Calling his words "clumsy," Ryan doubled down on his broader point that the Pentagon is conforming to adjusted military spending levels in President Obama's budget, when he argues they should have put out their plan first.
The background here is a political tug-of-war over military spending. In their new budget, House Republicans push to roll back defense sequestration cuts agreed to in the debt limit deal and set military funding at higher levels than President Obama wants to.
On Thursday, Ryan questioned whether generals are telling the truth about their budget.
"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," he said at a budget summit hosted by National Journal. "I think there's a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon's budget."
That provoked a retort from Dempsey.
"There's a difference between having someone say they don't believe what you said versus ... calling us, collectively, liars," Gen. Dempsey told reporters. "My response is: I stand by my testimony. This was very much a strategy-driven process to which we mapped the budget."