Bipartisan Solution Needed to Prevent Cuts to Defense Budget
Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte call on the American people to press Congress for solution to debt crisis threatening national security.
Both sides of the aisle need to come together to protect the country's safety, Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, and John McCain, R-Ariz., told a crowd of more than 200 BAE employees and local veterans on Tuesday morning.
A bipartisan approach is necessary to resolve budgets cuts looming in January that threaten to cut across the board in “meat ax” fashion $500 billion in defense industry spending, the senators said in a one-hour town hall-style meeting at BAE Systems in Merrimack.
The pair was in town as part of a tour to discuss their concerns about national security and address the concerns of defense industry professionals whose jobs could be threatened by the cuts.
According to Ayotte, the American safety is at risk if Democrats and Republicans cannot work together to create a stop-gap to $500 billion in automatic cuts that will take effect in January as part of last year's failed negotiations to reduce the national debt ceiling.
The cuts would shrink the country's Army by 100,000 to levels not seen since the 1940s, she said, and the Marines would be weakened by about 18,000.
“This is the thing that keeps me up at night. The Assistant Commandant to the Marine Corps has said that the Marine Corps would be unable to respond to one single major contingency on behalf of our country,” Ayotte said. “Can you imagine? The United State of America, our Marine Corps, put in that position.”
The problem, she said, is that that the country's defense budget reflects 19 percent of the country's budget, but would be whacked with 50 percent of reductions on Jan. 1 if some sort of deal is not brokered before.
Ayotte said this issue needs to be resolved before the November election.
“It shouldn't be a political football or a bargaining chip for another issue,” Ayotte said.
Budget cuts are needed, she said, there is no argument from anyone about that, and nearly $500 billion in cuts to the Pentagon that are coming over the next 10 years, but something needs to be done to halt the immediate cuts looming five months from now.
“We all believe that we have to cut spending, but to create a national security crisis on top of our fiscal crisis is the wrong thing for America,” Ayotte said. “We will be less secure and frankly, it would breaking faith with our men and women in uniform who have sacrificed so much for our country.”
Ayotte said she and McCain as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, are working with other lawmakers to find $109 billion in spending cuts that could offset some of the budget reduction until a longer term solution could be found.
If savings are not found, and cuts are made, McCain said New Hampshire is facing $312 million in cuts to the state's economy, putting 3,600 defense industry jobs in New Hampshire at risk, not counting 2,000 New Hampshire residents who work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard whose jobs will also be on the line, McCain said. These numbers are according to a George Mason University study, he said.
“The only way that Kelly and Lindsey and others believe that we can get Congress to act is to go to the people of this country in a bipartisan fashion and make the case to them of the draconian threats to our national security,” McCain said. “Don't take my word for it, Kelly quoted the Secretary of Defense. Our Secretary of Defense said the cuts would be devastating to our national security. The Chief of Staff of the Army … has said they could not carry out their missions. So this is serious stuff.
McCain said the people of the United States needs to put pressure on Congress and the president to act on this.
Ayotte said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, could not make the morning event, but she is looking forward to working with the Democratic senator on a resolution to the issue, which has had proposals for a solution made by President Obama, members of the Senate and members of the House, none of which have been proposals that anyone can agree on.
“What we're not willing to do … is to raise taxes over this,” Ayotte said. “We're willing to sit down and try to resolve this in a way that Democrats can come to the table, and Republicans.”