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Paul Ryan and the Pentagon

The military is so far off the radar for this presidential election that Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his vice presidential pick, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, didn't mention Afghanistan once during their 60 Minutes interview Sunday night. Romney mentioned Syria, Egypt and Iran, but those countries don't have about 80,000 U.S. troops engaged in combat.

And why should they bring up Afghanistan? Americans don't want to talk about Afghanistan other than to stand between the occasional baseball inning to thank returning troops. Polls show most support an immediate pullout. CBS Face the Nation anchor Bob Schieffer never even asked the Republican running mates a direct question about their thoughts on Afghanistan. The focus is the economy, the economy and then the economy some more.

Chairman of the House Budget Committe, Ryan's budget plan has gotten the most attention since Romney announced his VP selection. Pundits have leaped over their desks talking about Ryan's plans to cut Medicare and what it means to independent elderly voters.

What veteran groups have noticed is a noticeable lack of the word "veteran" throughout Paul's lengthy document. Jon Soltz, head of VoteVets.org was not impressed with Romney's selection, according to a Politico report.

“In his first presidential-level decision, Mitt Romney picks a guy who would slash veterans care by tens of billions and whose budget didn’t even use the word ‘veteran?’ Paul Ryan sees veterans as numbers, not as people,” Soltz told Politico.

Other veterans advocates celebrated Romney's pick saying Ryan has made it a point to protect veterans and fence off defense spending from other budget cuts.

“The Ryan budget protected veterans and he stated publicly that the first obligation of the federal government is our national security and that we must take care of those who step up and protect America,”  Bob Wallace, executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, told Politico.

Ryan's seat as the House Budget Committee chairman hasn't excluded him from the occasional dust up with military leaders in this recent round of budget hearings. Ryan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Ryan said military leaders had lied to Congress in their support for their proposed budgets that included sweeping cuts to planned defense spending.

“We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don’t think the generals believe that their budget is really the right budget,” Ryan said in March. “What we get from the Pentagon is a budget-driven strategy not a strategy-driven budget.”

Dempsey took issue with a member of Congress essentially calling him and his fellow generals liars. Ryan eventually had to apologize for his statements saying he "misspoke."

Ryan has not served in the military. Neither has Romney, President Obama or Vice President Joe Biden. Ryan spent most of his adult life on Capitol Hill working his way up as an aide to serving seven terms as a Wisconsin congressman.

One of his colleagues on the Hill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, threw his support behind the pick of Ryan saying the military will benefit.

"Ryan understands how important it is to get our fiscal house in order, but also that short-sighted, budget-driven defense strategies are not good for our defense,” McKeon told Reuters.

Going forward, the big question will be which parts of Ryan's budget will leak into Romney's plan as Romney made the point on 60 Minutes that he has a budget plan too.

Both plans protect the Defense Department with Romney going as far to hint that he could support some Republican proposals to keep defense spending at 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. That would bump spending for the Pentagon up $100 billion versus the doom and gloom over the potential cuts from sequestration.

Watching just how often this is discussed outside the Pentagon and defense industry bubble will be something to watch.

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