Rick Perry called it "reprehensible" that the U.S. defense budget faces major cuts because of the failure of the congressional "super committee," slamming President Obama for his hands-off approach to the deficit-cutting panel.
When the committee failed to produce more than a trillion dollars in deficit reduction, automatic cuts were triggered according to the terms of this summer's debt-ceiling accord, coming equally from domestic and defense spending.
Obama has vowed to veto any effort to undo those cuts, as defense hawks on Capitol Hill are calling for.
At a Republican presidential debate in Washington, the candidates largely agreed that the Pentagon should be spared from cuts needed elsewhere on the federal ledger. Perry said Obama's failure to show leadership put U.S. troops at risk.
"As a commander in chief, as an American citizen, that is totally and absolutely irresponsible," he said.
He also cited Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's warnings on the proposed defense cuts.
If Panetta "is an honorable man, he should resign in protest," he said.
Panetta had indeed warned that the Pentagon cuts would be debilitating to the nation's armed forces. But he backtracked after Obama issued his veto threat.
"Despite the danger posed by sequestration, I join the president in his call for Congress to avoid an easy way out of this crisis," he said in a statement.
Earlier, Romney drew a connection with the new spending on "Obamacare," the president's healthcare law, and proposed Pentagon cuts.
"He's not just spending us into bankruptcy, he's spending the money foolishly," Romney said.
Newt Gingrich called for a overhaul of the federal bureaucracy to produce savings that could prevent cuts at the Pentagon.
Rep. Ron Paul took a different view, as he often does, saying there were no real cuts being proposed, only cuts to proposed increases.