At first Politics and Pies, South Carolina Sen. Graham stresses national security

Last modified: 3/10/2015 11:38:28 AM
In Concord yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he’s more worried than ever about an attack on the United States, and if he were to become president he wouldn’t let lawmakers leave Washington until cuts in defense spending are restored.

“I would literally use the military to keep (legislators) in if I had to,” he said.

The South Carolina Republican hasn’t committed to running for president, but said he’s very close to making that decision. He came to the old Concord Snowshoe Club yesterday for what the Concord City Republican Committee hopes will become a regular series of candidates attending Politics and Pies forums.

Graham, 59, is a veteran of the Air Force, in which he served as a prosecutor, military defense counsel and military judge, and remains a colonel in the reserves. The three-term U.S. senator – known as a foreign policy hawk – covered a range of topics, including Social Security, immigration and the tax code, but none with the intensity matching his defense of military spending.

He said under sequestration cuts, the Army within 10 years will be its smallest since 1940 and the Navy the smallest since 1915, with the FBI and CIA also at “historically low levels.”

He said this comes at a time when, because of foreign policy choices made by the president, there are more radical Islamic groups, with more weapons, more safe havens and more capability to strike the homeland since Sept. 11, 2001. Graham said President Obama should have acted earlier to slow the spread of radical groups in the Middle East and shouldn’t have drawn down the number of American forces there.

If you don’t believe Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive home by yourself because “you’re a danger to yourself and others,” Graham said.

Graham asserted that American ground troops would be required to destroy ISIS. He likened the group to the Nazis: Instead of working toward a “master race,” “these guys want a master religion,” he said.

“You could close (Guantanamo Bay) tomorrow, you could give the Palestinians everything they’ve ever hoped for, and they would still be trying to kill us, Israel and everybody that disagrees with them because God commands them to do so. They’re crazy.

“They’re not deterred by death – bring on the virgins. They like dying; they just want to take you with them,” he said.

In a southern twang, Graham managed to tackle sobering topics and yet keep a light-hearted atmosphere in which he frequently drew laughter from the roughly 30 attendees packed into a small room adorned with antique snowshoes and three fireplaces.

Graham also emphasized the impact of what he said would be 80 million baby boomers retiring within 20 years. To ensure people born before 1965 get their Social Security benefits, he said the country needs to make some sacrifices in entitlements and find new revenue by changing the tax code.

Graham said a system in which the wealthiest 1 percent pays 20 percent of the taxes, the top 10 percent pays 65 to 70 percent and the bottom half of taxpayers pays less than 10 percent “is going to fail.” He advocated a flat tax of a percentage in the high teens or low 20s with simple deductions for homeowners and charitable giving and a break for people on a fixed income.

He said American companies that have overseas franchises have $2 trillion held offshore and would be subject to a 35 percent repatriation fee if they bring that money back into the country. Graham said he’d like to reduce that fee to about 10 percent and invest that money in infrastructure.

One entitlement reform he singled out was eliminating prescription drug subsidies under Medicare Part D for people who make more than $200,000 a year, which he said could free up $50 billion.

Another side effect of the baby boomer generation retiring, he said, is that businesses like the meat-packing industry in South Carolina are already having trouble finding workers. He said immigration reform could help solve that problem, and described a plan in which illegal immigrants who hadn’t been convicted of three misdemeanors or any felonies would be given conditional amnesty. The conditions, he said, would be that they learn English, pay taxes, pay a fine and go to the back of the line in applying for a green card.

He said for the Republican Party, “Hispanics are there for the taking. They’re hard-working. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re pro-life. They’re patriotic.”

As attendees peppered Graham with questions, he said he enjoyed the town hall politics in New Hampshire and that they’d be seeing more of him. He said 2015 is an important year for Republicans and pointed to immigration reform and the Keystone XL pipeline as ways for the party to prove itself, rather than benefiting from Democratic Party failures.

“If it hadn’t been for Obamacare and some of that other stuff, the Republican Party probably would never have had a second chance,” he said, though he noted that he approves the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that allow people to stay on their parents’ health plans until they’re 26 and cover people with pre-existing conditions.

On Obama, Graham said the president’s view is out of sync with the American people and that he “is going to go down as one of the world’s worst presidents.”

“The world view of Barack Obama has made us less safe and his economic view of redistribution of income is going to damn the economy of this country to be stagnant for the rest of our lives if we don’t change that view,” he said. “That’s what this next election is about.”

Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey said he has extended Politics and Pies invitations to 15 likely presidential candidates.



(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)




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