(CBS News) Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who's been mentioned as a possible running mate for Republican Mitt Romney, warned Tuesday of the looming threat of massive defense spending cuts, arguing that cuts would not only undermine the capability of the armed forces but also lead to the loss of over one million private sector jobs.
"No one would say that the Department of Defense is a jobs program," said Ayotte. "But the reality is that sequestration not only undermines our national security, it will hurt our economy and could fundamentally tear our defense industrial base."
As part of the agreement to end the debt ceiling crisis last summer, the Congress passed a bill authorizing $1.2 trillion in across the board spending cuts to the federal government if no other plan is reached to reduce the deficit by January 2, 2013.
Ayotte serves on both the Armed Services Committee and the Small Business Committee. Ayotte said those assignments have given her a unique understanding of the possible effects of sequestration, as the automatic cuts are known.
In her speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Ayotte acknowledged the need for some defense cuts, but said that massively slashing the military budget would undermine the ability of the armed services to protect the nation. Ayotte quoted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as saying that allowing sequestration to take effect would be like "shooting ourselves in the head." Ayotte also quoted Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, saying that if "sequestration goes forward our advantages over potential adversaries will diminish...and it will increase the likelihood of conflict."
"We cannot gut our first class forces and break faith with our troops," said Ayotte. "We are talking about lost lives if we don't give our men and women the equipment they need."
Ayotte went on to argue that the cuts would shock the economy by devastating the defense industrial base and cited a study by the National Association of Manufacturers that estimated that more than a million private sector jobs would be lost by 2014 as a result of sequestration. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has already signaled that it will issue warnings to the majority of its 123,000 employees that they risk being laid off if the cuts take place.
Ayotte put forward several ways to cut federal spending to avoid sequestration, including federal pay freezes and only filling two out of three federal job openings. She also said that while she won't support any tax hikes, she would like the Democrats to know that "there are areas of revenue that the supercommittee came up with that we are willing to sit down and talk with you about." Ayotte said she hopes a bipartisan group comes together in Congress to work out ways to avoid sequestration.
The freshman senator, who endorsed Romney early in the Republican primary process, has frequently been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate. She made no mention of the speculation in the speech.