By Ari Kattan and Lesley McNiesh
Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s nominee for Vice President, is scheduled to speak at his party’s convention tonight (August 29, 2012). Here’s some background on Ryan’s positions on defense issues based on his 13 years in the House of Representatives.
Paul Ryan is most well known for his economic proposals and his budget “The Path to Prosperity,” which have been criticized for endangering Medicare, favoring the wealthy, and providing overly optimistic estimates on how it would reduce the deficit. Ryan has mainly focused on domestic issues in Congress and much less on foreign and defense policy. Ryan admits defense spending should be based on strategy, but instead of discussing actual threats, citing experts or even comparing U.S. defense spending to that of other states, Ryan bases defense budget targets on overall U.S. revenue and spending. Ryan has flip-flopped on key national security issues, such as being for President Obama’s timeline on withdrawing from Afghanistan before he was against it. He also voted for sequestration before he started railing against it. And while Ryan’s budget is billed as a plan to reduce deficits, it actually calls for an increase in military spending and a reduction in tax revenues, showing that Ryan’s plan is less about balancing the budget than pushing other agendas.
Council for a Livable World Voting Scorecard:
From the 106th Congress to the 111th Congress, Ryan has an average score of 10.8% out of 100% on the Council for a Livable World Voting Scorecard, which scores members of Congress based on their defense votes. He has consistently voted for missile defense, against early withdrawal from Afghanistan and for higher defense spending.
Key Recent votes on Foreign and Defense Policy:
Below are some of the important votes Ryan cast on foreign and defense policy during the 112th Congress:
- •Voted for the Budget Control Act (Sequestration) on August 1, 2011. Subsequently introduced the Sequester Replacement Act of 2012 to reverse defense cuts included in sequestration.
- •Voted for H Amdt #100 on May 18, 2012, limiting the Obama administration’s ability to comply with New START.
- •Voted against H Amdt #210 on May 18, 2012 requiring the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report to Congress on whether nuclear weapons reductions pursuant to the New START treaty are in the national security interest.
- •Voted for H Amdt #6 on May 18, 2012 prohibiting the president from making unilateral reductions to the nuclear arsenal.
- •Voted against H Amdt #158 on May 17, 2012 to limit funding for the War in Afghanistan to the withdrawal of U.S. Forces.
- •Voted against H Amdt #151 on May 18, 2012 to prevent the U.S. Armed Forces from detaining people without trial on American soil.
- •Voted against H Amdt #212 opposing the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea.
- •Voted against Mulvaney (R-SC) and Frank (D-MA) amendment to the fiscal year 2013 Defense Appropriations Act to cut the overall level of the bill by $1.1 billion.
The Ryan Budget and Defense Spending:
The FY13 Ryan Budget allocates $554 billion for national defense spending, or function 050 spending, which is higher than the defense base budget because it includes the military activities of all U.S. government agencies, not just the Pentagon. However, it does not include war spending in Afghanistan, which adds another $88.5 billion. Ryan’s budget asks for more on top of President Obama’s already high request for $550.6 billion in national defense spending. The Ryan budget restores about half of $487 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years agreed to under the first round of cuts called for by Budget Control Act of 2011—which Ryan and many other Republicans voted for—and replaces the additional $550 billion in cuts over the next 10 years called for by sequestration with cuts from domestic programs. Under this plan, defense spending would increase by $300 billion over the next ten years.
The Republican controlled House passed versions of Ryan’s plan on April 15, 2011 and on March 29, 2012, although these were rejected by the Senate.
The FY13 budget states that “because [defense] is the first responsibility of government, the national defense should be funded based on strategic, not merely budgetary, calculations.” However, in the very next section, Ryan argues that defense spending should be determined as a percentage of gross domestic product, which has no direct relationship to military need. Ryan doesn’t differentiate between the world we live in today and the world we lived in 30 years ago. The budget compares our current total defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, 4.6 % (which includes the base budget, funding for the war, retirement pensions and more), with the Cold War average of 7.5%. It also says we allocated 20% of federal spending to defense in FY2011, while we spent 25% of federal spending on defense 30 years ago. These comparisons make no mention of the geopolitical changes that have taken place over the last 30 years, such as the end of the Cold War, nor do they describe what the current threat environment is and why that threat environment warrants increased defense spending. His budget essentially argues that the United States should be forced to spend an artificially-determined amount of money on defense in perpetuity. It also fails to mention that, with inflation-adjusted dollars, we are spending more on defense now than at any time since World War Two.
