Rep. Paul Ryan's Truth Deficit

June 08, 2011 3:44 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Rep. Paul Ryan

You can learn a lot about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) by looking at the way he claims Democratic support for his policies — unfortunately, that way is "dishonestly."

When Ryan unveiled his plan to replace Medicare with vouchers, he claimed, falsely, that former Clinton administration official Alice Rivlin supported the plan. Then he claimed that his tax proposals are "just like the tax reform the president's bipartisan fiscal commission is proposing, supported by the majority of Democrats on the fiscal commission." That isn't true, either. Most recently, Ryan suggested that Defense Secretary Robert Gates (not a Democrat, but a top official in a Democratic administration) shared Ryan's criticism of President Obama's proposed defense cuts:

President Obama has announced $400 billion in new defense cuts, saying in effect he'll figure out what those cuts mean for America's security later. Indiscriminate cuts that are budget-driven and not strategy-driven are dangerous to America and America's interests in the world. Secretary Gates put it well: "that's math, not strategy."

Wow, that's pretty stinging criticism of the president by his own secretary of defense. Except that it didn't happen. Gates' "that's math, not strategy" comment didn't come in response to the proposed cuts the president announced in April — it came months earlier, in response to proposals from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates attacked proposals by the co-chairs of the deficit commission to seek sharp reductions in military spending, arguing the cuts would be "catastrophic" to national security. [...]

"The truth of the matter is when it comes to the deficit, the Department of Defense is not the problem," he said. "I think in terms of the specifics they came up with, that is math not strategy."

So, Gates' "math, not strategy" line was not, as Ryan suggested, about Obama. But it gets worse: Ryan portrayed the line as critical of Obama's announcement of $400 billion in cuts without specifying what, exactly, he would cut. In fact, Gates' press secretary released a statement explicitly praising that approach:

"Secretary Gates believes the Department of Defense cannot be exempt from efforts to bring federal deficit spending under control. However, it is important that any reduction in funding be shaped by strategy and policy choices and not be a budget math exercise," [Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff] Morrell added.

Despite the fact that the White House announced a goal of $400 billion in savings before assessing the wisdom of specific cuts, Morrell said: "The President's direction gets the sequence right by conducting a comprehensive review first and only then making decisions on specific funding options."

In short, Ryan pretended that a Gates quote that occurred months before Obama's proposal was a criticism of Obama's approach, despite the fact that Gates actually praised that approach. That's simply dishonest. And it says a lot about Paul Ryan. Politicians who hold positions that actually enjoy serious bipartisan support don't have to make up such support. And politicians who value honesty and truth-telling over scoring political points don't repeatedly falsify support for their positions.