WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The senior U.S. House Republican on budget matters said on Sunday he “misspoke” when he caused a stir last week by saying the Pentagon budget for next year was dishonest and the generals were not giving Congress their true advice.
“I really misspoke, to be candid with you ...,” congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“I didn’t mean to make that kind of impression,” Ryan said, adding that he had apologized to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Ryan made his controversial comment in a forum last Thursday, saying: “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don’t think the generals believe that their budget is the right budget.”
Dempsey responded sharply. “There’s a difference between having someone say they don’t believe what you said versus ... calling us collectively liars,” he said last week. “My response is I stand by my testimony.”
Senior military officers, including Dempsey, who have testified to Congress have endorsed Pentagon plans to cut back on projected spending by $487 billion over the next decade as the United States winds down wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they have warned against a further $500 billion in spending cuts that could go into effect next year unless Congress takes action to stop them.
Ryan took the view that the defense budget Democratic President Barack Obama sent to Congress last month was driven by spending constraints and not by a new U.S. military strategy announced in January.
But he acknowledged that his comments last week stepped over the line.
“Yes, I totally misspoke. It was not the impression I meant to give. I talked to General Dempsey on it and expressed that sentiment,” Ryan said on ABC’s “This Week” program.
“My issue is I think that the president’s budget on the Pentagon is a budget-driven strategy, not a strategy-driven budget,” said Ryan, a rising star in the Republican Party who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice.
“He announced the number of the cuts he wanted for the Pentagon, and then he began the strategy review to conform to that number,” Ryan continued. “We (Republicans) take $300 billion out of defense spending versus the $500 billion that the president does in his budget. We think there are savings to be gotten there, but I think the president’s hollowing it out.”
Reporting by Christopher Wilson; Editing by Eric Beech