John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte to headline sequester-themed town halls


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), photographed in July 2011. (Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) plan to visit companies, universities and research centers in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire that could bear the brunt of deep defense spending reduction set to take effect next year.

All three serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee and speak regularly about the danger of the spending cuts that Congress and the White House agreed to last year as part of a deficit-reduction plan. Unless lawmakers approve alternative reductions before January, the government will be forced to slash $110 billion in spending next year, evenly divided between the military and non-defense programs.

Ahead of the cuts — and in hopes of scoring political points in swing states with large military populations — congressional Republicans and the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, have argued in recent days that President Obama is responsible for allowing the cuts to take effect, even though Democrats counter that Republican lawmakers agreed to the plan — commonly known as “sequestration.”

A town hall series featuring McCain and Graham, two leading GOP voices on national security and foreign affairs — and Ayotte, a younger defense hawk and potential Romney running mate — should generate plenty of favorable press coverage in the swing states. The fact that McCain has decided to raise the issue in town hall meetings — a format in which he thrives — will only help draw more attention to the cause.

In a statement announcing the tour, McCain, Graham and Ayotte said they plan to “sound the alarm about the profound negative consequences of these cuts to our national security and economy.”

The trio plans to host “Preserving America’s Strength” town hall meetings Monday at the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in Tampa, the Fayetteville Technical Community College in Fayetteville, N.C. and the Half Moone Cruise Terminal in Norfolk. On Tuesday, they plan to travel to Ayotte’s home state of New Hampshire to meet with voters at an aircraft testing center owned by BAE Systems in North Merrimack.

McCain told reporters Wednesday that the tour was his idea and that he may join with Graham and Ayotte to hold similar events in other swing states in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

Explainer: You've probably heard the word "sequester" mentioned by politicians a lot lately. The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe explains what the term means in the budget fight.

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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