Six Town Halls in Two Days for Ayotte

SOMERSWORTH – No one can accuse U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte of hiding from her constituents. After holding three town hall meetings yesterday, Ayotte is conducting three more today in Kingston, Somersworth, and Moultonboro.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte takes a question during a town hall meeting this afternoon at the American Legion Hall in Somersworth.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte takes a question during a town hall meeting this afternoon at the American Legion Hall in Somersworth.

The 32 person crowd at the Somersworth meeting was modest, but the interaction with their U.S. Senator was as authentic as the stale cigarette smell of the American Legion Hall in this working class community where the meeting took place. In contrast to town hall meetings led by other members of the delegation, Ayotte took any and all questions, including those from the floor, and her staff allowed the meeting to be videotaped by a tracker working on behalf of state and national Democrats.

Ayotte began with a PowerPoint seminar explaining the basics of the federal budget, deficit, and debt to the audience.  “The trajectory that we’re on will not reduce the $17 trillion [national debt] but add on to it,” Ayotte explained. “The debt is a bipartisan problem. It took two parties to get us into debt and it will take two parties to get us out,” Ayotte said.

The debt is holding back our economy, Ayotte said, while growth in mandatory “auto pilot” spending programs including Social Security and Medicare is crowding out discretionary spending, including the defense budget.

How Washington works – or doesn’t – was a recurring theme. Explaining her vote against the Ryan-Murray budget agreement, Ayotte complained the deal “was brokered by two people in a back room.” The Senate Budget Committee, on which she sits, was cut out of the process. Aside from process, Ayotte disagreed with how the deal limited cost of living pension adjustments for working-age military retirees.

Ayotte also described how Congress passes laws but leaves rule-making to the discretion of unaccountable federal agencies. She spoke of how the Obama administration often bypasses Congress by governing through the use of Executive Orders, citing unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act as examples.

Ayotte took eight questions from the audience before leaving unrushed time to chat with attendees one-on-one.

Bob Brown asked whether Ayotte would support raising the cap on social security taxes to have high earners pay more. In her response, Ayotte noted that the social security deal struck by President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill increased the retirement age and raised caps on high earners. Other choices include means testing, by which “people who do well in life” might not be allowed to receive in benefits as much as they contribute to the retirement system. The best solution, Ayotte said, is getting more people working in the first place, and a “grand bargain” budget agreement that addresses the sustainability of long-term entitlement spending.

Ayotte defended her vote last year to advance immigration reform in the senate. “We can continue to ignore the problem and put our heads in the sand, or we can try to fix it” by modernizing the legal immigration system in ways that help the U.S. economy have the workforce it needs.

Alisha Youch of Dover identified herself as a military spouse and thanked Ayotte for her work on issues important to military families. “You have been a banner carrier for us. We have your back and we know you have ours,” Youch said.

Ayotte concluded by saying that she tries to approach most issues, whether it be energy policy or reforming the tax code, by asking, “What are the policies that are going to create a better climate for job creation?”

fergus@ferguscullen.com, January 23, 2014

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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