Seeking a fourth consecutive term, Rep. Tom Rice said his top priority remains the same as it was when he first ran: bringing more jobs to the northeastern region of South Carolina.
Ahead of the Republican’s November showdown with Democratic candidate Robert Williams, Rice sat down with The Sun News to talk about topics including the status of Interstate 73, President Donald Trump’s trade policies and the future of social security.
Rice said he hasn’t done much campaigning, but he feels like he’s served District 7 well since winning the seat in 2012. He pointed to lower unemployment and higher consumer confidence.
The former Horry County Council chairman noted that he supports term limits, but he won’t self impose because he feels it would put his district at a disadvantage.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sun News
District 7 is represents Georgetown, Horry, Marion, Dillon, Florence, Darlington, Marlboro and Chesterfield counties.
It takes time for newer congressmen to earn influence, he explained, but he has cosponsored legislation multiple times to institute term limits.
Rice is a member of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, and he said the committee’s main focus is currently on improving trade agreements.
He said he applauds Trump for being forceful in bringing other countries to the negotiating table, and tariffs are a part of that.
“I don’t like tariffs and subsidies, and I don’t think (Trump) does either, … (but) it’s a means to an end,” Rice said, noting that he believes improving America’s position in trade agreements is vital to the country maintaining competitiveness in the global economy.
Locally, Rice said he’s still very committed to ensuring the completion of Interstate 73 through North Carolina.
“It’s the most important thing I can do to lift people in my district,” he said, pointing out that proximity to an interstate is a major draw for businesses.
A federal permit for construction on the new highway was secured last year, but progress has been halted by a lawsuit filed by the Coastal Conservation League.
Rice said he’s confident Coastal Conservation League will lose the suit and is hopeful construction will begin within the next three years.
Rice also weighed in on the failed construction of two nuclear reactors by state-owned Santee Cooper and SCE&G that were 10 years and $9 billion in the making.
SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G, is one of Rice’s largest campaign contributors, according to campaign finance reports.
Rice said he’s upset about what he called “obvious mismanagement,” especially as he looks at other states seeing energy costs decrease thanks to new tax policies.
On the status of social security, Rice noted that current projections call for the balance of the program to be exhausted within the next 20 years if nothing changes.
Rice, who serves on a social security subcommittee, said two bills are currently being floated to fix the issues: one that would balance the fund solely by cutting benefits and another that would balance it by raising taxes.
Rice said he’s working on his own bill right now and declined to go into detail, except to say that he believes the bill that will ultimately pass will be somewhere in the middle to the two plans currently being proposed.
“I suspect we’ll attack (social security reform) at the beginning (of Trump’s) second term,” he said, adding that he’s very confident the president will be re-elected in 2020.
Regarding Trump, Rice said he doesn’t always agree with the president’s approach and wishes “he wouldn’t tweet quite so much,” but he largely agrees with Trump’s policies.
Rice added that he believes Robert Mueller needs to wrap up his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia quickly.
“Either bring charges or shut it down,” he said, pointing out that charges brought from Mueller’s team thus far have all been unrelated to the main investigation.
David Weissman: @WeissmanMBO; 843-626-0305