FLORENCE, S.C. – Despite the seemingly never ending turmoil in Washington, South Carolina’s newest congressman said he believes American’s political leaders are making progress.

Rep. Tom Rice, SC-7, didn’t say Republicans and Democrats were linking arms and singing “Kumbaya,” but he’s optimistic.

“I hear both sides talking about it, even the president,” Rice said. “They’re at least having the dialogue, what we’ve got a problem with is how to fix it. Now, there is a difference on how we get there, but I think we will. We’ll have to come together.”

But that’s something Washington’s said before.

When the Budget Control Act of 2011 was signed by President Barack Obama, it was designed to reduce the deficit through sweeping, across-the-board reductions in discretionary spending – sequestration – that were so drastic they would inspire Congress to act before the dreaded “Fiscal Cliff” arrived on Jan. 1, 2013.

A deal wasn’t struck until Jan. 2 and sequestration was delayed until March 1, giving leaders two more months reach a compromise that never came.

Unlike Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, – an outspoken opponent to the sequester – Rice said he was in favor of the cuts and said they forced Washington to get back to business, prompting the Democrat controlled Senate poised to pass a budget for the first time since 2009.

During his keynote address at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce during their annual banquet Friday at the Florence Civic Center, Rice praised the budget recently proposed by House Republicans – authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI – and said in a few weeks he is optimistic more progress will come.

“The senate’s going to pass a budget for the first time in four years, probably in two weeks,” Rice said. “I hope we go to conference and we come up with a reasonable solution. Will I say it’s probable? No. Likely? Maybe. You know, I think it’s a good shot.”

That doesn’t sound like the confident candidate who preached fiscal conservatism on the campaign trail in 2012, but two months in Congress have been a bit of a wake-up call for the new representative.

“It’s probably a little worse than I thought it would be going up there,” Rice admitted. “But I also think that they are trying to devise strategies to move down the way, and they’ve done that. If you’d have told me when I came in in December that we’d pass a house budget that’d balance in 10 years, I’d have been happy with that.”

Following his remarks, Rice met with a small number of local leaders for a question and answer session, discussing items ranging from immigration reform to entitlement spending.

Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013 7:41 pm | Updated: 8:00 pm, Fri Mar 22, 2013. By John Sweeney Pee Dee Politics.