Rising Republican star Sen. Kelly Ayotte said her “libertarian” and “isolationist” Senate colleagues who would cut defense spending to help solve the budget deficit have abandoned the principles of conservative icon Ronald Reagan.
Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute late Wednesday afternoon, the junior Senator from New Hampshire said that “with the issues that we face, the challenges that we face, I think that none of us in this room would say that this would be a time… that we should be taking significant defense cuts.”
“The defense of this country must be a bipartisan issue,” she said, “[but] there is a certain segment within our party that is much more libertarian, that is isolationist in their view of the world, our engagement, our foreign policy….We ought to have an intra-party discussion about this.”
“In some ways, when I think about the more isolationist or libertarian views of some segments of the Republican party, that is getting away from Ronald Reagan. I think if Ronald Reagan were here looking at that, he would be horrified,” Ayotte said.
Ayotte has become a leading GOP voice on defense issues after only two years in the Senate, where she serves on the Armed Services and the Budget committees. She often is seen working side by side with more senior Senate Armed Services members John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
She echoed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s warning that the seemingly inevitable cuts known as sequestration, which would take an additional $500 billion from defense over 10 years on top of $487 billion already required, “would undermine our national security for generations.” But Ayotte added, “what worries me is what kind of message does that send [to] rogue actors of the world,” in light of “the dangers that we face right now.” She cited the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Somalia, Libya, Syria and Iraq; evidence of Iran’s progress towards nuclear weapons; and North Korea’s successful launch on Tuesday of a missile she called “essentially an ICBM that could reach the west coast of this country.”
Asked what should be done to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” the government faces at year’s end — the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, hitting the debt ceiling, and the sequester — Ayotte said, “a good deal for me would be tax reform, where we simplify the code, lowering the rates, with entitlement reform,” noting that Social Security is predicted to go bankrupt in 2024 and Medicare in 2033.
“The two fundamentals are tax reform with entitlement reform. The two should go hand in hand. Let’s face it, the longer we put this off, the harder a solution becomes,” Ayotte said.
Those are consensus positions for Republicans — unlike Ayotte’s explosive excommunication of would-be defense-cutters from the Reaganite fold — and the Senator largely hewed to the GOP line on foreign policy as well, restating her oft-rehearsed criticism of President Barack Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for failing to provide a timely and detailed explanation of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Ayotte also expressed concern about Obama’s failure to support the opposition trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, claiming that the lack of arms was forcing the rebels to rely on Al Qaeda-linked groups. But in contrast to McCain and others in her party, Ayotte said she did not support a U.S.-imposed “no fly zone” over increasingly chaotic Syria to help fighters opposing the regime. “We haven’t armed the opposition,” she said. “We should do that first.”