And doing so should involves raising the Social Security full retirement age from 67-69, for those who are currently less than 55, Graham said.
The federal deficit, the uprisings in the Middle East, and the port of Charleston were Graham’s main talking points as he addressed Easley Rotary Tuesday afternoon.
But first, the Central native and Daniel High School graduate mentioned a few local issues, such as the new high schools that are being built.
“Pickens County is a great place to do business and raise a family,” said Graham, who’s been in the Senate since 2003, following eight years as the congressman for South Carolina’s third congressional district. “It’s a hard place to build new high schools.”
Baptist Easley Hospital CEO Roddey Gettys joked that Graham may be “the next president of the United States.”
“Somebody else here that I don’t know about?” Graham answered with a laugh.
After complimenting the local leaders and Rotarians in Easley, Graham had harsher words for the federal government.
“We’re not on schedule, and we’re not on budget,” he said. “The Rotary Club says: ‘It is beneficial to all concerned? It is the truth? Is it fair?’ Well, we (the federal government) don’t abide by any of that. … I think the American people want us to be more like Rotarians.”
Graham, a Republican who’s often criticized by the right for working with Democrats, says he believes Congress can work together to lower spending. But they’ll need to tackle entitlement spending in order to do that. And that involves tackling programs such as Medicaid and Social Security.
Obama’s proposed 2011 budget alone forecasts a deficit of about $1.6 trillion — with expenditures estimated to be about $3.8 trillion and revenues estimated to be about $2.2 trillion. And yet the budget avoids substantial changes to either Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security, which Graham says consists of about 57-59 percent of the budget. Another 6 percent of spending is on the national debt.
“For the last two years, the government has grown 24 percent in non-defense spending,” Graham said.
Graham pointed to history to show that liberals and conservatives can collaborate to affect Social Security.
“President Obama is missing a great opportunity to do what President Reagan did with Tip O’Neill,” he said. In 1983, Regan and then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill worked together to address Social Security.
“What did they do? They increased the retirement age from 65 to 67,” Graham said, adding that doing so “bought about 35-40 years of solvency.”
But now the program is facing insolvency again, he says.
Graham’s proposal includes raising the Social Security full retirement age from 67 to 69 for those younger than 55.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee has criticized Graham in TV ads, arguing that the plan is especially unfair to those with physically intensive jobs.
But Graham’s argument is that the country can’t afford to pay out that many entitlements.
“In 2016, we pay more benefits than we collect in taxes for the first time in the history of the program,” Graham said. “In 2037, you’re going to have to reduce spending by 32 percent, because that’s the only money you’re having coming in.”
On the other hand, Graham said he’s reluctant to trim cuts to national defense.
“The first thing I look at is: are we safe and secure?” he said. “The question is: is the world dangerous? It’s incredibly dangerous.”
The same day Graham was speaking to the Easley Rotarians on Monday, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said he was refusing to step down from his leadership position, defying the protesters who were demanding that he be removed. National media outlets reported that at that point about 250 people were killed during the revolt.
“What’s happening in Libya is unconscionable,” Graham said. “He’s literally killing innocent people right and left because they want their country back and they want to have a say about their future.”
Graham said the U.S. now has the opportunity to replace some enemies, adding that the U.S. should sanction the Gaddafi regime.
“In the Mideast, if you’re a young person, your future is decided the day you’re born,” he said. “Only in America, can you grow up in Central from a family who didn’t graduate from high school and become a United States senator.”
Port of Charleston
Graham said he had serious concerns that President Obama hasn’t allocated money for a study to deepen the Port of Charleston.
“If we don’t deepen the Port of Charleston by 50 feet, the port will become non-competitive, because the ships that are passing through the Panama Canal in 2014 are super cargo tankers that need 50 feet to come into Charleston 24/7.”
Failing to deepen the harbor could be devastating to South Carolina’s economy, he said.
“It is the single biggest job creator for the state of South Carolina,” he said.
Officials say the state needs about $400,000 for the harbor, and the cost to deepen the port is about $350 million.