Jun 26 2006
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today announced the Senate has approved an amendment that will revamp the retirement system and further improve access to the military healthcare system, TRICARE, for Reservists and Guardsmen. The amendment was offered by Graham, along with Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) and Hillary Clinton (D-New York), to the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill. The bill passed 96-0. “Guardsmen and Reservists are citizen-soldiers,” said Graham. “Increasingly they are being called up, taken away from their work and families, and being sent to far-away lands for long tours of duty. We need to ensure the benefits they are receiving are equal to the sacrifice they are making to protect our country and interests around the world.” Graham has taken the lead role in championing expanded TRICARE access in the Senate. This latest amendment builds on the success Graham had last year when Congress overhauled the TRICARE system, greatly expanding access for members of the Selected Reserve. Under the expansion passed last year, all members of the Selected Reserve are eligible to enroll in the military health care program for a monthly premium based on their service and employment status. The amendment passed by the Senate last week improves this system by reducing the co-payment for those who have not been deployed, are eligible for other private insurance, but want continuous access to TRICARE. It reduces the cost share for the Reservist from 85% to 75% with the government paying the remainder. Employees of small businesses would become eligible for a 50/50 cost share under Tier 2. In addition, to provide further savings to Reservists, Senator Graham introduced a separate bill allowing members to pay their TRICARE premiums on a pre-tax basis like all other federal employees. “I will continue to work to improve benefits available to members of the Guard and Reserve,” said Graham. “The nation will continue to need their services in fighting the War on Terror.” Another significant provision included in the amendment would lower the retirement age for members of the United States National Guard and Reserve based on the number of days the member is called to active duty. The retirement age requirement would be reduced by 3 months for every 90 days of continuous active service a Reservist performs in support of a contingency operation or in a war zone. The minimum age to collect retirement pay is set at 50. This provision is retroactive to September 2001. “Reservists and Guardsmen have been deployed at historic rates,” said Graham. “Rewarding them by allowing them to retire earlier than the current system allows is a tremendous incentive for retention. The incentive for early retirement combined with more affordable health care will dramatically improve the quality of life for our Reserve community and their families. I am proud these two provisions have received unanimous, bipartisan support.” Graham noted that the Senate also approved an amendment he authored to give military commanders a more fair and efficient means of discipline on the battlefield. The provision clarifies the Uniform Code of Military Justice to place civilian contractors accompanying the Armed Forces in the field under court-martial jurisdiction during contingency operations as well as in times of declared war. The Defense Authorization Bill approves more than $517 billion in budget authority for national security and defense programs at the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy. The bill includes more than $50 billion in funding for ongoing operations in the War on Terror. The bill will now go to conference with the House of Representatives. #### TRICARE System Under Current Law Tier 1: Members of the Selected Reserve who are called to active duty qualify for TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS). Under this program a Reservist who agrees to stay in the Service accumulates one year of TRS coverage for every 90 days of active duty service. Monthly premiums during the years of accumulated eligibility are only 28 percent of the program cost. The government picks up the remaining 72 percent. As has always been the case, coverage is free of charge while on active duty. The system permits accumulation of earned periods of coverage for frequently deployed personnel. In addition, Reservist’s family members receive 6 months of transitional coverage following the death of the Reserve member, if the member dies while in an inactive status. Tier 2: Members of the Selected Reserve who are not called to active duty, and who otherwise do not qualify for health insurance due to unemployment or lack of employer-provided coverage, are eligible to enroll in TRICARE for a 50 percent cost-sharing premium. The government will pay the remaining 50 percent. Tier 3: Members of the Selected Reserve who do not fit into either of the above categories (have not been deployed and have access to other private health insurance) but would like to participate continuously in TRICARE are eligible to do so for an 85 percent cost share. Employers are allowed and encouraged to contribute to the reservist’s share. The government contributes 15 percent of the cost.
