OLDSMAR, Fla. - Paul Ryan ratcheted up his criticism of President Obama on the issue of national security at a rally in this crucial battleground state, telling the crowd: "If we project weakness, they come" and if the nation is "strong" our enemies "will not test us."
Ryan, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's running mate, used the wave of anti-U.S. protests at embassies and consulates around the world this week and the attack on the consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, to highlight criticism of the president for potential cuts to defense spending.
"We can't keep spending money we don't have," Ryan said at a park in a residential neighborhood here. "It is getting out of control. And the worst about all this is the only net spending cuts the president seems eager to engage in is to gut national security. It is the primary responsibility of the federal government and it's the one he wants to throw overboard first when it comes to taking the pencil out on the budget.
"Look, we turn on the TV and we see what's going on," Ryan continued, referring to the attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. "If there is one thing that this reminds me it is that peace through strength works. We need a strong military. We need a strong national security. If we project weakness, they come. If we are strong, they, our adversaries will not test us and our allies will respect us."
When the vice presidential nominee mentions defense spending cuts he is referring to the looming $500 billion worth of defense cuts known as the sequester.
Although Ryan blames the president on the campaign trail for the cuts, the debt limit was increased under an agreement that called on a bipartisan "super-committee" to negotiate an additional $1.2 trillion in savings, or face sequestration - meaning the automatic cuts that include those defense cuts and items unpalatable to each party. After the super-committee failed to strike a deal, the country was left with sequestration. Ryan has said he voted in support of the deal, known as the Budget Control Act, because it was a necessity.
Joined by his wife, Janna and mother Betty Douglas, who spends part of the year in South Florida, he also criticized the Federal Reserve and its new economic stimulus effort, saying "we don't need "synthetic money creation, we need economic growth" and accusing the Fed of "debas(ing) its currency."
"Just yesterday we heard that the Federal Reserve is coming with a new bailout," Ryan said, dressed casually for the scorching heat in a navy blue polo shirt and khaki pants. "This matters. So the Federal Reserve is basically saying that we don't have a recovery, Obamanomics didn't work, so now they're coming with their bailout. Here is the problem: we don't need sugar high economics, we don't need synthetic money creation, we need economic growth. We want wealth creation, we don't want to print money, we want opportunity and growth and when they do this to our money it undermines the credibility of our money."
The Federal Reserve Thursday announced its third quantitative-easing program in less than three years.
The House Budget chairman tailored his stump for the many Florida retirees in the crowd and those watching the coverage at home, saying the Federal Reserve is "undermin(ing) the value of our dollar" and "it wipes out our standard of living."
"If you have had this vision of your retirement, just like my mom," Ryan said. "And you plan your retirement based on your income. You've got it mapped out, you have it budgeted. Here's how much for food, here's how much for gas, here's how much for energy. I hope to play a round of golf on the weekend and go out to dinner. You have a budget, its based in dollars and when they undermine the value of our dollar it wipes out our standard of living. One of the most insidious things a government can do to its people is to debase its currency. We want honest money; that means we want honest government, its one and the same. Now the secret to prosperity is not more money printing."
The nominee asked voters here in this essential part of Florida, the I-4 corridor, for their support telling them, "Floridians, you have a huge say in this."
The Obama campaign responded that the economic policy Romney and Ryan are proposing is the same one that led to the financial collapse four years ago.
"Congressman Ryan has no credibility when it comes to helping the middle class," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. "The Romney-Ryan plan is to allow the biggest banks to write their own rules again. That's not a recipe for strengthening the middle class - it's the same failed formula that crashed our economy and devastated the middle class in the first place."
On Thursday, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll found Obama ahead in Florida by 5 percentage points. The president had 49 percent support in the state to Romney's 44 percent.
Ryan heads back to his home state of Wisconsin today, but will be back on the trail Monday campaigning in Iowa, where his opponent Vice President Joe Biden will also be hitting the trail in a different part of the toss-up state.
This post has been updated.