Chesterfield County residents can talk federal issues and upcoming legislation over a cup of coffee with U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, on Monday.

Rice will sit down with his constituents from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., at Mary’s Restaurant, 134 Market St. in Cheraw, before heading to Coffee Break Cafe in Georgetown from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.

For those not able to make it to these events, there will be other opportunities to speak with members of Rice’s congressional staff as they make their rounds on the mobile schedule.

During these times, residents can meet with his staff to get help with federal issues, request updates on Social Security benefits or pending veterans affairs claims and other issues.

For directions and additional details regarding the mobile office schedule, contact Rice’s Pee Dee district office at 843-679-9781.

The following are the dates available for the mobile office:

Tuesday, Sept. 29

• Jefferson — 10 a.m. to noon, Jefferson Town Hall, 223 N. