Ryan talks defense spending, cheese in Wisconsin

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M. L. Johnson, Associated Press, staff | March 19, 2014

NORTH PRAIRIE — Congressman Paul Ryan said Tuesday that he doesn't think proposed cuts to the military are wise given the war in Syria and conflict in Ukraine.

Ryan, who is mentioned frequently as a potential presidential candidate, said defense should be the federal government's top priority and any further cuts in military spending would put the U.S. at a disadvantage in foreign affairs.

"I really think that what that does is it sends the wrong signals to the world," Ryan said during a packed town hall-style meeting in North Prairie, a community of about 2,100 southwest of Milwaukee. "It sends signals to the Chinese that our military is shrinking and therefore they have an incentive to catch up to us."

It was the first in a four-day series of such meetings for Ryan, and at an event later Tuesday in nearby Franklin, people began lining up an hour early to get inside.

Ryan will stop in Elkhorn tomorrow, March 20, from 10:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Monte Carlo Room, 720 N. Wisconsin St.

The Janesville Republican said U.S. defense policy can't be blamed for Russia's recent move into Crimea. But he said it did not help matters for the U.S. to look weak.

"Russia is responsible for taking over Crimea, that's where the blame should be," Ryan said. "But I think it's a reminder that it's a much more dangerous world. These are not peaceful times ... we should not give signals that we are going to withdraw and retreat."

Ryan also advocated for expanding domestic oil and gas drilling, saying it would help the U.S. economy and increase national security by weaning the nation from oil produced in the Middle East. Increased natural gas production also would allow the U.S. to export the fuel to European nations that are now dependent on Russia for fuel.

Ryan, 44, opened the North Prairie meeting with a presentation on the federal budget and national debt. He reiterated his call to curb federal spending, predicting it could eventually equal 40 percent of the gross domestic product. He said he would feel better about the proposed military cuts if the money was used to pay down the debt, but instead, it would be shifted into other programs.

"I believe spending is the culprit," Ryan said when asked if he supported a balanced budget amendment. He said he favors a balanced budget when there are spending caps — he would not want to raise taxes to cover more spending.

Ryan criticized what he described as the high cost and ineffectiveness of the federal health care overhaul, saying he expected Republicans to introduce legislation this year to change it. He said he favors creating a government-backed "high-risk" insurance pool for people with pre-existing conditions because that would lower rates for others.

"We're going to be moving reforms along these lines to say here's a better way of doing health care," he said.

Ryan also addressed trade talks in which the European Union wants to bar U.S. cheese-makers from using European place names for their cheese.

"To suggest that we are going to engage in a trade agreement that suggests that our cheese-makers can't call havarti 'Havarti' or gouda 'Gouda' is ridiculous," he said.

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