Ayotte defends Medicare stance

Last modified: 4/10/2012 12:00:00 AM
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte defended her support for a controversial budget proposal yesterday that would cut federal spending and replace guaranteed Medicare with vouchers, saying it's the only way to save Medicare and other entitlements like Social Security.

"If you are for making no changes (to the federal budget), then you are for bankrupting . . . these programs," Ayotte said at a luncheon held by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. "If you are for not looking forward, then you are for serious harm to the people relying on these programs."

Ayotte, a Republican, was in town to receive the "Spirit of Enterprise" award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is given annually to a federal lawmaker who votes with business interests at least 70 percent of the time. Ayotte had a 91 percent pro-business voting record, among the highest in Congress, said Concord developer Steve Duprey, before handing Ayotte her trophy.

Ayotte used the visit to greet campaign supporters like Duprey and to give local businesspeople a legislative update from Capitol Hill.

In response to an audience question, Ayotte predicted the U.S. Supreme Court would rule against the individual mandate in President Obama's health care overhaul. While acknowledging that questions from the justices don't always indicate a leaning, Ayotte said Justice Anthony Kennedy's pointed questions about the individual mandate were encouraging to opponents of Obama's health care law.

But more encouraging, Ayotte said, was how the government's lawyer struggled to assure Kennedy that requiring people to buy insurance would not open Americans to any number of other government-issued requirements.

The government's lawyer had the legal skills to answer better, Ayotte said, but lacked a good legal argument.

Ayotte, who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, focused her remarks on the federal deficit and federal budget. The country is more than $15 trillion in debt, a reality that "overrides" every decision Congress must make, Ayotte said. Then she took the audience through what she acknowledged was a depressing math equation.

Historically, spending by the federal government has accounted for about 20 percent of the Gross National Product, and revenue about 18 percent, she said. Now government spending accounts for 24 percent of the GNP, while federal revenue is 15 percent of that, she said.

And that gap is only going to get bigger when interest rates rise for everyone - including the government.

"We can't continue to spend money in Washington like we can continue to print it," she said.

Ayotte said she has supported previous budget proposals that decrease the rate of spending, and she's backing the controversial "Ryan Budget" that would cut federal spending and replace guaranteed Medicare with vouchers for those who need it most. It would also increase the age of eligibility.

The proposed budget, introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, passed the House late last month, 228-191. No Democrats voted for it. It has not come to the Senate for a vote yet.

Calling Ayotte a "compassionate person," Peter Burger of the Orr & Reno law firm asked Ayotte how she'd respond to critics who believe Ryan's proposal cuts a safety net for too many people.

Ayotte said the strength of Ryan's approach to Medicare is "means testing," which would reserve the benefit for those who need it most. She also cited estimates that Medicare will be bankrupt in 2024 if nothing changes.

Ayotte expressed frustration that the Senate Budget Committee has not yet written its own budget. She and a Democratic colleague sponsored a bill that forbids the Senate to do any other work until it passes a budget. She said she'll also likely support a follow-up bill that would hold senators' pay until they pass a budget.

Asked if she was a one-term or two-term senator, Ayotte said she would like to serve two if "the people of New Hampshire will have me."

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, at atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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