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Ayotte warns of growing national debt, says it's time for tough decisions

Former state Senator John Gallus, a Republican of Berlin, introduced U. S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican of Nashua, who wore a Red Sox ball cap to meet with two dozen constituents on Wednesday — the first day of the World Series — at the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
October 30, 2013
WHITEFIELD — U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican of Nashua, addressed the country's ever-growing debt in a town hall "Washington Update" on Wednesday afternoon that drew two-dozen people to the (Theodore) Roosevelt Room in the Presidential Hall at the Mountain View Grand.

Ayotte, who wore a white Red Sox baseball cap, pointed out that rooting for New England's team to win the 2013 World Series was something on which all could wholeheartedly agree no matter what their politics.

"The Sox in five!" she said enthusiastically.

Later she used a baseball analogy in an effort to put the ballooning 17 trillion-plus dollar debt into everyday terms, understandable to average Americans.

"We could pay for all the 2013 salaries for every professional baseball player for the next 248 years just with this year's deficit," explained Ayotte who is on the Senate Budget Committee whose members would be part of a Committee of Conference if both the House and Senate pass budgets. "There's over a $5 trillion difference between the 10-year budgets that have been proposed, but we need to resolve these issues and have a budget for our country," Ayotte said. Not having a budget but relying instead on Continuing Resolutions is "just unacceptable."

"The national debt per household is $145,000." Some economists believe that too large a debt can inhibit job growth. Although the latest unemployment figures are trending in the right direction, she said, "We can do a lot better than we are doing."

"I didn't support the government shutdown," Ayotte said, noting that Granite State citizens were angry and frustrated by the 16-day shutdown. "I tried to be part of a group to solve it, to get our leadership to come to an agreement."

She reminded the audience, "I did not support the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) when I ran in 2010, and I've voted to repeal it, but I did not agree with the strategy to shut down the government as a way to 'defund' it. It wasn't a smart strategy for success; the Act has the President's signature on it."

Lurching from "crisis to crisis is not good for the country," Ayotte said. "It creates great uncertainty."

The so-called entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Social Security Disability — require serious discussion because of the "demographic challenges" in which the incomes of many more people, including Baby Boomers, will have to be supported by relatively few workers. It is the next generation that will see change and not those who are now relying on these programs, Ayotte said. She harkened back to the bipartisan compromise deal that Republican President Ronald Reagan, who she said is her hero, and House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a Democrat of Mass., were able to forge 30 years ago in 1983 to adjust Social Security to make it solvent for a couple of generations. The retirement age was raised from 65 to 67, a step that will be fully phased in by 2027.

Ayotte said means testing could be necessary for entitlement programs.

Once the meeting was over, NHPR reporter Chris Jensen of Bethlehem pressed the senator for her opinion on recent revisions to the proposed $1.4 billion Northern Pass Transmission project to bring 1,200 megawatts of HydroQuebec hydropower from Pittsburg south to Franklin on High-Voltage Direct Current lines and then to Deerfield using Alternating Current.

Ayotte still has "serious reservations" about the proposed project whose latest plan calls for less than 10 miles of its lines to be buried in the state's northern tip, she explained. "I'm still very concerned about the impact on the beauty of the North Country and the vistas in other areas of the state," she said, adding it would be best if the entire route were buried.

"I know there have been other projects around the country that have been buried and if they could bury the lines here that would be the most appropriate thing to do," Ayotte said.

"They wouldn't be proposing this project if they weren't thinking they could make money," the senator said. "New Hampshire doesn't get the biggest benefit." Its citizens' input must be taken into account before a Presidential permit is issued to cross the U.S.-Canada border, Ayotte concluded.

Northern Pass officials have not only said that burying the entire 180 miles is both impractical and too expensive. They say that comparable long-distance 1,000-plus-megawatt transmission lines are not now been buried but are still in the planning stages.

During the forum, Emily Jacobs of Whitefield told Ayotte that she had been displeased that her senator had joined all 46 other Senate Republicans in opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act. Ayotte explained that she believed that better enforcement of two specific pieces of existing legislation is needed rather than passing a new law. "We need to enforce the laws that we have," she said.

When questioned by Lucy Wyman of Lancaster about strengthening laws requiring background checks for those buying guns, Ayotte replied, "I support the Second Amendment but I also supported background checks." She said she also supports keeping guns out of the hands of those with severe mental health problems and prosecuting felons who illegally try to buy firearms. Wyman decried the "warrior culture" that now permeates American society, including kids wearing camouflage clothing and the general militarization of civilian life.

Using a mike held by an aide, Joey Vigue of Berlin, a 1966 Gorham High School graduate, asked Senator Kelly Ayotte at a Wednesday's town hall meeting what it's like "to deal with 100 people that are worse than my eight- and nine-year-old grandchildren." She replied that there are "good people in Congress on both sides of the aisle who want to solve problems and work together." But, Ayotte said, it is "absurd" that many of her fellow senators are unwilling to make the tough commonsense (fiscal) decisions like those her constituents must make every day.

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