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October 09. 2012 9:04PM

Shaheen says Congress needs 'bargain' on debt

MANCHESTER — Congress must achieve a “grand bargain” on debt and deficit reduction after the election or the nation will face severe repercussions, said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen after briefing New Hampshire business leaders on the state of affairs in Washington, D.C.

Politicians have the power to delay or even eliminate the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming at year’s end even if they can’t reach an agreement. But that would have a backlash of its own. “If we fail to show that in good faith we are heading for a solution, it will send a signal to the markets that will have drastic consequences,” she said.

Shaheen sounded a distinctly bipartisan tone in her appearance before a Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire luncheon promoted as “Senator Shaheen’s Washington Briefing for Business Leaders” Tuesday at the Center of New Hampshire, as she described the ticking time bomb contained in the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in late summer 2011.

The bill provided for an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling, but required congressional agreement on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. If no agreement is reached by the end of this year, automatic cuts take effect — $109 billion per year in across-the-board cuts through 2021 shared equally by defense and domestic programs, called “sequestration.”

On top of that, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire for all income brackets. The combination of the two creates the “fiscal cliff.”

“No one is looking at this as an option that makes sense,” she said. “It’s not a deficit reduction plan. We need to see some action in Congress, and we need to see it this year. When we get back, I hope people will be focused on this in a way that will help us make progress.”

Shaheen said she and her Republican counterpart, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, have worked together to analyze the impact sequestration would have on major New Hampshire employers like BAE Systems in Nashua. The two were among six senators who signed a letter in late September urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to push for alternative proposals by November.

She pointed to that effort and to many other initiatives as examples of bipartisan action that is often overlooked in the heat of pre-election politics.

“We have gotten a number of things done and we’ve gotten them done with bipartisan support,” she said. “People have worked together. The bad news is we have a whole lot more to do and what’s left is going to be more difficult than what we just completed.”

Shaheen rattled off a list of legislative accomplishments that had impact in New Hampshire — opening the Berlin federal prison; the new Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth; the Nashua airport runway expansion; and a $4.7 million TIGER grant (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) for Concord that she said would transform Main Street in the state capital.

“These are the kinds of things that are critical to keep our economy moving and making sure you in the business community have the infrastructure you need to grow and prosper here in New Hampshire,” she said.

Bipartisanship is alive and well in the Senate, she said, which managed to pass many significant pieces of legislation that have since languished in the House of Representatives, including reform of the U.S. Postal Service and an overhaul of the farm bill.

House Republican leaders announced on Sept. 20 that they will not take action on a new farm bill until after the November elections

Shaheen said her constituents are demanding an end to gridlock. “They are asking, ‘Why can’t you folks in Washington work together to deal with these problems and get something done,’” she said.

It was a message that clearly resonated with her audience.

“I heard her speaking a lot about bipartisanship,” said Ari B. Pollack, president of a Concord law firm, “which I think is essential to any solution.”

Reached for comment, Sen. Ayotte said she shares the same concerns.

“From the Pentagon to New Hampshire’s defense suppliers, there is broad agreement that sequestration would be devastating to our military, our national security, and our economy,” she said. “That’s why I helped introduce legislation earlier this year that would use alternative savings to replace defense and non-defense cuts. And it’s why I’m engaged in bipartisan efforts to find a responsible solution that averts this looming national security crisis.”

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.


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