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Paul Ryan's unbridled chutzpah on defense spending

The United States spends more on its military than any other nation on the planet by a large margin. Indeed, we spend nearly as much as the combined military budgets of all the world powers. Given the nation's fiscal challenges, combined with the fact that we've already ended one major war and are winding down another, it's not surprising that sensible voices believe it's time to scale back the Pentagon budget.

That includes, by the way, officials at the Pentagon. U.S. military leaders have proposed cuts of nearly a half-trillion dollars over the next decade, which defense officials and national security experts believe can be made without increasing the nation's vulnerabilities or undermining our ability to fight if necessary. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, for example, has already heartily endorsed the budget cuts.

With this in mind, it was rather striking to see Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the right-wing chairman of the House Budget Committee, suggest yesterday that U.S. military leaders are not to be trusted.

"We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice," Ryan said during a forum on the budget sponsored by the National Journal. "We don't think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget." [...]

He went on to say that while there were certainly inefficiencies that could be reduced in the Pentagon's budget, fighting wars in the Middle East and a "dangerous world" necessitated keeping defense spending level.

Ryan was specifically asked yesterday, "You don't believe the generals?" The congressman replied, "What I believe is this budget does hollow out defense. I believe this budget goes beyond where we should go to keep people safe."

Ryan added that his budget plan, unlike the plan endorsed by U.S. military leaders, counts an "honest Pentagon budget."

Even for Ryan, this takes an enormous amount of chutzpah.

Let's unpack this a bit, because it's important to understand how ridiculous it is.

First, Ryan is ostensibly someone who's eager to slash every possible public investment. Indeed, he believes spending has to be brutally cut to the bone to prevent some kind of looming "debt crisis," And yet, given the chance to cut nearly a half-trillion in spending over the next decade, the right-wing Wisconsinite has suddenly discovered he disapproves of budget cuts after all. (Ryan wants to increase defense spending, even while cutting everything else.) If the cuts don't hurt working families, he's apparently not interested.

Second, let's not forget that the Pentagon wants these budget cuts. It's not as if there's a dispute between the White House and the brass, and Ryan is siding with the latter. Instead, Ryan is looking for budget cuts; the Pentagon is recommending some; and the Budget Committee chairman prefers to ignore the recommendations.

Third, notice that Ryan is effectively accusing U.S. military leaders of lying to Congress about the resources necessary to keep the nation safe. I wonder what the reaction would be if a House Democrat did that.

And finally, there's the biggest, most jaw-dropping angle of them all: Paul Ryan, who has never served in the military a day in his life, believes he knows better than the U.S. military leadership what funding levels are needed to "keep people safe."

Amazing. Just amazing.