In fact, the dollar-for-dollar gap between Romney and Ryan is steeper than the separation between Ryan's plan, which offers $158 billion in additional military spending and a potential budget penalty that would trim $504 billion from the Pentagon's coffers next January.
“If Paul Ryan wants to be taken seriously as a budget guy, he has to explain where he is going to come up with the extra money,” says Preble, who has advocated a nearly $1 trillion reduction in defense spending over 10 years.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul downplays the difference, going on the offensive against Obama by trying to make it seem as if the President is endorsing the budget cuts that Congress is currently wrestling with.
“President Obama has been no friend to our veterans or our military. His massive defense cuts would leave us with the smallest Navy since 1916, the smallest Army since 1940, and the smallest Air Force in our history,” says Saul in a statement emailed to Aviation Week. “Gov. Romney and Paul Ryan share a common commitment to protecting our national defense. The Romney plan will reverse the President's defense cuts and rebuild our nation's military, just as the budget proposed by Rep. Ryan stopped the defense sequester and opposed the Obama defense cuts.”
Of course Ryan is just the vice presidential candidate, and one whose record on defense is scant. Without a record, Republicans and Democrats can make of it what they will.
“This is something that happens a lot for people who aren't in defense,” says Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network. Once the national spotlight focuses on a candidate without previously-crafted positions, Republicans project a neo-conservative image on to them, she says.
James Jay Carafano, a defense analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says Ryan's position on defense spending evolved closer to Romney's long before anyone knew he was a candidate. That his budget preserved defense spending was an enormous achievement given the current economic environment, Carafano says.
Carafano rejects the idea that the U.S. must opt for either defense spending or tax increases. “It's like a choice between do you want to die of a heart attack or a brain aneurysm,” he says.
The only reason the U.S. is struggling to spend 4% of GDP for defense is because the nation does not have its fiscal house in order, Carafano adds. And with the proper amount of investment in defense, the Pentagon will be able to recapitalize attack aviation, modernize combat aviation with fifth-generation fighter jets, and boost the number of ships in the Navy's fleet, he says.
He and other defense hawks point to a 2011 speech Ryan delivered to the Alexander Hamilton Society as evidence that Ryan will prioritize all of the issues conservatives hold dear—including military and foreign policy—along with reducing the deficit and protecting values.