns going back to Ronald Reagan, and John McCain beat Obama in the county by a wide margin in 2008. But Obama's team views the region north of Columbus as open to his record on taxes and manufacturing, helped by Obama's rescue of automakers General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. General Motors posted record profits last year.
The Romney campaign on Wednesday released a TV ad attacking Obama's support for the auto industry bailout. The ad highlights an Ohio General Motors dealer who was forced to close in 2009, and blames the Obama administration for dealership closures across the state.
The auto bailout was enacted by President George W. Bush in 2008 and continued under the Obama administration. Romney previously argued that the nation's auto companies should be left to go through bankruptcy without government assistance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.