Ayotte: Obama, Congress need ‘courage’ in talks to avoid sequestration

"I don't think anyone would say it is a safe time," said Ayotte of the nation's interests abroad. She cited the continuing unrest in Syria, China's aggressiveness in the Pacific and Iran's nuclear ambitions as particularly worrying flashpoints for the U.S.

But Ayotte added that the courage she expected in fiscal negotiations should extend to the other side of the Potomac, where Pentagon officials must be more willing to cut top-dollar weapons programs.

Ayotte said that despite billions in taxpayer investment, many of the programs "will never see the field of battle." 

The Pentagon ethos on how and what it buys must change, balancing national security needs with the fiscal strains facing the Defense Department and the rest of Washington, she said.

The New Hampshire Republican, though, saved her harshest criticisms for the White House.

She said the president had shown a lack of leadership and blamed him for a defeatist atmosphere inside the Beltway over whether a deal can be reached.

"We can't just roll over and think that sequestration is the right [path] to take," she added. 

Obama, though, is also taking fire for his handling of sequestration from some in his own party, who are pressing him to push for deeper defense cuts. 

Congressional lawmakers "to the left of [President] Obama on defense" are turning up the heat on the administration to take more than the $500 billion slated for defense cuts out of the Pentagon, Robert Zarate, policy director at the Washington-based Foreign Policy Initiative, told The Hill on Tuesday. 

Zarate said it still remains to be seen whether these internal fissures between Democratic budget hawks and the White House will erupt into full-blown breaks within the party. But he noted that budget-conscious factions among congressional Democrats, in some small part, "wanted that fight" 

That said, the administration could have better luck getting their way with Republicans, according to Zarate. 

Republicans do not have the same kind of leverage in the sequestration debate that they held over the administration during last year's debt-ceiling fight, he said. 

"They [may] have that down the line, but they do not have that today," Zarate added.