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Ayotte, in Claremont, Raps Obamacare

Senate Armed Services Committee members Sen. Kelly Ayotte R-N.H., right, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., meet with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Both spoke ahead of a potential renewed Senate floor debate over additional measures to curb rapes and sexual assaults in the military. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Senate Armed Services Committee members Sen. Kelly Ayotte R-N.H., right, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., meet with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Both spoke ahead of a potential renewed Senate floor debate over additional measures to curb rapes and sexual assaults in the military. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Claremont — U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., warned against increasing the minimum wage on Wednesday, citing the Congressional Budget Office’s recent report that predicts increasing the minimum wage could cost the country 500,000 jobs.

The report also noted that an increase in the minimum wage would lift about 900,000 people above the poverty level and increase wages for millions more. But Ayotte said the country can’t afford to lose more jobs.

“We should be working on policies that actually help create climate for better jobs,” Ayotte said in Claremont. “The last thing we need right now is to lose job opportunities when we have already seen an unemployment rate that is too high at the national level.”

The question about the minimum wage came from an attendee of Ayotte’s Town Hall meeting at the Claremont Community Center, which was attended by about 15 people and nearly as many members of the media.

Ayotte also spoke out against the Affordable Care Act, which she has supported repealing. She gave a 30-minute Powerpoint presentation outlining pieces of legislation that she has cosponsored. The items range from a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to piecemeal legislation that would eliminate the medical services device tax, strengthen the website and raise the threshold for coverage to the 40-hour work week.

Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with 50 full-time employees or more will have to offer coverage to their workers. The law defines a full-time employee as someone who works a 30-hour week or more. Ayotte said constituents who work more than 30 years a week have told her that their employer might cut their hours so they’re not considered full time.

Ayotte said the way to fix that is to return the definition of a “full-time” employee to someone who works 40 hours.

She also criticized the President’s use of executive orders to change provisions in the law, such as the decision to postpone the date for when businesses have to comply with the ACA. She said she thinks Congress should be making those decisions, not the president.

“I believe everyone should get an extension from Obamacare,” Ayotte said. “How can you say businesses get an extension, but individuals don’t?”

Charlene Lovett, a former Republican state lawmaker from Claremont and member of the board of trustees for Valley Regional Hospital, asked Ayotte what can be done at the federal level to address the issue of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield — the only insurer so far that is offering plan’s through the state’s health exchange — not including the Claremont hospital in its network of providers.

“This hospital is a huge economic driver in this community,” Lovett said. “There is no benefit to what has happened to us as far as the insurance exchange.”

New Hampshire is in a situation where there was little competition in the insurance market to begin with, Ayotte said, and Anthem being the only provider on the exchange did not help. She said the insurance market needs to be open across state lines.

“This is not the right approach,” Ayotte said. “We need more competition, more choice so that people can live in this area and go to your hospital.”

In an interview after the meeting, Ayotte said there are portions of the health care law that she agrees with, such as addressing preexisting conditions, but she said a major problem with the law is that it was passed as an all-encompassing single piece of legislation.

“I think we need to start over and really have a law that is more market based,” Ayotte said, adding, “There are a lot of difficulties that I don’t want people to experience that I think are a result of this law, unfortunately.”

Ayotte also focused her discussion on the country’s $17 trillion debt. She added that the Congressional Budget Office projected the country’s debt will swell to $27 trillion during the next decade, and said she voted against the budget because it did nothing to address the biggest driver’s of the country’s debt.

She also said she would like to add a balanced budget amendment to the constitution.

She added that there was a piece in the budget that helped sway her no vote: a stipulation that would cut retirement benefits for working age military retirees, those who are younger than 62 and who had completed at least 20 years of active duty service.

The people in the audience on Wednesday were Ayotte supporters, including Leonard Boulanger who sat in the back row still in his workout clothes. He applauded the former state attorney general for asking tough questions about Benghazi, but asked Ayotte flat out why the government can’t repeal Obamacare.

“Get it out of the way,” Boulanger said. “It’s causing so much problems.”

Ayotte sympathized with Boulanger and said the country needs a do over, and people need to focus on who they elect to the Senate.

“This has been a real mess. There’s no other way to describe it,” Ayotte said, adding, “I don’t want people in New Hampshire to suffer because of the way this law is being implemented. And I ran on this, and it’s important to me.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.