Jun 22 2006
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today voted against two Democratic attempts to establish a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. The provisions, introduced as amendments to the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill, both failed. After the votes, Graham made the following statement: “If the United States Senate sets a timetable for withdrawal, it will be viewed as a rebuke of the Iraqi government and a vote of no-confidence in the Iraqi people. The Iraqis are coming together and creating a new democracy out of the ashes of a dictatorship. For us to say we are going to leave at a date certain will weaken the Iraqi government and empower the terrorists. “There will be a timetable for us to leave, but it will be collaboration between our two nations and our coalition partners. It will be a timetable to help empower the Iraqi government and people while diminishing the terrorists. I hope the American people and Congress will be patient. “I’m proud of the job the American military has done in Iraq. We should all be very grateful for their service to our nation. I’m also proud of the Iraqi people and their government. With the death of Zarqawi and the creation of an Iraqi National Government, we’re beginning to make progress against the terrorists. “When we have asked something of the Iraqis they have delivered and done so under some of the most difficult of circumstances. It’s tough to run for office in America, but its nothing compared to what elected officials in Iraq have to go through. Their leaders are targeted by the insurgents and terrorists who come after them and their families. “My hat goes off to the Iraqis who have joined the police force, military, and served in elected office. I admire them and I am very proud the United States is standing by their side. I have every confidence the Iraqis will want us to leave at some point. But they understand, like we do, their capacity to defend the nation from the wolves of terrorism is limited right now. “I want to leave behind a democratic government where Iraqis can live together under the rule of law and settle their differences at the ballot box and courtroom. Our Iraqi friends have come a long way. They’re not lazy or indifferent. They are making history, fighting and dying along side us for their own freedom. Let’s not set a timetable that diminishes the sacrifices our nations have made. “History will judge us not when we left Iraq, but what we left behind.” ####
Jun 15 2006
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has signed on in support of the Stop Over-Spending Act of 2006. The legislation, introduced by Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH), seeks to make structural changes to how Washington spends taxpayer dollars. “This legislation will place long overdue spending restraints on the Congress,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Budget Committee. “We need to be more efficient in how we spend taxpayer dollars. This bill empowers people in Congress who want to control spending and reduce the size of government. It is the worst nightmare of those who want to continue to waste taxpayer dollars.” Among the major provisions of the legislation:
- Creation of a line-item veto tool that allows a President to target wasteful spending, ask that it be rescinded, and send it up to Congress for expedited consideration.
- Creation of a new and improved Gramm-Rudman-Hollings mechanism to balance the budget by 2012. It includes procedures to automatically slow the rate of growth for mandatory programs if Congress fails to meet deficit reduction targets.
- Reinstatement of statutory caps on discretionary spending – and new tools to prevent the use of all-too-convenient ‘emergency’ spending -- enforceable by an across the board sequester if Congress fails to adhere to the caps.
- Creation of a budgetary point of order against new mandatory if the Medicare program is projected to become insolvent in 7 years or less. Due to skyrocketing health care costs and an aging population, Medicare is projected to be the first of the large entitlement programs to become insolvent.
- Creation of two new bi-partisan commissions: one to study the accountability and efficiency of government programs (in a manner similar to the BRAC Commission), and the other to examine and provide solutions to the impending entitlement crisis.
Jun 14 2006
Many South Carolinians have contacted the office about immigration reform. Here is some expanded information on the subject and thoughts on the Senate legislation from Senator Graham.
Wes Hickman (202) 224-5972 or Kevin Bishop (864) 250-1417I agree with President Bush, our current immigration laws are complex and unworkable. The physical security along our border is porous and in some areas, nearly non-existent. Combine these factors with spotty or lax enforcement of employment laws, and we have created the immigration situation we find ourselves in today. South Carolinians are rightly frustrated with our immigration system. They know the system is broken and we all pay the price. This is a concern I share. It is also why Congress and President Bush should continue to work together to bring some order to the chaos that exists right now. Here is a brief rundown of my views on immigration reform and how the Senate began to address these issues. I hope in the coming months the House of Representatives, Senate and President can come to some agreement on immigration reform. Each day we delay in securing our border, creating a workable employer verification system and creating a process to deal with the undocumented workers already in the United States only makes our immigration problems worse. Border Security The first issue to address in immigration reform must be border security. Over the last decade, the number of illegal border crossings has dramatically increased. Without better border security, any immigration reform is sure to fail. One reason I supported the Senate immigration reform bill is because it addresses the long-overdue and much-needed effort to regain control of our perimeters. Among the major provisions, it authorizes the hiring of an additional 14,000 Border Patrol agents over the next five years. It also calls for the construction of at least 370 miles of triple-layer fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers to be placed in high-traffic border crossing areas where people can literally walk into the United States. In more remote locations, it calls for the creation of a ‘virtual’ fence. This fence would use some of our most advanced technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remote surveillance camera systems, motion detectors, and other technological devices to enhance the effectiveness of our Border Patrol. It also ends the ‘Catch and Release’ program where illegal immigrants detained by the Border Patrol are released and ordered to report to court at a future date. Needless to say, very few complied with the order, returned to court, and faced deportation. Now, because the Senate bill authorizes the construction of 20 new detention facilities capable of housing 20,000 detainees, we will be able to detain, house, and eventually deport them back to their home country when they are apprehended. While I support strengthening our border, I also realize that better border security alone will not adequately address our nation’s immigration problems. Almost half of the illegal immigrants in the United States today have overstayed