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Sens. McCain, Ayotte warn against defense cuts ahead of town halls

"It's a very serious situation. Congress should sit down, Republicans and Democrats, and work this out, but we also need the president's leadership to call us together and avoid these cuts, again, that Secretary [Leon] Panetta said would be 'devastating' to our national defense," said McCain on CNN's "Starting Point."

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McCain was joined by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), a fellow member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on CNN to promote their town hall meetings this week aimed at showcasing the impact of the defense cuts around the country. They will be joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the four-state tour, which begins Monday in Tampa, Fla.

Ayotte argued that the looming cuts to defense spending are "disproportionate" to total federal spending.

"We've already cut nearly a half a trillion dollars from the Department of the Defense, so we're not saying defense can't take some savings, but this is disproportionate. It's 19 percent of federal spending is taking 15 percent of cuts," Ayotte said.

When pressed on what spending should be trimmed instead of defense dollars, McCain said possible options for Congress would be closing tax loopholes, freezing spending, making other spending cuts and selling federal land.

Congress agreed to $500 billion in cuts to the Pentagon and $600 billion in non-defense discretionary spending as part of last summer's deal to raise the debt ceiling and impose deficit reduction.

McCain pointed to the supercommittee, which failed to reach an agreement in the sequestration process, as a possible framework for spending reductions.

"We have to have everything on the table," McCain added.

Ayotte added that both defense and non-defense savings, required by sequestration, could be found by "living within our means" for one month.

"It's about one month of borrowing, so we can find those savings across the government and do this in a more responsible way and still address deficit reduction," she said.

McCain emphasized the need for Obama to provide leadership in preventing the cuts.

"First and foremost responsibility and president's first and foremost responsibility is commander in chief, so making sure that our nation is secure from a defense, national-security standpoint is the first priority," McCain said.

McCain said the objective for the town halls is to motivate constituents to pressure members of Congress and the president to prevent cuts that the secretary of Defense "said would be devastating to America."