Deficit warrior Ryan sees national security as a budget issue

When it comes to foreign policy and national defense, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.), sees things through a budgetary lens.

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the leading Republican in Congress on the deficit, has comparatively little experience with foreign policy or dealing with U.S. military leaders.

His main argument on defense is that national security will be compromised if the country does not get its budget deficit in order.

“If there’s one thing I could say with complete confidence about American foreign policy, it is this: Our fiscal policy and our foreign policy are on a collision course, and if we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power,” Ryan said in a speech last year at the Alexander Hamilton Society.

The congressman stirred up a rare rift between Republicans and military brass this spring when he suggested that generals were essentially lying to Congress in expressing support of President Obama’s reduced defense budget.

“We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice,” Ryan said. “We don’t think the generals believe that their budget is really the right budget.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey responded with a rare public rebuke of a lawmaker, telling reporters: “There’s a difference between having someone say they don’t believe what you said versus … calling us collectively liars.”

Ryan, who apologized for his remarks, wrote a 2012 budget that would restore some of the initial $487 billion reduction in Pentagon spending proposed by the Obama administration over the next decade.

It would also undo the first year of automatic cuts to defense spending scheduled because of the failure by Congress to approve a deficit-cutting plan last year.

Republicans have sought to pin the defense cuts on Obama, which they say will hurt the economy. Obama and Republican congressional leaders agreed to the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, as part of last summer’s deal to raise the debt ceiling, which Ryan favored.

Stopping those defense cuts would come at the expense of deeper spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, or tax increases that would pay for more defense or non-defense spending.

The looming threat of sequestration has led industry groups to predict more than 1 million jobs could be lost, and big defense contractors have threatened to issue layoff notices to employees just days before the election. As the two parties have deadlocked over a solution to avert the cuts before they take effect at the end of the year, sequestration has taken on a larger role in the presidential campaign.

Romney, who like Ryan has proposed an increase in defense spending, attacked Obama in July over the sequestration cuts, charging the president with insisting on “slashing our military to pay the tab for your irresponsible spending.”

Obama responded later that month during a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, where he said of Republicans, “Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military.”

David Solimini of the liberal-leaning Truman National Security Project echoed Obama’s criticisms by going after Ryan and his budget.

“Mitt Romney had the chance to show the American people he took national security seriously with his choice of vice president. Instead, he chose Paul Ryan, who has no national-security experience,” Solimini said in a statement.

“Worse, Ryan has shown, time and again, that he is willing to cut essential national-security priorities in order to protect tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” he said, referring to cuts outside the Pentagon under the Ryan plan.

Republicans have defended Ryan's foreign-policy credentials since he was selected, arguing that the Budget Committee chairman knows defense spending and has spent more time in Congress than Obama did when he was elected commander in chief.

“I think it is an advantage that they are not part of the current mess,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday.

“Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet empire decisively in eight years,” Gingrich added. “So I would rather have Romney and Ryan rethinking everything than have the current team continue — look at the disaster in the Middle East, unrest in Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan.”

The Romney campaign said that Ryan’s budgetary prowess merely overshadows his foreign-policy expertise.

"He has led in Congress on issues of international trade and international economics, has worked deeply on issues of defense spending, and has had to make tough decisions on foreign policy by casting numerous votes on the biggest issues of national security,” a Romney campaign official said in an email.

After two elections defined by the Iraq war, the 2012 presidential election includes four candidates with no military experience.

Ryan does have a record on Iraq and Afghanistan. As a congressman, Ryan consistently voted to support the Iraq war under President George W. Bush, as well as the surge in 2007.

Still, Romney’s selection of Ryan pushes the national-security debate squarely into the budget battles that are defining the election, reinforcing the decision from both campaigns to wage their fights on defense over jobs and the economy while largely bypassing foreign-policy issues like Afghanistan.

In his speech last year at the Alexander Hamilton Society, Ryan embraced American exceptionalism and the idea of promoting democracy abroad. He said the United States “must remain committed” to the erection of stable governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

But he concluded his speech by returning to the area he knows best: the budget.

“A safer world and a more prosperous America go hand in hand,” Ryan said. “Economic growth is the key to avoiding the kind of painful austerity that would limit our ability to generate both hard and soft power.”