their legally issued visas, and never crossed the border illegally. These illegal immigrants came to the United States as tourists, students or workers and never left the country. We must also remember that many rely on being able to legally cross our borders to continue in their businesses and day to day lives. Not all southern border crossings are illegal or pose a threat to the security of the United States. In fact, there are 350 million legal crossings between the United States and Mexico each year in the exchange of good and services. Each day nearly 1 million people legally cross at one of the entry points on the United States-Mexico border. Employee Verification and Employer Enforcement While the first issue to address in immigration reform must be border security, this alone provides a false sense of security and must be coupled with a workable employee verification system. Immigration is about jobs. We need to control who gets jobs, and how they get them. Creating an effective worker verification system that lets employers know whether a job applicant can legally work in the United States is a key element for successful immigration reform. The rampant fraud associated with the use of Social Security numbers and drivers licenses has put employers in a no-win situation for determining whether a person can legally work in the United States. If an employer questions the applicant’s documents too closely, they can face charges of discrimination. If they are too lax, they can be cited for not checking closely enough and hiring an illegal worker. In one case, an American company was under investigation by the United States Department of Justice for committing both offenses at the same time. This is why the Senate’s plan to institute a tamper-proof biometric worker verification card is so important. Under the plan, guest workers would be issued the card which contains biometric identifiers, such as digital fingerprints. This would enable employers to differentiate between legal and illegal workers before hiring them. After reforming the system and giving employers ample opportunity to comply with the new system, we must exercise the will to punish those who intentionally break the law. The Senate bill authorizes the hiring of 5,000 new interior enforcement investigators over the next 5 years to uphold our employment laws. We have been too lax in the enforcement of our well-intentioned but inadequate and confusing employment laws. As a result, the illegal workforce has become firmly entrenched in some of our state’s largest and most important industries such as agriculture, construction and tourism. Employers in many industries, including those crucial to South Carolina’s economy, need workers and want to hire them legally. We must provide the tools they need to not only comply with the law, but also to stay in business. Creating a workable employee verification system will also free up the enforcement officers to go after the unscrupulous businesses who knowingly violate our employment laws. They should be forced to comply with the stricter standards and penalties contained in the Senate bill, or face the consequences and end up behind bars. Undocumented Workers We must come up with an honest and rational solution on how to treat the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in our country. Like President Bush, I don’t think we are capable of, nor have the national will to, deport 11 million people. Further, an immediate roundup and deportation of this workforce would have negative consequences for our economy, potentially sending it into a tailspin. This ‘solution’ is not practical and therefore is simply not an option. The Senate compromise brings illegal immigrants already in the United States more than two years out of the shadows and requires them to meet rigorous standards in order to remain in our country. In essence, they are placed on 11 years of probation. The terms are strict but fair. They include: • Undocumented workers must come out of the shadows and register with the government;
• Pay $3,200 in fines and penalties;
• Be proficient in the English language;
• Stay employed;
• Undergo 2 comprehensive background checks to ensure they do not have a criminal record or pose a danger to society;
• Pay all back taxes;
• Register with the military Selective Service;
• Attend American civics and government classes
Failure to meet any of these requirements would result in deportation. Not every undocumented worker who applies for the program will meet the requirements. Those who don’t measure up to the standards we put in place will face deportation. Those who do meet the terms above – over a 6 year period – would be allowed to go to the back of the line to apply for citizenship. On average, waiting to become an American citizen after the application is filed takes 5 years. This means that from the time an undocumented worker enters this program until they become a citizen, there would be at least an 11 year wait. If we have not cleared the current immigration backlog in that period, the immigrant won’t be able to apply for citizenship until we do. The program is not amnesty. Amnesty is what President Carter gave to Vietnam draft dodgers who fled to Canada. This approach represents a rational middle ground between those who want to grant an automatic path to citizenship for all undocumented workers and those who want every one to leave. In addition, it is important to note that the Senate passed immigration bill does not make illegal aliens eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Our immigration system has been in disarray for so long there are generations of families with legal and illegal members. Some families have parents here illegally and children that are American citizens. Some husbands are illegal while the wives are legal. More importantly, there are many members of our military, particularly young Hispanic Marines, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who are legal citizens by virtue of being born in America. They have chosen to fight and die for our country. Creating felons out of their parents, illegally in the country, is not the way to thank them for their service, and will not make America a better place. Conclusion Immigration is a complex issue. One aspect that has been particularly contentious among all Americans is constructing a fence to run the full length of the United States-Mexico border. Many South Carolinians support additional fencing and I agree with them. However, this idea is not universally accepted – even among border state legislators who would be most affected. The state of Texas shares a 1,200 mile border with Mexico and is the site of many legal and illegal border crossings. However, the Republican Senators from Texas split over the issue of creating a border fence. One Senator is open to the idea while the other views it as impractical. This split illustrates how difficult it can be to reach consensus on these issues even among legislators who normally agree. As Americans, we need to keep in mind the debate surrounding immigration is not a new one. As a nation of immigrants, we have had disagreements about how many immigrants we should absorb, their original nationality, and the impact they were having on the United States. Immigration is part of our history and among the founding principles of this nation. I strongly believe that working together we can address our immigration problems and allow our country to move toward a more prosperous future.