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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Senators Ayotte and Shaheen among bipartisan group of U.S. Senators to agree to end government shutdown

New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte, played a pivotal role in helping forge the Senate deal to end the federal government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling Wednesday.

But it was Ayotte, the first-term former state prosecutor from Nashua, who grabbed the media spotlight as one of the first politicians to announce a compromise and as a Republican who called the shutdown “absurd” in a speech from the Senate floor. ...

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New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte, played a pivotal role in helping forge the Senate deal to end the federal government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling Wednesday.

But it was Ayotte, the first-term former state prosecutor from Nashua, who grabbed the media spotlight as one of the first politicians to announce a compromise and as a Republican who called the shutdown “absurd” in a speech from the Senate floor.

“I kept asking proponents of the strategy, ‘What is end game? How do we succeed here?’ ” Ayotte said during a telephone interview Wednesday.

“I never got an answer, because there wasn’t one. We ended up creating these unfair expectations among some that we could stop Obamacare when the evidence was clear that the law kept being implemented right throughout the shutdown.”

Ayotte and Shaheen were members of a bipartisan group of 14 senators who had been meeting privately for several days to come up with a legislative framework to reopen all of the federal government and prevent an eventual default on the nation’s debt.

Their outline contained some elements of the final package worked out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

There were some key differences – the plan that Ayotte and Shaheen endorsed would have extended government spending for a longer period and delayed for two years the Affordable Care Act tax on medical devices.

“The key was our action of getting together, which prompted our leadership in both parties,” Ayotte said. “They wanted to guide this thing – and we knew that – but as a group, we were saying, ‘We are tired of this. We want to get something done.’ ”

She also was the first to tell Capitol Hill reporters mid-morning Wednesday that a deal had been reached, just before entering a closed-door briefing that McConnell had with fellow GOP senators.

And a few hours before that, Ayotte was prodding Texas Sen. Ted Cruz not to invoke his parliamentary right to delay that Senate vote, despite Cruz’s insistence that the Affordable Care Act be part of a solution to the shutdown.

“What is he trying to gain at this point?” Ayotte pointedly asked during an appearance on CNN.

Last week, Ayotte confronted Cruz during a private meeting of GOP senators after a conservative interest group criticized Ayotte and others for voting to bring up for a vote a government shutdown bill that didn’t either delay or repeal the Affordable Care Act.

After Ayotte spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday, several conservatives condemned her on Twitter as selling out on this fight to get rid of the universal health care law.

“That’s not true at all. The difference is, we are going to be smart how we do it, so we get a result for the country,” Ayotte said, vowing to support future efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, said Ayotte struck the right tone as a principled conservative trying to help end the crisis without abandoning core views.

“It’s a very difficult line to walk with your political base that hates Obamacare, but I believe most people in New Hampshire saw she was talking like an adult even though they didn’t agree with every point she was making,” Arlinghaus said.

“It may have cost her a little bit of passion from those folks, but she’s talking to a much larger segment – especially in this state – when she says to them, ‘I’m a conservative and I’m constructive.’ ”

In prepared remarks, Ayotte recalled being embarrassed recently when confronted about the gridlock by her 9-year-old daughter.

“Mom, why can’t you just get the government open? What’s wrong?” Ayotte related.

Members of Congress need to remember the advice they’ve given their children, she said.

“Aren’t we always trying to teach them that when we get in a conflict, you have to find a way to work it out?” Ayotte said.

New Hampshire, Maine and Arizona had both their senators in this bipartisan group; Shaheen and Ayotte praised each other for their involvement.

“This kind of bipartisanship that we tried to exhibit for New Hampshire would be important for all of us to think about as we tried to solve our problems long-term,” Shaheen said.

“I believe we are going to be working together trying to do that, and hopefully everybody will do the same.”’

Shaheen has proposed – with Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson – that the federal budget become a two-year spending cycle, as New Hampshire state government operates under.

The concept was included in a budget resolution the Senate adopted last March that the House has never taken up.

A longer budget term would encourage the federal government to do better long-term planning and avoid protracted, partisan fights every fall over spending bills, Shaheen said.

“Throughout this crisis, it became clear that the majority of Congress wanted to find a bipartisan way to move our country forward,” Shaheen added in a statement.

“Today, we accomplished that goal for the short term, and now we need a long-term plan to address our debt and deficits, which will help avoid future manufactured crises that hurt jobs, the economy and our middle class.”

Ayotte said there’s no way of knowing if an end to this crisis will motivate Congress and President Barack Obama by the next deadline in January to craft a grand bargain on the budget that reforms spending on entitlements or the nation’s overly complex tax code.

“I think the learning lesson from this should be that zero-sum politics isn’t good for the country. This whole zero sum – whether you are a Republican or Democrat in Congress or the president – isn’t going to get results for the country,” Ayotte said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at
321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).