FAYETTEVILLE, NC -- At a defense-industry roundtable meeting here -- which included two retired four-star generals -- Paul Ryan criticized the pending $500 billion in defense cuts that would go into effect in Jan. 2013.
These cuts -- part of what’s known as “sequestration” -- were part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that Congress passed to resolve last year's debt-ceiling standoff.
“When those budget negotiations were going on, it was the president and his party leaders that insisted on this makeup, this formula,” Ryan said at the invite-only event near the Fort Bragg military base. “Defense spending is not half of all federal spending, but its half of the cuts approximately in the sequester. We disagreed with that then, and we disagree with it now.”
And he vowed that a Romney-Ryan administration would restore the cuts. “That means if we have to do it in January, we will do it in January. That’s our position. We are crystal clear about it because it’s not just policy, it's personal,” Ryan said. “And it’s important that we send the right signals to our military families, to our economy, and to our adversaries. We are going to be strong, we are not going to back down, don’t question our resolve.”
Yet Ryan voted for the Budget Control Act, which contained these same defense cuts as well as cuts to social programs. And the Obama campaign highlighted the contradiction.
“Congressman Ryan voted for the agreement he criticized today, and he walked away from a balanced deficit-reduction plan last summer because he thought it would help the president’s re-election prospects,” Obama spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. “And Mitt Romney himself has said that he didn’t want Congress to act, despite looming defense cuts. Congressman Ryan and Mitt Romney should show some leadership to avoid these cuts instead of using our military budget to score a political point.”
But Ryan spokesman Michael Steel, who was involved in the debt-ceiling debate while working for House Speaker John Boehner, replied: “What Chairman Ryan voted for was bipartisan deficit reduction. The president instead went AWOL on the campaign trail and the result is the devastating defense cuts that the president insisted on.”
These automatic cuts to the defense industry (traditionally a top GOP constituency) and social programs (favored by Democrats) were supposed to serve as a "trigger" if Republicans and Democrats failed to come together to pass additional budget cuts under the legislation.
Ryan's remarks here at the Partnership for Defense Innovation lab at the All-American Business Park were not the first time he President Obama over these looming defense cuts. But it was -- by far -- the harshest tone Ryan’s taken towards Obama on the subject yet.
“The House has already passed, as well as the Senate, which has now been finally signed into law, bipartisan legislation saying put up or shut up. The president needs to show us how he plans on putting this in place if he is not going to help us pass legislation preventing it in the first place, so we’re now waiting for that answer,” Ryan said. “The president needs to show us how he plans on putting this in place if he is not going to help us pass legislation preventing it in the first place.”
The legislation the Congressman was referring to is the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, which passed both chambers in July 2012 with bipartisan support demands that the president show how it would carry out the defense cuts.
While Ryan has never served in the U.S. military, he made clear his close ties to the men and women who defend the nation on a daily basis.
From inside his blue sport coat, Ryan pulled out a white card to show the roughly 100-person crowd. The card contained the names of fallen military personnel from Wisconsin.
“I carry this card in my pocket. I've carried it with me for years. I don't really talk about this often,” he said. “It's the men and women who have lost their lives, the men who have lost their lives in Wisconsin. I've talked to these families, been at the funerals. It's the ultimate sacrifice.”
And he transitioned to the defense cuts.
“My childhood friend was a brigade commander here at the 82nd,” Ryan said. “He and I are very close and he would email me what was happening. The kind of sacrifices and the moral changes that occur when these kind of looming defense cuts occurred.”