March 18th dawned a bright and sunny Saturday in Columbia. Although the event isn’t scheduled to start for another hour, hundreds of South Carolinians queue up an hour early for admission to the second of Senator Lindsey’s Graham’s community Town Hall meetings that was held at the Greater Columbia Convention Center.
Community groups from Appleseed Legal Justice Center, to Resist, to AARP meet with members of the media as they wait patiently in line, answering questions about what information they expect to gain from this event. One group hands out red and green cards to track agreement (green) and dissent (red) with what the Senator says during the day, while another chants “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go. “ while marching up and down the sidewalk .
When the doors finally open, the crowd streams into the upstairs ballroom of the Convention Center, filling out question forms to be submitted to the Senator during the Town Hall on their way into the venue. The crowd is large, but still there are seats available in the rear of the meeting space. Senator Graham enters the stage and invites the crowd to join in with the Pledge of Allegiance.
As the Town Hall moved into the question and answer session, several themes emerged. First, the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its effects on Medicaid and Medicare sparked spirited debate. People who support the repeal, talked about the significant increases in coverage deductibles and the long-term financial damage caused by these increases. Those opposed to repeal of the plan, talked about accessibility to healthcare and the fear that those benefits would be lost if Congress repeals the plan. Vocal participants said that regular citizens should have the same coverage as members of Congress. When Senator Graham mentioned that he did not opt into the Congressional Plan, but rather is covered by Tri-Care since he was a retired military officer, many still felt that there were inequities in coverage.
Another topic of interest was the health of the Social Security Trust Fund. Senator Graham pointed out that unlike 30 years ago when there were six active employees to support one individual on Social Security, there are now only two active employees to fund each Social Security beneficiary. One Senior pointed out that they paid into the program and that they had a right to receive those benefits. Senator Graham pointed out that there may need to be another adjustment in the eligibility age to draw benefits because a) people are living much longer than when the program was started, and b) to ensure the viability of Social Security for years to come.
President Trump’s proposed increase to the military budget drew strong reactions from both sides. Veterans in the crowd pushed to make significant changes to the Veterans Administration to better serve those who put their lives on the line for their country. The Senator agreed that the VA needs significant work, especially as more troops rotate back from combat zones. He also understand the need for the military to have up-to-date technology and equipment, as well as paying the military a living wage for their service to our country.
Senator Graham also expressed the importance of ‘soft power” provided through foreign aid programs like USAID. Using the quote from Secretary of Defense Mattis where cutting foreign aid will cause the Defense Department to have to “buy more bullets,) Graham explained that foreign aid only accounts for 1% of the Federal Budget, but provides stability to third world infrastructure, preventing additional military deployments.
Senator Graham is continuing these Town Halls in other parts of the state and I encourage our readers to attend not only his meetings, but those held by other members of the South Carolina Congressional Delegation, as well. A couple of suggestions if you do: Please DO your homework on the issue you want to address and bring good, solid questions about issues that help our elected officials better understand your concerns. Do NOT go into these events with the goal of just shouting down the speaker whenever you disagree. This wastes valuable time that you and other attendees can have in active discussion with those elected to represent you. Finally, be mindful that others may not always agree with your view on a given topic. Respect their opinions and know that it’s sometimes OK to “agree to disagree.”
Be a part of the change that is possible if we all work together!