Feb 09 2005
Bipartisan Group of Senators and Congressmen Join Graham to Introduce National Guard and Reserve Benefits Legislation
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today was joined with by a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressmen to introduce The Guard and Reserve Readiness and Retention Act of 2005. The legislation improves healthcare benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserves by allowing them to enroll in TRICARE for a monthly premium regardless of their activation status. TRICARE is the military healthcare system. In addition, the legislation provides for a decrease in retirement age based on years of service. Under current law, the retirement age is 60. Under the proposal, if an individual serves for 22 years, they are eligible for retirement at 59. An individual entering military service at 18 and serving for 34 years could begin receiving his or her retirement benefits at 53. “This reform package provides better health coverage and a fair retirement system that promotes retention,” said Graham, who serves as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. “It will ensure that Guard and Reserve personnel and their families are justly compensated for their service. The increased demands placed on the men and women who serve this country in a part-time capacity require a modernization of their benefits. We must be sure to take care of every person who puts their life on the line to fight for liberty and freedom throughout the world.” “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.” “Now is the time to act,” said Graham. “There is momentum in Congress for improving Guard and Reserve benefits, and we need to continue to build on the progress we made last year. The ultimate goal is to provide these men and women with the option to enroll in TRICARE full time.” In October 2004, Graham worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to push into law additional health care benefits for members of the Guard and Reserve. Under that provision, Guardsmen and Reservists who serve on active duty under federal orders for 90 consecutive days will be eligible for one year of TRICARE coverage. For every additional 90 days of service they will be eligible for an additional year of health care coverage. The Department of Defense will pay 72 percent of the cost and the reservist will be responsible for paying the remaining 28 percent. Also included was a provision allowing Guardsmen and Reservists to become eligible for TRICARE upon receiving their activation orders and the ability to remain on the healthcare system for 180 days after they are deactivated. The provision applies to all members of the Guard and Reserve regardless of the length of time activated. “We’re going to continue pushing for better health care benefits for our citizen-soldiers,” said Graham. “The National Guard and Reserves have been called upon more often to help protect this country and defend American interests,” said Graham. “They are playing a vital role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and are an integral part of the war on terrorism. They need to be rewarded and justly compensated for their service to our nation.” ##### Guard and Reserve Readiness and Retention Act of 2005 This bipartisan legislation would promote recruitment, readiness, and retention by offering TRICARE eligibility to members of the Guard and Reserve for a modest monthly premium and by reducing the age at which a Reservist can receive retirement benefits based on his or her years of service. BILL PROVISIONS: RETIREMENT: Currently, Reservists and Guardsmen receive retirement benefits at age 60. With this legislation, however, for every two years of service over twenty, a Guardsman or Reservist would receive benefits one year earlier. For example, after 22 years of service, a member of the Reserve Component would receive benefits at age 59; after 24 years, age 58, and so on. This would promote retention at our most experienced levels of service. HEALTHCARE: Building on last year’s progress in the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, this legislation would offer full-time TRICARE eligibility to members of the Reserve Component for a monthly premium. OUR SECURITY RELIES INCREASINGLY ON A STRONG RESERVE FORCE: The Reserves have played an integral role in every military operation since Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Their overall activity level, measured by annual duty days, has risen from about 1 million in the late 1980s to more than 12 million in every year since 1996. For example, the Reserves have taken charge of the entire peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. In Iraq, Guard and Reserve troops have rotated with active-duty forces, increasing their share of the total U.S. force to about 40 percent. DISPARITY BETWEEN RESERVISTS AND OTHER “PART-TIME” FEDERAL EMPLOYEES New part-time federal employees hired into permanent positions may join the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) at the start of their employment by paying a higher premium. In addition, a part-time federal employee must work a minimum of 16 hours per week to be eligible for healthcare while Reservists, who receive only conditional healthcare until activated, are required to work one weekend per month, two weeks per year, AND be prepared to deploy. We are asking that this disparity be corrected by offering Reservists the same options as other “part-time” federal employees. THE RESERVES FACE A RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION CRISIS: “This is the first extended?duration war our nation has fought with an all?volunteer force,” said [Lt. General James R.] Helmly. “We must be sensitive to that. And we must apply proactive, preventive measures to prevent a recruiting?retention crisis.” [Wash. Post, 01/21/04] “The Army National Guard is 15,000 soldiers below its normal strength and is hoping to make up the difference by September. Last month, the Guard met 56% of its monthly recruiting goal.” [Los Angeles Times, 02/03/05] “Given this implementation (DOD’s current mobilization scheme), DOD could eventually run out of forces.” [General Accounting Office, GAO-05-285T, released 2005] National Guard and Reserve Issues in the News Houston Chronicle January 2, 2005 “With reservists accounting for 40 percent of the U.S. force in Iraq - a percentage expected to slightly increase this year - the National Guard is struggling. It fell about 7,000 soldiers short in 2003 of the 56,000 soldiers needed to maintain a 350,000-soldier force. Last year, the Guard was 10,000 soldiers short and