GREENVILLE — The Upstate Chamber Coalition Presidential Lunch Series hosted newly announced candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham of Central as the candidate begins his push for the Republican Party bid.
Graham opened the luncheon by working the room and shaking hands, taking questions and thanking those in attendance before taking to the podium to answer questions submitted beforehand.
Graham pointed out it is his contention the United States is facing three challenges that must be dealt with to secure the future of the nation. Graham cited the national debt, too few jobs and international terrorism.
“When it comes to the $18 trillion in debt we as a country are facing, we didn’t get there by ourselves,” Graham said. “It was a bipartisan effort to create this debt and it’s going to take a bipartisan effort to fix the problem. As Commander in Chief, I would lock both sides in a room and not let anyone out until we had a solution, an agreement from both sides.”
Too few jobs, other than a drain on the national economy, will affect Social Security, and the ability to continue the program into the future, and on the other hand will take more than closed room sessions according to the candidate.
“Baby Boomers, approximately 80 million, will retire in the next 20 to 25 years which will mean there will be two workers for every retiree, and the money and means to sustain the program won’t be there,” Graham said. “Based on where we are today, by 2042 all the revenue in taxes will have to be dedicated to Medicaid and Social Security which means when that day comes it will take the entire economy with it.”
Graham stated he feels the plan for Social Security would involve a flattened tax code, with a reduction in deductions and credits, and a sound immigration policy to increase the size of the nation’s workforce. But the candidate stated the Democrats would have to come to the table as well.
“In order to get this money back, the Democrats will have to allow an increase in the retirement age,” Graham said. “It’s going to take a bipartisan effort to make the changes we need. We can’t allow Russia and the Communist Chinese to continue to have such an impact on our economy and debt, either.”
When it comes to international terrorism, Graham was clear he feels the United States has made mistakes in withdrawing troops from the Middle East.
“In order to combat terrorism on a global scale we are going to have to partner with nations in the Middle East and work in conjunction with their armies to accomplish our goal, and I am talking about countries such as Egypt and Turkey,” Graham said. “We are going to have to take the fight to ISIL in order to root them out. And understand, this is a religious war where ISIL is concerned and if we don’t defeat them there, they will be coming to attack us here at home. When it comes to protecting my family and yours from radical Islam I’ll do what it takes.”
Graham stated he felt the Obama administration had begun to pull soldiers out of the Middle East too soon, leaving the job undone and that a more concentrated effort with other Middle Eastern nations, with American soldiers providing capabilities others lack is the only solution moving forward.
“I have never seen more threats of terrorism at home since 9/11.” Graham said. “I don’t know how we can stop ISIL without soldiers on the ground. We should never have pulled any of our soldiers out.”
As concerns Hillary Clinton and what appears to be a de facto nomination by the Democrats, the Senator was very clear.
“It’s easy to go around and not speak to anything. You could get more out of Greta Garbo,” Graham said. “As a matter of fact it’s easier to speak with the leader of North Korea.”
Turning the discussion to a subject closer to South Carolina, Graham spoke to the push for offshore drilling and energy independence, a topic Congressman Jeff Duncan has been pushing.
“When it comes to energy independence I believe we should be finding fossil fuels and natural gas deposits at home. We send billions overseas every year to nations who attack us or deepen our debt through loans by the Communist Chinese,” Graham said. “I am all for offshore drilling and ‘fracking’, as well as a clean environment and believe we can have both.”
When asked why he chose to throw his hat in the ring for 2016 Graham didn’t hesitate.
“I am ready to be Commander in Chief from day one and take charge of foreign policy, which is my strong suit,” Graham said. “There are 16 in the race headed into New Hampshire and following the primary some will begin to drop off. If I can come away with 10 to 15 percent in New Hampshire, that’s a win with this field. Then of course there’s South Carolina, where I plan to win. In Iowa, well, I’m a retail campaigner and will attend any event where there’s an opportunity to show what type of candidate I am, including birthday parties (with a chuckle).”
On a final local note, the candidate had one parting remark: “I love to eat at Pete’s No. 6.”