HUDSON — Donning a white Red Sox cap, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte shared the latest update on the nation’s fiscal situation during a Town Hall meeting in Hudson Thursday evening.
“I felt this is an issue we can all agree on,” the senator told the crowd of 100 or so gathered in the Hudson Memorial School gymnasium as she gently tipped her hat.
During the hour-long program — her 27th Town Hall meeting since taking office in 2011 — Ayotte tackled the tough issues of Obamacare, the national deficit and the recent government shutdown, later offering audience members the chance to ask questions.
Outside in the school parking lot, a small cluster of people held up signs, bearing handwritten messages both for and against the Nashua legislator.
“We’re in full support of our senator,” sign-holder Jack Wagner said.
“I’m here to protect our seniors from Kelly,” countered Jerry O’Connor.
Both men agreed to disagree.
“I think both of us can agree on one thing,” Wagner said. “New Hampshire is a great place to live and we want it to stay that way.”
On the topic of the nation’s current $17 trillion worth of debt, Ayotte didn’t mince words.
“This is one milestone we never wanted to meet,” she said, noting that in the current fiscal year alone there’s an anticipated budget deficit of $759 billion.
“The 2013 deficit alone could pay all of the 2013 salaries of every (Major League Baseball) player for the next 248 years,” she added. “It could purchase a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for every single American every day for four years.”
Ayotte painted an equally dire picture for American’s employment situation.
“Our labor force participation rate is at its lowest since 1978,” she said. “We still have 21.5 million Americans that are either unemployed or underemployed right now.”
The senator offered more statistics for thought, noting that the United States currently spends $10 billion each day and of that, $2 billion is borrowed.
“If we stay on the path we’re headed, our debt will reach $25 trillion in the next decade,” she warned.
The recent 16-day government shutdown cost an estimated $2.2 billion, according to Ayotte.
“In Washington, we’ve done a very good job at kicking the can down the road,” she said.
Currently, just over 60 percent of the government’s spending is on mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“These are promises we made that we need to keep,” she said.
The remaining expenditures, she noted, are “discretionary” or so-called “social safety net” programs.
By comparison, just over 32 percent of the nation’s budget was spent on “autopilot” programs in fiscal year 1963, Ayotte said.
“Our entitlements are growing at a much faster rate,” she added. “We definitely have a demographic challenge here.”
Ayotte said that if nothing changes, Medicare would be insolvent by 2026, while Social Security would be insolvent by 2033.
The senator called Obamacare “a train wreck,” one that would result in $1 trillion in new taxes.
“So many people approach me with uncertainty, with questions,” Ayotte said. “There are just too many problems inherently built into this law.”
Hudson retiree Roland Harmon said he was particularly concerned about further reductions in the armed services sector. Harmon said he feared the end result would be many injured veterans not receiving needed services.
“Too many times our servicemen and women come home suffering horrendously,” he added. “We’re cutting them loose too soon. Other times they have to wait months, even years for their VA services.”
Nashua resident Kathy Peterson said she feared the debt would filter down to future generations.
The senator said she, for one, believed the current immigration situation is partially at fault.
“We have 11 million people that are in this country illegally,” Ayotte said. “ We need a legal immigration, a merit-based one, that works better for us.”