Jobs, healthcare reform, security top S.C. Congressional priorities

Greenvilleonline.com by Nathaniel Cary

Politicians and pundits agree, the issues that stand to affect South Carolina the most during the initial stages of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration revolve around the economy.

But they don't necessarily agree on what impact the new president's proposals would have on the state.

On the eve of the inauguration of a president who said he would make America great again by returning quality jobs to forgotten locales, the economy tops the list of priorities for some of the state’s members of Congress.

But the direction Trump takes when it comes to job creation, trade, infrastructure and immigration will affect whether South Carolina’s economy continues to hum or falters, experts say.

And the state’s reliance upon multinational companies like BMW and Michelin, the state's military contingent, its extensive import-export business through the Port of Charleston and its tourism and agricultural industries make the state's economy particularly susceptible to the economic climate Trump creates, said political science professors at the University of South Carolina and Furman University.

But the top of the agenda for Rep. Trey Gowdy is to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“Repealing and replacing Obamacare is our first priority,” Gowdy said Wednesday, citing health care premium prices that jumped 28 percent in South Carolina in the last year as all but one insurance company fled the state’s healthcare marketplace.

“As we transition into working hand in hand with the Trump administration, Congress is committed to proposing market-driven, patient-centered solutions to ensure every South Carolinian, and every American, has access to quality, affordable health insurance,” the Republican from Spartanburg said.

Rep. Jeff Duncan listed the repeal of Obamacare as one of the top ways to accomplish his priority for South Carolina, which is to deepen and broaden the state’s economic recovery.

Repealing President Obama’s signature law would remove a burden on job creators, Duncan said.

Duncan said his other top economic priorities include “the repeal and reform of job-killing regulations, eliminating barriers for entrepreneurship and innovation and freeing up capital markets; and meaningful, pro-growth tax reform, to spur investment and development.”

Both Duncan, a Laurens Republican, and Gowdy expressed optimism at working with Trump.

Gowdy said he would work “hand-in-hand” with the administration while Duncan said it would be “refreshing to have an honest negotiating partner in the White House who is interested in freeing the American people from the burdens of an over-involved government and securing their futures, rather than subjecting the American economy to the heavy boot of government while making America less safe.”

Both congressmen also cited security among their priorities. Gowdy called security the “preeminent function of government.”

“When it comes to our national security, we cannot afford to take risks,” Gowdy said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure national security remains our top priority.”

Duncan said South Carolinians are concerned about lone wolf attacks by ISIS jihadists and Congress must tighten the nation’s security.

“Combating that threat will require a toughening of our immigration policy, which includes enforcing our immigration laws and securing our borders, as well as our military posture overseas,” Duncan said.

Duncan said he looks forward to working with Trump to “undo the damage from the Obama open border years.”

One way to do that, he said, would be to deport non-citizens with terrorist ties, which he proposed to do when he introduced the Terrorist Deportation Act in September. That proposal, which he nicknamed “No Fly, Goodbye,” would deport any non-citizen on terrorist watch lists, revoke their visas and ban them from entering the country.

He filed the proposal after a man who had been on the FBI’s watch list killed 49 people in a nightclub shooting in Orlando.

How Trump pushes an immigration policy should be at the forefront of the Congressional delegation’s minds because it directly relates to South Carolina’s economy, said Bob Oldendick, a political science professor at USC.

“Trump has obviously said a lot of things about immigration policy, but if there is some large-scale deportation and restriction of people coming in, then that really does affect various important aspects of the South Carolina economy,” Oldendick said. “We have (undocumented) workers in tourism, in the agriculture industry, harvesting and to a lesser extent, manufacturing.”

If Trump’s tough talk about winning in trade leads to some sort of “trade war,” it would affect the state’s export business through the Port of Charleston and could affect specific industries Trump has already picked as early targets – airplane and automobile manufacturers, he said.

In an interview published in Germany’s Bild newspaper this week, Trump said he would impose a 35 percent tariff on vehicles BMW plans to produce at a new manufacturing plant in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, where the company plans to build its 3 Series sedans starting in 2019.

Brent Nelson, a political science professor at Furman, echoed that the delegation must pay attention to trade, “especially after Trump this weekend directly threatened BMW with tariffs if they ship cars from Mexico to the United States.”

In many ways BMW is a domestic producer, Nelson said, because of its network of suppliers across the state.

“BMW has put an awful lot of money into the United States and especially the Upstate,” Nelson said. “Now, if this meant that BMW could expand its plant in the state, we could benefit from that kind of effort at least in the short run, but if you start slapping tariffs on goods coming from countries that are inside NAFTA, then you are putting at jeopardy the entire NAFTA agreement.”

BMW and Boeing have supply chains in all three North American countries and they all benefit from zero tariffs on imported parts, so it would be to the detriment of South Carolina if NAFTA fell apart, Nelson said.

If the U.S. gets into a trade war, it would hurt South Carolina because “we are very open to the winds of international trade because of our manufacturing sector being so heavily influenced by foreign investment,” he said.

In December, Boeing came under Trump’s Twitter fire for what he called “out of control” costs to build a new Air Force One.

“Cancel the order,” he tweeted. Two weeks later, Boeing’s chief executive Dennis Muilenburg announced the company would produce the plane at a lower cost than the $4 billion price tag analysts said it would cost.

“What he did with Boeing, he kind of jawboned Boeing, that is an impact on that specific industry if it limits their ability to make profits,” Oldendick said. “If all of these things are going to be renegotiated, making sure that companies aren’t ‘ripping off’ the government, it’s going to make a difference. It could potentially have an impact on jobs in the state.”

But, Oldendick said, the state’s congressional delegation is attuned to what’s going to happen with trade policy to make sure it doesn’t have too much of a negative effect,” he said.

South Carolina could benefit from an infrastructure improvement plan under Trump, both for jobs created and for the impact on the state’s roads and dams, Nelson said.

“That would be a positive,” he said.

As Trump prepared to take office, his national approval rating stands at 41 percent, according to Real Clear Politics averaging of national polls. His unfavorable rating nationally is at 49.5 percent.

But in South Carolina, Nelson said his favorability is likely much higher and would probably remain high unless Trump’s trade policies negatively affect the state’s economy.

“I think that South Carolina is probably still Trump territory,” Nelson said.