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December 16. 2013 7:55PM

Shaheen, Ayotte split on House budget plan

New Hampshire's two U.S. senators staked out different positions on the recently passed House budget, with Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte saying she won't support it, while Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said it was a good compromise.

Both made their positions known during media appearances in southern New Hamsphire on Monday. Both used military-related themes to make their point.

Ayotte appeared alongside veterans at a Merrimack VFW post and said the deal would cut cost-of-living raises for military retireees.

"This is the wrong thing to do given the sacrifices that they make for our country," Ayotte said.

Shaheen toured BAE Systems headquarters in Nashua and spoke alongside Dan Gobel, president of the company's Electronic Systems. She said it will mean jobs and certainty for businesses.

"This budget isn't everything that I would want," Shaheen said. "There are things in it that I do not like. There are things not in it that I think should be in it — like an extension of unemployment insurance. But the fact is, we cannot afford another government shutdown."

The bipartisan House budget, which is now in the Senate, includes a provision to cut $6.3 billion from military retiree benefits, or about 1-percentage point in the cost-of-living adjustment for select military retirees under the age of 62.

Ayotte said the $6.3 billion could be found elsewhere in the budget, possibly by changing eligibility requirements for food stamps.

As it stands, a sergeant first class who seeks to retire at age 42 would lose about $72,000 in benefits throughout the next two decades, Ayotte said.

"As a matter of principle, we do not believe it is right to ask our veterans to sacrifice again for our country when we have not had the courage to address the primary long-term drivers of our debt," Ayotte said in a letter to the Senate.

Ayotte's letter was also signed by other members of the Senate Armed Services and Budget committees.

Shaheen said she did not agree with the benefit cut, but an opportunity may arise to revisit the issue in the near future.

People appearing with both senators tailored their pitches toward national defense.

In a statement, Gobel said "the current approach with indiscriminate cuts of sequestration promises to have a devastating impact on the BAE workforce and the company's ability to meet the needs of America's men and women in uniform."

But retired Col. Allen Chadwick, who appeared with Ayotte, said the cuts would hurt military families and hurt retention, eventually harming national defense.

"Retirement benefits are well-earned," he said.

The Military Coalition, a consortium of uniformed services and veterans associations, agrees. In a letter last week, members said the 1 percentage point annual reduction to uniformed service retired pay Cost of Living Adjustment will have a devastating financial impact on military retirees at the 20-year point.

Gobels said a budget would provide clarity and around short-term priorities.

khoughton@newstote.com


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