The debt ceiling debate in Washington, D.C., was bitter at times, standoffish and fantastic political theater. In New Hampshire, Reps. Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen voted for the compromise bill.
But freshman Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte voted against it. She was lumped into a list of extremely conservative politicians, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, presidential candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and presidential candidate and long-time Texas Congressman Ron Paul. In all, 18 Senate Republicans voted against the deal.
“I cannot in good conscience agree to a deal that continues to perpetuate the culture of overspending and borrowing in Washington,” Ayotte said in a speech on the Senate floor. “We must do more than avoid default. We must save our country for the sake of our children.”
She said the agreement allows government to continue to run up debt and doesn’t cut spending nearly enough.
An editorial in the Union Leader this week criticized Ayotte ? and Bachmann, for that matter ? for their votes, calling them unrealistic.
But Ayotte wasn’t done sticking her neck out. Breaking from the GOP, Ayotte also recently criticized an $800 million military program that she said simply wasn’t working. Republicans don’t typically offer cutbacks in defense spending as a solution. But Ayotte did.
Ayotte pushed to eliminate funding for the development of a mobile air defense system, which was designed to replace the Patriot missile system in the U.S. and Germany and the Nike Hercules system in Italy. Ayotte said the Department of Defense has requested $804 million through Fiscal Year 2013 to proceed with the program, though the Department indicated it does not intend to complete development or procure the system based on the program’s technical challenges, cost overruns, and schedule delays.
“In the midst of our nation’s fiscal crisis, we must ensure every dollar invested in defense supports our warfighters and improves military readiness,” Ayotte said in a statement. “We should not be spending millions of additional dollars on a program that will never be delivered to our military men and women.”
It appears Ayotte is pretty serious about cutting spending, to the point where she voted against a deal that, if it had failed, might have caused the nation to default. Of course, in the end, there was no default, but the country’s bond rating did take a hit, something Ayotte said would probably happen if the agreement passed anyway.
“I was a little surprised,” said former state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen, of Ayotte’s vote. “Sen. Ayotte had sort of seemed like she’d be an establishment-type of figure, and voting against the debt ceiling agreement is something of an anti-establishment vote.”
“You can never be too fiscally conservative for New Hampshire voters,” Cullen added.
Defense spending, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are the biggest single items in the federal budget. Cullen said legislators can’t talk about getting spending under control without being willing to hit the biggest items.
Not perfect, but necessary
Other New Hampshire politicians hardly heaped praise on the agreement but ultimately went along with it.
“This compromise achieves four critical things ? it avoids a default that could have devastated our economy; it gives businesses the certainty they need to grow and hire by resolving this issue until 2013; it makes significant reductions in our long-term deficit and debt; and it protects Social Security and Medicare benefits,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Although this is not the plan I would have designed, and while I remain concerned about the level of cuts still possible to programs that are important to New Hampshire families and businesses, this plan is a compromise and I will support it.”
Guinta was far more optimistic regarding the deal, saying in a statement that it helps chart a new course.
“This bipartisan vote marks a significant shift away from decades of fiscal irresponsibility where both parties raised the debt ceiling without blinking an eye,” Guinta said. “This bill is far from perfect. But we shouldn’t let that eclipse its positive parts....”
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, whose budget plan proposal was seen by many as particularly extreme, voted for the deal. That opened up political space for others to follow suit, Cullen said.
Still, Guinta’s vote for the deal was surprising to some.
“I thought [Guinta] might pander to the fringe on this, but he didn’t and he deserves credit for that,” Cullen said.
Bass, who is seen by many as more moderate, offered similar not-so-wholehearted support for the bill.
“No one said this would be easy, and I didn’t come back to Congress to avoid making tough decisions like this one,” Bass said in a statement. “With this debate, we have taken the first steps to reforming the way Washington spends taxpayer money. It is only the beginning and there is still much work to be done. However, it’s encouraging that finally there is bipartisan recognition that deficits and the debt really matter.”
While Democrats will try to paint Ayotte as extremist, she’s not on a ballot for five years, and there will likely be more debt ceiling discussions between now and then. For that reason, Cullen said he didn’t expect any substantial backlash to reach Ayotte.
On a political front, Bass and Guinta were probably more at risk of a voter backlash had they voted against the deal.