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March 02. 2013 10:52PM

NH delegates say they wanted to keep working on sequester fix

When the sequester clock ticked down Friday night in Washington, the four members of New Hampshire's delegation to Congress were not in the nation's capital.

U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster each said Saturday that they did not want to leave Washington and wanted to continue to find ways to fix the issue, in which $85 billion in cuts to federal spending for this year began taking effect.

"(Ayotte) believes that the Senate should have stayed in session this weekend and that anyone who has a real plan to address sequestration should have received a vote," Ayotte's spokesman, Liz Johnson, said Saturday. "Senator Ayotte was disappointed that the majority Leader, who runs the Senate, said there would be no further consideration of legislation last week. With the Senate adjourned, she returned to New Hampshire."

The large-scale cuts, referred to in Washington as "sequestration,'' officially took effect at midnight Friday when President Barack Obama issued orders for the spending cuts, which he called "dumb" and "deeply destructive." Obama and congressional leaders met for less than an hour on Friday in a last-ditch effort to produce a deal. It produced nothing.

Kuster and Shea-Porter, both Democrats, each criticized the Republican House leadership for sending Congress home without a sequester fix and said they want to reconvene.

"Sending Congress home before we've passed a plan to avoid these cuts is irresponsible and only reinforces people's worst assumptions about Congress," Kuster said in a statement. "I continue to believe that a balanced approach remains the best and only way to stop the sequester, responsibly reduce the deficit and protect middle-class families and businesses."

"Congresswoman Shea-Porter voted not to adjourn. She feels Congress should have stayed in session, but the House Republican majority controls the House floor and the schedule," said Naomi Andrews, Shea-Porter's chief of staff.

The sequester was a result of the Budget Control Act Congress adopted in 2011 as a way to force members of Congress to deal with the country's debt and deficits. Shaheen voted in favor of the law, while Ayotte was against it. Kuster and Shea-Porter were not in Congress at the time.

In December, Congress and Obama agreed to a last-minute deal to raise taxes on the wealthy and push sequestration out two months. The legislation, which affects the Defense Department and entitlement spending and called for tax increases, was deemed so unpalatable to Republicans and Democrats alike that it would force them to work toward a debt-reduction compromise.

It didn't work.

Shaheen said in a statement that she hoped lawmakers would be able to reach a compromise after hearing from constituents in their home states.

"I'm extremely frustrated that Congress was unable to come together and arrive at a balanced and comprehensive plan to avoid the sequester. We've known that these sweeping automatic budget cuts can have a traumatic and rippling impact on New Hampshire's economy," she said in a statement.

Shaheen, a Democrat, said she has met with business and industry leaders in the Granite State "to keep them abreast" of the sequester issue. She said she has repeated called for "immediate action" from congressional leaders, but did not say what she would propose for a solution.

Ayotte, a Republican, has been vocal on the issue since the Budget Control Act was adopted. She has sponsored legislation three times, offering different ideas for cuts to at least partially deflect sequestration. None of them went anywhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Most recently, she sponsored legislation last week targeting specific cuts in an effort to avoid sequestration. Her proposal would have spared the Defense Department and instead would continue pay freezes for federal workers and Congress and focus reforms or cuts in entitlement programs, including reducing abuse of the child tax credit, eliminating unemployment benefits for millionaires and closing loopholes that allow ineligible households in some states to collect welfare benefits.

Andrews said Shea-Porter "supports reducing the debt gradually to avoid shocking the economy. She agrees with Republican and Democratic economists who say we need to both reduce spending and raise revenue, but she is against raising taxes on the middle class. Specifically, she wants to end unnecessary subsidies, such as those to oil and agriculture, and wants to enact the Buffett Rule."

The Buffett rule, named after the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, would create a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent on millionaires.

Ayotte is scheduled to appear at noon today on ABC's "This Week" program, which is broadcast from a studio at The Newseum in Washington.


tbuckland@unionleader.com

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