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Sens. Ayotte, McCain rail against military cuts

Union Leader Correspondent

July 31. 2012 3:29PM
Sen. John McCain addresses a crowd at BAE Systems in Merrimack on Tuesday. (Simn Rios)

NASHUA - U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte was joined by her Arizona counterpart, U.S. Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for President, at BAE Systems Tuesday morning, warning against the potential consequences of military cuts by sequestration.

'The foremost responsibility of our government is to make sure that the American people are safe,' Ayotte said. 'Make no mistake about safety. .... what you do at BAE makes such a difference to making sure that our country is safe.'

The senators arrived in New Hampshire after appearances in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, all swing states in November's presidential election.

They cited a George Mason University study that found military cuts could result in the loss of 3,601 New Hampshire jobs, in addition to a $312 million loss to the state's gross domestic product (GDP).

In August 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act that raised the debt ceiling and cut spending by $917 billion over 10 years. Some $500 billion would be directed at the Defense Departmet, starting Jan. 1, 2013.

This comes in addition to $487 billion in defense cuts over 10 years announced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in January.

'None of us are saying 'don't make reductions to defense spending,'' she said. 'We understand that everything has to be looked at in the federal government. But it's important also to understand that defense spending only represents 19 percent of our federal government spending.'

BAE, one the largest defense contractors in the U.S., depends on the federal government for approximately 90 percent of its contracts, according to a company official. The British-owned firm employs 4,600 people in New Hampshire - 3,000 in Nashua and the rest in Merrimack, Hudson and Manchester.

'Those are very significant cuts,' McCain said, 'and the military is having to adjust by reducing size of personnel, reducing many programs that we've already envisioned. It's not as if we're starting anew on significant and drastic spending (cuts) on defense.'

McCain, who was a prisoner of war for six years in Vietnam, said we continue to live in a dangerous world, citing Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, the rise of China and the Arab spring.

'My friends, those are vast regions,' he said, and spending increases are needed in some areas.

'America must lead. America is the only country in the world that is capable of defending not only our interests, but that of other democracies, and the freedom of our country and that of the world,' he said.

McCain said sequestration was an act of Congress, not the President. But he said as commander in chief, it is up to President Obama to lead a bipartisan conversation on how best to tackle the issue.

So far, McCain said, he has failed to do so.

Both senators rejected the idea of a tax increase to offset cuts. McCain proposed selling idle government property and allowing all energy subsidies to expire.

In a call from Washington, D.C., Doug Wilson, who until March served as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs under President Obama, said it's disingenuous for the senators to pass through swing states and lay the blame for sequestration at the feet of Obama.

'President Obama asked his generals and admirals and civilian leaders to the Pentagon, to come up with a national security strategy to frame the $487 billion in cuts that were already mandated,' Wilson said, adopting a strategy to keep America's military the best in the world.

The 'meat ax' approach is indeed devastating, Wilson said, adding that the warning cries from the secretary of defense echo the concerns of the President.

Anti-war activist Dave Tiffany was among a dozen protestors picketing outside the BAE facility on Daniel Webster Highway.

'My old friend John McCain and my new friend Kelly Ayotte are saying that (sequestrations) will devastate our national security - which is absolutely ridiculous,' Tiffany said.

Concord resident Emily Spencer, a member of the nonprofit New Hampshire Peace Action, called for a reallocation of spending from defense to education.

'Spending money on military is not the most effective way to create jobs,' said Spencer. 'I feel as though children and people who are in school have so much potential, and that they need the opportunities. And those opportunities are created through funding.'

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