facing an even bigger recruiting goal, 63,000 this year.” Los Angeles Times January 6, 2005 “Given the demands that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed on men and women who had planned on being part-time soldiers, the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements" and is "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," [Lt. Gen. James R.] Helmly wrote. I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern," Helmly said.” Washington Post February 3, 2005 “Massing enough troops for another rotation in Iraq will be ‘painful’ and may eventually require the Pentagon to adopt policies that would extend the two-year limit on the mobilization of reserves, a senior Army leader told Congress yesterday. Right now we have 650,000 soldiers on active duty executing missions worldwide, and many of them have met their 24-month cumulative time, so we'll have to address this," Gen. Richard A. Cody testified before the House Armed Services Committee. Yesterday's testimony underscored a debate brewing in the Pentagon over how to meet the long-term demands of the war on terrorism. The Pentagon now limits reserves to a total of 24 months of active duty, but the Army is considering seeking an extension to allow for longer and more frequent deployments of reservists.” Army Times January 17, 2005 “The Army Reserve has about 200,000 soldiers, and since Sept. 11, 2001, has deployed 65,000 in the global war on terrorism, mainly in Iraq, where it accounts for about 40 percent of all U.S. forces. Meanwhile, a published report said Army leaders want the authority to order some Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers to serve longer and more frequent deployments. The proposed policy would be contingent on making permanent what is supposed to be a temporary increase of 30,000 troops to the active component.”
Feb 03 2005
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today joined with Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) to introduce legislation placing a 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese goods entering the United States. The tariff legislation is in response to China’s decision to continue pegging their currency at a rate of 8.28 yuan to $1 American dollar. “It’s pretty simple – China cheats,” said Graham. “They artificially peg their currency below its true value making their goods cheaper. “Words alone will not change China's behavior,” said Graham. “We've talked this issue to death. It is now time to act.” Economists have estimated the yuan may be undervalued by 15 to 40 percent. China intentionally lowers their currency's value making their goods and services cheap internationally. When Chinese manufacturers export a product, it receives a 15 percent to 40 percent discount which provides them with a nearly insurmountable advantage over U.S. producers. “It’s not about being outworked, or being smarter than the American worker, it’s really about American companies fighting the Chinese government,” said Graham. “I think most American consumers want to make sure that American businesses are protected.” “This is a common ground between Republicans and Democrats, supported by the American manufacturing community,” said Graham. “It’s my belief that if the bill goes to the floor of the U.S. Senate, it will pass.” “The Schumer-Graham legislation gives China ample time to make the necessary, structural changes to the valuation of their currency,” said Graham. “If China wants to be part of the international community, it’s time for them to clean up their act. Until they are reigned in and start playing by the rules, our manufacturing industry will continue to bleed jobs because of unfair Chinese trade practices.” “We need to have a policy of engagement with China that is serious across the board,” said Graham. “Intellectual property theft, manipulating currency, transshipping goods -- there is a variety of activities they engage in that are costing us jobs in the United States. We need to address all of these issues. The tariff bill is a good way to get the Chinese’s attention and show them we are very serious about their cheating.” ##### Summary of the Legislation The legislation helps American workers by addressing the growing problem of China's deliberate undervaluing of its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage. It encourages negotiation with China to level the playing field so that China's goods compete at their true market value. The legislation reduces the export advantage provided by China's unfairly and illegally undervalued currency. After a six-month negotiation period between the US and China, if such negotiations are not successful, the amendment would institute a 27.5 percent tariff on all China's exports to the United States that is symmetrical to China's currency advantage. Most economists estimate China's currency is undervalued between 15 percent and 40 percent; 27.5 percent is at the midpoint of that range. This tariff would apply across the board to products from China and would lay on top of any current tariffs that may apply. If the President determines after 6 months that China is making significant progress towards revaluing its currency, he may delay imposition of the tariff for another 6 months. At the end of the second 6 months, if the President determines that China has developed and started actual implementation of a plan to revalue its currency, he may delay imposition of the tariff for another 12 months. Provides the President with the authority to remove the tariff. The President could remove the tariff once he certifies to Congress that China has agreed to substantially revalue its currency upwards to "at or near its fair market value." The legislation does not specify that China adopt a free floating currency, which many argue could further destabilize the Chinese banking system. Establishes a reasonable time period for negotiations. The legislation authorizes sanctions to begin 180 days after enactment, which allows the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the US Trade Representative, and others a full six months to work with the Chinese Government to institute currency reforms. Works within the framework of international trade laws. Article XXI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade allows a member of the World Trade Organization to take "any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests," particularly "in time of war or other emergency in international relations". Our nation's manufacturing capability is a vital national interest and we believe it is threatened by China's unfair currency practices.
