By Kyle Jarvis
Sen. Kelly Ayotte blasted Congress and President Barack Obama for not tackling the growing national debt during a town meeting this week at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School.
Ayotte focused her speech Tuesday on the debt and government spending, which she said could result in the end of the U.S. economy as we know it if changes are not made soon.
"If the country borrows money, eventually it has to pay it back," she said. "I like to say debt is a bipartisan issue, and both parties are guilty; under (George W.) Bush, $4.9 trillion was added to the national debt. Under Obama, $5.1 trillion was added."
Ayotte, with help from a PowerPoint presentation, told the crowd of more than 100, including 60 to 70 Conant High School students, that one of the big drivers of debt is spending that's required by law.
"These are programs that we've made promises on," she said. "It's rising at a cost where we'll be in a position that it will consume every dollar."
Ayotte attacked Congress and Obama for not handling the debt issue effectively.
"It's actually been over 1,100 days since we've passed a budget," she said. "That's been one of the most disappointing things for me. The president proposed a budget, but it didn't get any votes in the House or the Senate because, frankly, it didn't address the issues we have."
Ayotte spoke of a bill she authored that would put a halt to congressional pay if members don't pass a budget, and said she supports a separate bill that would require Congress to pass a budget before tackling any other business.
Concerns about Medicare and Social Security are priorities for Ayotte, who told the audience that the programs would be insolvent by 2024 and 2033, respectively, if changes aren't made immediately.
"It's important that we're taking on these issues now, so future generations know they won't be on the hook," she said.
Ayotte supports the CAP Act, she said, which would create a binding, across-the-board federal spending limit for the first time. She also supports passing a balanced budget amendment.
"A cap on federal spending was something we had years ago, but Congress found a way to get around it," she said. "This would update it, and come up with $3 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years."
Ayotte criticized America's position atop the list of nations with the highest corporate tax rates, which she said pose a threat to job creation.
"This is an issue I think we have an opportunity to address on a bipartisan basis," she said.
Following her presentation, Ayotte fielded questions from the audience, which ranged in topic from civil rights to job creation.
One man asked whether Ayotte was concerned about the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives broad authority to U.S. government and military in detaining possible terrorist suspects.
He told Ayotte he believes the bill revokes certain due process rights for Americans, such as being legally and indefinitely detained in a military facility without access to a lawyer. Ayotte disagreed with that assessment.
"If you're a member of al-Qaida, you can be held in military custody," she said.
"If we caught one of the 9/11 (hijackers) here, would we want the first thing we say to them to be, "You have the right to remain silent?' "
Ayotte said that, under such circumstances, other options are required to get important information out of potential terrorist suspects.
"The National Defense Authorization Act did preserve habeas corpus, and it did not get rid of due process," she said.
Another audience member asked Ayotte what the proper role of government is in creating jobs.
"I believe that in terms of government, fundamentally it's not the government that creates jobs," she said. "It's small business owners and entrepreneurs that create jobs. The government's role is to create the positive climate that allows us to be competitive, and also to set tax rates that don't take so much from small businesses."
Ayotte's stop in Jaffrey was part of a series of town meetings the first-term senator holds throughout the state annually.