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February 22. 2012 9:50PM

Sen. Ayotte: Defense cuts mean security risks

NASHUA — The solution to the economic crisis should not create a national security crisis, said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who spoke at BAE Systems in Nashua Wednesday.

Ayotte spoke in the lobby of BAE's Spit Brook Road facility about the potential dangers of cuts to the defense budget, set to kick in following the failure of the budgetary super-committee in November.

“If we did the basics of producing a budget we wouldn't be here talking today about sequestration,” Ayotte said to a small group of employees.

“To me we need to do the basics in Washington. Let's put together a responsible budget for our country and address our debt, but let's not do it at the risk of our national security.”

BAE gets about 90 percent of its revenue through U.S. government contracts, a company official said. It makes the company a natural foe of cuts in military spending, and a friend of Ayotte.

Tom Arseneault, president of electronic systems sector at BAE in Nashua, introduced Sen. Ayotte: “We will continue to work closely with Sen. Ayotte and the entire (congressional) delegation to ensure the men and women of our armed forces who serve to defend our freedoms continue to get the technology they need.”

Arseneault presented figures, cited subsequently by Ayotte, that the state would lose 3,300 jobs if the cuts were to go through.

“Make no mistake,” Ayotte said, “these are jobs of people, great jobs here in New Hampshire, and I am not going to let this happen.”

The Budget Control Act could trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, half of which would be defense-related. Ayotte recently introduced a bill to avoid the defense cuts, replacing them with cuts in other areas.

“We are hoping for bipartisan support for this legislation,” she said, “because these are the very cuts that will not only impact BAE, but it will impact every member of our defense industrial base.”

Asked if she'd consider tax hikes as part of the negotiations to prevent sequestration, Ayotte said unequivocally she would not.

“I don't think that we need to raise taxes to come up with $1.2 trillion in reductions, or on the defense end $600 billion in reductions.”

Cutting into the 60 percent of the budget that is non-discretionary would be a way to make this happen.

“If we did a budget that had a 10-year blueprint for this country that was responsible and dealt with deficit reduction, we could take care of this sequestration issue, we could make sure that our country is protected, and get ourselves on the right path.”

If the sequestration goes through, Ayotte warned the military would have the smallest ground force since 1940, and the smallest Air Force in the history of the country.

Asked how specifically the cuts would endanger U.S. national security, Ayotte cited letters to Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said sequestration would devastate the defense department.

The letter states that sequestration could equal about $100 billion in cuts annually. In 2011, the defense budget was $513 billion.

“While large cuts are being imposed, the threats to national security would not be reduced,” Panetta wrote in the letter, handed out by Ayotte's staffers. “A sequestration budget is not one that I could recommend.”

BAE employs 4,600 people in New Hampshire, the state's largest defense employer. Of those employees, 3,000 work in Nashua, and the others are spread between Merrimack, Hudson, and Manchester.


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