Feb 02 2005
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today announced more than $430,000 in grants to fire departments in Clover, Lake City, and Norway. “Firefighters risk their lives to protect others, and they deserve the best equipment and training available,” said Graham. “Firefighters are some of the heroes in our midst.” The grants were awarded in one of two program areas:
- Operations and Firefighter Safety Program: The funds may be used for training, wellness, and fitness programs; the purchase of firefighting equipment and personal protective equipment; and modifications to fire stations and facilities.
- Firefighting Vehicle Acquisition Program: The funds may be used for the purchase of firefighting vehicles including pumpers, brush trucks, tankers, rescue vehicles, ambulances, quints, aerials, foam units, and fireboats.
Feb 02 2005
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made the following statement: “The bold vision President Bush laid out in his second Inaugural Address continued tonight in the State of the Union. His message serves as a challenge to the Congress and nation to maintain resolve in the face of serious domestic and international problems. “The President has clearly shown the Congress and American people that it is now time for problem solving, not political posturing. I hope the Congress will rise to the occasion and work with him making our nation more secure both at home and abroad. On Foreign Policy: “The recent successful elections in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown us that freedom is the best antidote to terror. “The President’s request for patience and determination, in terms of our commitment to the war on terror, is well-founded. I hope Congress will heed his counsel. On Social Security: “The President’s focus on Social Security as a national problem demonstrates his willingness to lead where others have chosen to demagogue. We can save and protect the most successful domestic program in history if we act soon. If we delay, the impact of the demographic tidal wave looming on the horizon will swamp our children and grandchildren with a massive amount of debt. “President Bush is correct in pointing out there are no easy solutions. It’s going to require the President, Congress and American people to make some painful choices and some level of sacrifice. It is clear that he is willing to work in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to save the system from impending bankruptcy. “In 1983, President Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill worked together across party lines to protect Social Security — setting an example for future generations and one we should follow now. “Social Security must be preserved and strengthened. But we need to be candid about the costs and willing to make the tough choices that real reform will require. If we can agree on this, we can save a vital program for generations to come.” #####
Feb 01 2005
Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)WASHINGTON – On the heels of the Graniteville accident, one of the worst rail disasters in recent history, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today introduced bipartisan legislation dealing with the transportation of hazardous materials by rail and securing safe passage over rail crossings. Graham introduced the legislation with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). “South Carolina has learned all-too-well the dangers of railway accidents, particularly those involving toxic chemicals and freight,” said Graham. “This is an issue that needs to be addressed in a bipartisan manner and I’m pleased to work with my colleague on this endeavor. I look forwarded to working with all parties as we improve rail safety in our nation.” According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) website, 87 South Carolinians have lost their lives in the period January 1999 until October 2004 in rail accidents. Nationally, 4,689 people have lost their lives in rail accidents over the same period. Major provisions of the legislation include:
- Raising the minimum fine for violations when transporting hazardous material from $550 to $5000 and raising the maximum fine for gross negligence from $27,500 to $2.5 million.
- Requiring the FRA to conduct a one-year national review of rail infrastructure still using manual switches to determine areas where automatic switches should be installed.
- Every fifteen years, each rail car must be taken out of use, inspected, and repaired to meet federal code and ensure its safety before being put back in use. All cars currently in use fifteen years or older must be inspected and brought up to code.
- Requiring FRA to submit a report to Congress in the next year making recommendations as to the safe distance between cars transporting hazardous materials.
- Requiring FRA to conduct a comprehensive safety review of all 250,000 rail crossings in the United States. FRA will also create a list of 10,000 crossings most in need of safety improvement and Congress will authorize funding to the states for upgrades.
- Empowering state hazardous materials (HAZMAT) inspectors to take cars out of circulation when they deem it necessary.
- Require railroad companies to submit a crossing malfunction report within 5 days to the FRA. Each additional day will result in a $5,000 fine.