FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Thursday condemned President Obama in his harshest terms yet for forcing mandatory defense cuts into last summer’s agreement to raise the debt ceiling, saying that Congress has told the president to “put up or shut up” by disclosing how the cuts would be implemented.
Ryan was referring to the Sequestration Transparency Act, a bill that passed both the House and Senate by a bipartisan vote in late July. The president signed it earlier this month, although administration officials have said that Congress should devote its energy to avoiding the looming “fiscal cliff” instead of simply probing for details on the consequences.
“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 during a roundtable in Fayetteville, home to Fort Bragg.
The House Budget Committee chairman has made the defense cuts an increasingly frequent part of his stump speech, seeking to yoke Obama to the $550 billion in reductions that are scheduled to be implemented in January 2013 if Congress doesn’t reach agreement on other spending cuts to offset the increase in the debt ceiling from last summer.
Ryan has pointed to legislation he authored, the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act, as a solution to offset the defense cuts, but his legislation received no Democratic support when it passed the House in late July. It also will not get through the Democratic-controlled Senate because it alters the food-stamp program and slashes Medicaid spending, as well as funding to implement the Affordable Care Act.
“When those budget negotiations were going on, it was the president and his party leaders that insisted on this makeup, this formula,” Ryan said during the roundtable, which included family members of soldiers killed in action and some retired generals. “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.”
The Obama campaign was quick to castigate Ryan for seeking to lay all blame on the president.
“If Congressman Ryan were serious about avoiding the automatic defense cuts he decried in North Carolina today, he’d tell Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans in Congress to work with the president to achieve balanced deficit reduction that includes asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share – as the plan President Obama has put forward does. But he’s not,” said Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner in a statement.
“Congressman Ryan voted for the agreement he criticized today.… Congressman Ryan and Mitt Romney should show some leadership to avoid these cuts instead of using our military budget to score a political point,” Kanner said.
Ryan voted for the Budget Control Act when it passed, calling it “a victory for those committed to controlling government spending and growing our economy.” His staff insists he supported the deficit reduction in the law, not the defense cuts that are scheduled to take place because Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on further spending cuts or tax increases.
While Ryan did not express confidence that Congress would pass legislation to avoid the sequester during the lame-duck session (although he said he would try), he did lay out a plan to retroactively undo the cuts by passing his legislation in January after, he hopes, Romney is elected.
Ryan also sought to personalize the issue of defense cuts for the first time, echoing the strategy he has embraced on the campaign trail to convince voters he is committed to reforming Medicare.
During the event, he spoke of carrying a card with him that bears the names of his his constituents who have lost their lives in battle, as well as the name of a childhood friend who served in Afghanistan during the surge.
“It's our duty to preserve this legacy to support our voluntary force of men and women who volunteer to serve our nation and not let them be pawns in a political game, because this is messing with jobs and lives, right here in North Carolina,” Ryan said.
The emotional point of his argument in particular was underscored by the military family members on the panel such as Christina Kazakavage, whose son was killed in action in Afghanistan. “We've got to put both feet forward and stomp them in the ground as hard as we can and say, ‘Absolutely, I’m an American citizen, I’m an American citizen and I want to stay that way, thank you,’” she said.