It is also interesting to note that Mitt Romney’s plans for defense spending include setting a floor of 4% of GDP for the base budget, which is currently at 3.6%. This alone would amount to a $2.1 trillion increase in defense spending over the next ten years. Far from being fiscally conservative, the Romney-Ryan ticket would pump unnecessary money into the already bloated defense establishment.
Ryan’s Notable Foreign Policy Positions and Statements:
Ryan voted for the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.
Ryan has changed his position on withdrawal from Afghanistan since becoming the GOP’s vice presidential nominee:
Ryan said in March of 2012: “With a very limited footprint—Special Forces working with tribes who hate the Taliban as well—we can deny safe haven for Al Qaeda and terrorists in Afghanistan without the kind of enormous sacrifice in troop numbers and money that we’re dedicating now.” He continued, “There is a great consensus in Congress, Republicans and Democrats, that the president is on the right timetable, that he has given the right timeline to have what we would define as an ultimate victory.”
However, after becoming the GOP’s nominee for vice president, Ryan’s position fell more in line with Mitt Romney’s: “The president, in my opinion, has made decisions that are more political in nature than military in nature,” he said in August of 2012.
Ryan also voted against the McGovern-Jones Amendment in 2011, which would have accelerated the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Afghanistan.
One of the few foreign policy issues that Ryan has a notable and consistent record on is using sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons ‘capability.’ He co-sponsored bills on Iran during his time in the House in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, and he has set a lower criterion for military action against Iran than President Obama.
On National Security and the Debt: “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. The unsustainable trajectory of government spending is accelerating the nation toward the most predictable economic crisis in American history.”—Hamilton Society, June 2011
On China: “Ultimately, we stand to benefit from a world in which China and other rising powers are integrated into the global order with increased incentives to further liberalize their political and economic institutions. Managing the strengths of these new powers – as well as their weaknesses – is necessary to creating vibrant markets for American goods and services, and expanding our influence abroad and our security at home.” —Hamilton Society, June 2011
On the Arab Spring: “It is too soon to tell whether these revolutions will result in governments that respect the rights of their citizens, or if one form of autocracy will be supplanted by another. While we work to assure the former, American policy should be realistic about our ability to avert the latter.”—Hamilton Society, June 2011
Ryan stirred controversy when he accused the military of lying about their opinions on the defense budget: “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice. I think there’s a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon’s budget.” He later apologized and said that he “misspoke,” although he stood by the idea that the strategy review the administration called for to determine the Pentagon budget was initiated to support cuts that the president had already determined.
Ryan has been on seven Congressional trips to 18 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ryan voted to ease the embargo against Cuba early in his career, but has recently changed his position to be in line with the mainstream of the Republican Party.
Ryan voted against the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act in 2010, which would have cracked down on China for currency manipulation. This position puts him at odds with Mitt Romney and the majority of the GOP.
Ryan voted against military intervention in Libya.
Domestic programs sacrificed for tax cuts and defense spending:
In addition to Ryan’s refusal to consider defense cuts, the budget reduces government revenue by $4.5 trillion over the next 10 years by slashing taxes for the wealthy (it’s likely households making less than $200,000 a year will actually see their taxes increase). Ryan has rejected the advice of many experts and even accused military leaders of lying to avoid defense cuts in order to keep cuts that would hurt ordinary Americans:
- •Turn Medicare into a voucher program and cap the voucher amount at $7,400 per year, even though costs are expected to rise to $8,600-$9,600 by 2030. Ryan would keep traditional Medicare for everyone currently 55 years old or older because endangering benefits for current beneficiaries, who are considered likely voters, would make his plan even more of a liability for Republicans.
- •Cut Medicaid by a third (this accounts for the largest source of savings in the plan).
- •Cut domestic programs by an additional $700 billion by shifting the defense cuts called for by sequestration and applying them to programs like food stamps, Pell Grants and worker training programs.