Among members of Obama's Cabinet, Education Secretary Arne Duncan enjoys an unusual amount of support from Republicans -- he gets regular compliments from GOP governors and is well-liked by Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

But Tuesday afternoon at the National Press Club, Duncan gave a speech in which he went after the GOP, albeit in a gentle way.

Without naming either Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan, Duncan argued the Republican challengers would cut federal education spending at a time when the country's K-12 schools and universities need more resources.

"People know that education is not only the best way to end poverty and build a strong future - it's really the only way," Duncan said. "And the choice facing the country is pretty clear: some people see education as an expense government can cut to help balance our budgets. The president sees education as an investment in our future."

Although Duncan repeatedly talked about the need for a bipartisan plan to improve education, he took an indirect swipe at Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and the Republican majority in the House, suggesting that Ryan's budget plan would decimate programs that provide early childhood education for poor children and K-12 education for poor kids and students with disabilities.

"If some members in the House have their way, programs like Head Start, Title I and IDEA could take a big hit, so we need to continue to fight for these programs that protect children at risk."