When U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke at Winthrop University on Thursday night, his message struck familiar chords of congressmen and presidential candidates who have visited Rock Hill recently.
Debt and unemployment are the nation's greatest obstacles right now, and Washington is doing a poor job, said Graham.
So poor, that Graham greeted the audience with "I'm from the federal government, here to help you!"
And the more than 100 people at Dina's Place theater at the DiGiorgio Campus Center erupted in laughter.
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Graham went through a litany of problems facing the country. He offered solutions, too.
Internationally, Graham said 29,000 children have died the last 90 days in the horn of Africa because of what the United Nations has declared as famine in Somalia. That's one reason why the nation should continue spending what little it allots to foreign aid - less than half a percent - despite our debt troubles, he said.
Graham sees foreign aid as key to the continent's security. Without help, Africa may become like Afghanistan, he said.
"The ultimate deterrent is to give these people the capacity to fight these guys in their backyards," said Graham, referring to African warlords and dictators.
Phillip Reynolds, a Winthrop graduate and Rock Hill native, is a regular when politicians come to town. He said Graham is the first GOP speaker he's heard recognize the importance of foreign aid.
That's important to Reynolds, who is a member of ONE, a grass-roots advocacy group fighting extreme poverty and disease in Africa and elsewhere through public awareness and political action. Reynolds, wearing a black T-shirt bearing the minimal ONE logo, can be found at most political events in Rock Hill spreading his message and politely approaching the speaker afterward.
What Somalians are enduring right now makes America's challenges seem less pressing, Reynolds said Thursday.
Someone without insurance or employment in the U.S. still has options, places they can go for help, he said. "One-hundred million people in Somalia sitting on the dirt right now don't have that luxury.
"America has a great legacy in helping the rest of the world," Reynolds said. "We don't want to diminish that."
College Republicans leader weighs in
Many of Graham's statements made sense to Timothy Kroboth, president of the Winthrop University College Republicans, the campus club responsible for inviting the Seneca congressman.
"We're going to have to make self-sacrifices nobody wants to make," said Kroboth, a Charlotte native and senior political science and economics major.
But Kroboth also had some questions and concerns of his own.
"Saying we're not going to raise taxes is a good starting point," he said, but continuing that direction is "not viable. You can't just keep on cutting when you're in a growing country and you have growing needs."
Kroboth wonders what exactly politicians mean when they say they want to "flatten" the tax rate, or get more people with "skin in the game," one solution Graham and other politicians have offered.
Politicians need to look at how much people who aren't paying income taxes actually make, Kroboth said.
It could be that flattening the tax will mean "we're now taxing them but they're hardly making anything at all."
Graham on issues
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., touched on several issues when he spoke in Rock Hill on Thursday. Here are a few:
U.S. credit – On Standard & Poor’s decision last week to downgrade the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA-plus:
“Where would you put your money?...Treasury bonds and notes are still the most secure investment. We pay our bills. The downgrade was a wake-up call. It is a moment of decision. What are we going to do about it?”
Entitlements – How to contain costs, raise money for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which make up 57 percent of the federal budget:
“Adjust the age for Social Security,” so younger workers might have to work until they are 68 or 69 to collect benefits. “Create a means test where those with an upper income would pay more, if not all, the cost of Medicare. The maximum contribution would be about $400 per month.” Allow people who are retiring to maintain their private health insurance as their primary insurance past 65. “We need to open up more choices.”
More money – How the federal government can boost revenues:
“I don’t want to raise the tax rates...but there are $1.2 trillion in deductions and tax exemptions we can look at. The federal government subsidized ethanol at 50 cents per gallon. The subsidy costs $4 billion. We could cancel the subsidy, take $3 billion and draw down the tax rate and $1 billion to pay down debt.”
A break for business – On EPA mandates, especially those controlling carbon emissions:
“We need a moratorium on upcoming EPA regulations until we get on our financial feet.”
Boeing labor – On the National Labor Relations Board and its review of Boeing’s decision to build a plant in South Carolina:
“If the NLRB is successful, what company would expand or locate in the U.S.? It will destroy the ability of the American business climate to thrive.”
Battling terrorism –
“The president took the road less traveled when we went into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. I applaud the president’s decision...But that is the least effective way to make our country safe. Most people don’t like the Taliban. We need to give them the capacity to match up with their will...That is the ultimate way to keep the country safe ...Even though we are broke, we need to build up the Afghanistan government, its military and Pakistan.”
Illegal immigrants –
“They need to have a chance to get right with the law. They need to learn the English language as part of citizenship...they need to become citizens, but they have to get in the back of the line.”
Balanced budget –
“I expect a balanced budget (constitutional) amendment will be passed by 2016.” The argument for a balanced budget is growing, he said, and would be embraced by the financial markets, and a balanced budget would reduce the impact of special interests, “forcing Congress to focus more on compromise.”
Budget debate –
“The GOP need to be more open-minded about closing tax loopholes and tax breaks and using that money to pay the debt. The Democrats have to be open to changes to the entitlement programs.”
— Don Worthington contributed