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Politics: Without his name, GOP suit is still Rice’s idea
By Jason Lesley
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice said President Obama is using the old “Four Corners” strategy that basketball coach Dean Smith and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels employed to stall and win games before the college shot clock era.
Obama has said he will act by presidential order on issues where he has been frustrated by Congress, Rice said while meeting with constituents during a “Coffee With Your Congressman” event at Applewood House of Pancakes in Litchfield Tuesday morning. He had a town hall event at the Georgetown County Library’s main branch Tuesday afternoon.
Rice, from the state’s new 7th Congressional District, said the president is selectively enforcing laws and ignoring others in violation of the U.S. Constitution, and his bill to sue him has finally gotten the support of the Republican leadership, even though it no longer has his name on it. “I think it is a great step in the right direction, if we can enforce it,” Rice said. “I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but we’ve got a good shot if we can get into court. That bill has a real possibility to reset the relationship between the legislative branch and the executive branch to what is set forth in the Constitution, that being that the legislature makes the laws and the president enforces them.”
Rice said the nation’s founders were concerned that concentrating power in one area would result in the loss of freedom. “They anticipated that equal branches of government would jealously guard their power,” Rice said. “I think this could have a tremendously beneficial effect that will reset our government to the constitutional framework forever.”
During his remarks Rice outlined four significant measures that have made progress in the last week: his suit against Obama, progress to resolve the large number of children brought over the U.S. border illegally, a compromise to end the long delays for veterans to get care at VA hospitals and a pledge from the Army Corps of Engineers to decide about dredging the Georgetown port within 60 days.
Jerry Rovner, president of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club, said Rice has gotten more accomplished than any other freshman in Congress. “He’s done a great job,” Rovner said, before asking about support for Israel. Rice said Congress would not waver in its commitment to “our No. 1 ally.”
President Obama proposed spending $3.7 billion to solve the crisis at the border, Rice said. The Senate voted it down and left town, and House Republicans crafted an alternative $600 million for expedited hearings, facilities to hold the children at the border, transport them back home and reunite them with their families and allow governors of border states to call out the National Guard. “It provided for border reinforcement and a mechanism to solve the problem,” Rice said. “Now whether the Senate is going to take that up or not, I don’t know.”
Rice blamed the “Dream Act” and Obama’s plan to allow children brought into the country illegally to remain for the present border crisis where thousands of children were smuggled across the border. “What’s happened at the border is a human tragedy,” Rice said. The Dream Act was never enacted into law by the Senate, and Obama enacted a policy to allow children brought into the country illegally to apply for two-year work permits. “All of a sudden,” Rice said, “we have children show up at the border. Who’s going to be surprised by that?”
Keith Palmer of Murrells Inlet told Rice he worried that suing the president would backfire and prevent Republicans from controlling the Senate. “You’re not really suing the president,” he said. “Yes, we are,” Rice answered.
Palmer said it would help Democrats. “It seems like that hurt us last time,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s going to hurt us in the election.” Rice said that’s one reason House Speaker John Boehner hesitated to advance his bill. “As the president got more and more aggressive and started saying things like, ‘I’ve got a pen and a phone if you don’t act on my agenda then I’m going to act on my own’ then finally the leadership took it up.”
Rice said Democrats are claiming that the suit is a precursor to impeachment, and the president is saying he’s just doing his job. Impeachment, Rice said, was never his goal, but he didn’t want to see a “kingship” established through presidential power.
“This bill is not what I was sent to Congress to do,” Rice said. “I never intended to do this. Thomas Jefferson said freedom doesn’t disappear all at once. It is gradually diminished imperceptably day by day. I believe if we allow that to erode we threaten our prosperity. I had to do it.”
Rice said his overriding focus has been American competitiveness. “I’ve worked hard,” he said, “on educating congressmen on what it takes to be competitive and feel like we’ve made some progress promoting a positive, proactive approach to American competitiveness. That’s what I was sent to Congress for, and that’s what I’m working on.”
Chris Steinmuller of Pawleys Island said he voted for Rice because he thought he would help break the gridlock in Washington. “I thought you would reach across the aisle to do business and compromise,” Steinmuller said. “That’s what I was looking for as opposed to polarized representation.” He said he was surprised and disappointed that Rice voted against a budget compromise to keep the government operating. “Many people who live in this district are retired and live on savings and pensions,” he said. “Had we defaulted, it would have had a catastrophic impact on their lives.” Steinmuller said he called Rice’s office and was told that if the vote had been close Rice would have voted for the compromise but because it was going to pass he could vote with his party. “That doesn’t really qualify for a chapter in ‘Profiles in Courage,’” Steinmuller said. Rice said the bill started as a means to defund Obamacare and became a “test of will.” He said he favored letting the Affordable Care Act go into effect so people could see the impact for themselves. “I knew it was a mistake to propose defunding Obamacare,” Rice said. “That’s what they wanted to do. The next proposal was to delay it for a year. The third proposal was to talk about it. That was the vote. I wasn’t going to vote for that. I believe if they had used a little bit of strategy we could have done something. I blame a lot of those hard core guys.”
Steinmuller said he liked the compromise legislation on the VA crisis. Rice said Sen. Bernie Sanders’ original bill called for spending $70 billion on new VA facilities. The final version called for $17 billion — one new facility will be in Myrtle Beach — and veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or experience longer wait times than recommended may go to a private doctor. “That’s a huge, sea change,” Rice said. “We are not going to rely on the federal bureaucracy to care for our veterans.” He said the average wait time at a VA hospital is 53 days, compared to the average wait for a private doctor of three days.
Larry Chiappetta of Pawleys Island told Rice that the GOP needs to fire its public relations team. “When people look at the ratings the president gets, the other side says Congress’ rating is worse,” he said. He said the public is unaware there are 400 bills that passed the House sitting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s desk. “Fifteen of those are for jobs,” Chiappetta said. “How many in the minority and Hispanic communities know that? Those bills lingering hurt those people. Whoever you have writing your talking points and getting your message out ought to be fired.”
Rice said the Republican message is getting out. “The lawsuit has created attention,” he said. “I’ve been interviewed several times in the national media and it’s given me a platform to bring attention to ideas. The president always has a bully pulpit. The media is generally liberal. That’s just a fact. We need to de a better job.”
Chiappetta also asked about immigration reform. Rice said the U.S. has a liberal policy allowing 1.2 million legal immigrants a year. “Two-thirds of those are based on family relations,” he said. “What we end up bringing in are people with low skills and low education who end up on public assistance. That drives up the debt and is anti-competitive.” He said he favors changing the admission ratio to two-thirds highly skilled immigrants, increasing border control and developing a system to provide workers for agriculture and tourism.