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December 17th, 2013
05:41 PM ET

Sen. Kelly Ayotte defends vote against budget deal

(CNN) - Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire voted against a bipartisan budget deal, opposing it because of cuts to military retirees.

The nay vote pitted Ayotte against party elders, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

"I have concerns about the budget deal, everybody I think does because of the nature of the way business is done. But to somehow vote against it without an alternative to keep the budget, to keep the government from shutting down, I think lacks some intellectual integrity," McCain said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Ayotte said she filed two amendments to the bill, and criticized other lawmakers for rushing out ahead of the holidays, challenging them to stay until Christmas to fix the deal.

"The deal includes cuts to current military retirees, including those who have been retired because of a disability. So if they had their legs blown off in Afghanistan, we're now going to cut their cost of living increase. It's wrong," Ayotte said in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

The cuts represent about $6 billion in the budget deal; Ayotte says her amendments would pay for that cost.

Shutting the government down, or voting for the budget deal is "absurd" and "is a false choice," says Ayotte.

"It's $6 billion of this deal. We could figure this out quickly if there was interest on both sides of the aisle. There's no reason to shut the government down," said Ayotte.

Proponents of the budget argue that reducing annual cost of living adjustments in veteran pay by 1% is commonsense reform. The cuts apply to veterans when they retire around 40, until after about 20 years of active service. Then when they are in their 60s, the cost of living adjustment increases again.

Ayotte said she is not against changes to veterans' benefits, but says the budget unfairly cuts current benefits for veterans, while cuts to federal employees only apply to new hires.

"I don't understand their priorities here," said Ayotte.

Critics say recent food stamp cuts affected around 900,000 veterans, many of them in more dire need than some of the veterans Ayotte is defending now.

Asked where she was on those food stamp cuts, Ayotte dodged the question.

"Where are they on these current cuts to military retirements that they have earned for fighting for our country?" she said. "I don't understand why all of a sudden we're going to turn this around and say let's cut some more from our veterans."

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