Obama, GOP Candidates Address Veteran Groups

President Obama spoke to the 93rd annual convention of the American Legion in Minneapolis Tuesday. The president laid the groundwork for the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and for his speech next week on jobs and the deficit. GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Perry addressed the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in San Antonio, Texas.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Renee Montagne is on assignment in Afghanistan. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We've reached the end of an unusually busy political month.

GREENE: It wasn't many years ago that a White House chief of staff famously said you don't introduce new products in August, and as it happens, President Obama and one of his leading challengers are waiting until September to roll out new economic plans.

INSKEEP: Yet this August has been a month of dramatic developments in the economy and in the presidential campaign. We've seen hints of the candidates' upcoming themes.

GREENE: Some suggested those themes while addressing veterans this week. Yesterday, President Obama spoke at the annual convention of the American Legion.

INSKEEP: Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: It's traditional for presidents to appear at the big veterans groups' annual conventions. At the American Legion meeting in Minneapolis, Mr. Obama took the opportunity to set the stage for the commemoration of the 9/11 attacks that will occur in less than two weeks.

President BARACK OBAMA: Today, as we near this solemn anniversary, it's fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 generation - the more than five million Americans who've worn the uniform over the past 10 years. They were there, on duty, that September morning, having enlisted in a time of peace, but they instantly transitioned to a war footing. They're the millions of recruits who have stepped forward since, seeing their nation at war and saying: send me.

LIASSON: The president said that this 9/11 generation of servicemen and women have borne an extraordinary burden, with lengthy repeated deployments year after year.

President OBAMA: They're a generation of innovators, and they've changed the way America fights and wins at wars. Raised in the age of the Internet, they've harnessed new technologies on the battlefield. They've learned the cultures and traditions and languages of the places where they've served.

LIASSON: Even before the president takes part in the 9/11 10th anniversary ceremonies, he will give a speech next week outlining his proposals to create jobs and get the stalled recovery moving again. His plans are expected to include tax credits for hiring new workers, infrastructure projects to put people to work on roads and railways and school buildings, and an extension of the payroll tax cut that's due to expire at the end of the year.

Yesterday at the American Legion, he also stressed proposals that would affect veterans. He said he's challenging the private sector to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses.

President OBAMA: To get this done, I've proposed a Returning Heroes Tax Credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans, and a Wounded Warrior Tax Credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans with a disability.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Mr. Obama wasn't the only politician talking to veterans this week. In San Antonio, Texas, the two top Republicans in the race for the GOP presidential nomination appeared at the national convention of the Veteran of Foreign Wars.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who's surged to the top of the polls in the three weeks since he's announced his candidacy, pointed to his own military experience.

(Soundbite of applause)

Governor RICK PERRY (Republican Presidential Candidate): As a former Air Force pilot, I had the great privilege to fly tac airlifters around the globe from 1972 to 1977. I know the credo of survivors of war, that the only heroes are the ones who never make it home. But in my eyes, you all are heroes, every one of you.

LIASSON: Perry acknowledged that he never flew combat missions. But the contrast with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who never served in the military, was clear. Yesterday, when Romney himself addressed the VFW in San Antonio, he took a not-so-subtle swipe at Perry.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican Presidential Candidate): Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don't know how to get us out.

LIASSON: Romney served one term as Massachusetts governor. Rick Perry, in his third term as Texas governor, has been in elected office since 1984. But Perry has a carefully crafted an anti-establishment, anti-Washington persona, and it's not clear whether Republican primary voters will see him as a career politician.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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