ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said Wednesday that President Barack Obama's defense spending cuts "breed weakness" and that the United States can't afford that posture following the killings of four Americans in Libya.
His comments at a town hall meeting Wednesday near Green Bay came after a question about national defense from a man in the audience wearing a hat indicating he was a Bronze Star recipient. Ryan began the meeting asking for a moment of silence for the four Americans killed overseas.
"Peace through strength works," Ryan said after the question. "It is very important that a president speak with a singular voice representing our principles and values. We don't want people around the world wondering what our values are."
Ryan then repeated his frequent criticism of Obama on defense: "I believe the president's devastating defense cuts breed weakness." However, as the House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan himself voted for the defense cuts in August 2011 as part of deficit-cutting legislation.
Obama on Wednesday vowed that the United States would "work with the Libyan government to bring to justice" those who killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi.
At his Wisconsin gathering, Ryan said the attacks are a reminder that the world needs American leadership. He repeated that point later in the day at a rally in Owensville, Ohio.
"This is a time for healing, but it's also a time for resolve," he told hundreds of supporters at the Clermont County Fairgrounds. "In the face of such a tragedy we need to be reminded that the world needs American leadership. The administration sent mixed signals to those who attacked our embassy in Egypt and mixed signals to the world. I want to be clear, it is never too early for the U.S. to condemn attacks on Americans, on our properties and to defend our values. That's what leadership is all about."
Joe Zepecki, Wisconsin communications director for the Obama campaign, blamed potential defense cuts on Ryan and congressional Republicans.
"Once again Mr. Ryan has chosen to stick with the tried and true Romney playbook of launching debunked attacks against President Obama – this time attempting to blame him for automatic defense cuts when the only thing standing in the way of preventing them is the refusal by Congressional Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, to ask for one more dime from millionaires and billionaires," Zepecki said in a statement.
Ryan spent much of the town hall session in Wisconsin repeating campaign themes warning of an economic collapse, criticizing Obama for the level of national debt and promising a more frugal federal government under Romney.
Ryan said the collapse in 2008 wasn't expected, while the new threat that looms is.
"Remember the Jimmy Carter years?" he asked. "We don't want to repeat the Jimmy Carter years."
Ryan was introduced to the crowd by Gov. Scott Walker, who promised that for the first time since he was in high school and Ryan was in middle school, Wisconsin would vote for a Republican for president. The last time that happened was in 1984.
Many in the crowd waved orange fans that said "Defend freedom, defeat Obama."
Wanda Wanie, 44, of De Pere came to the event with her 14 year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. Wanie said she agreed with Ryan's criticisms of Obama on foreign policy.
"I think the president right now spends more time golfing than the things he needs to be doing," she said.
Ryan, a native of Janesville, has spent a lot of time in his home state since joining Romney's ticket in August. He came to the stage wearing a Green Bay Packers polo shirt.
Wisconsin, and its 10 electoral votes, has become more of a battleground with the increase in advertising and appearances by the candidates. Vice President Joe Biden plans to campaign on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Thursday.
Associated Press writer Amana Lee Myers in Owensville, Ohio, contributed to this report.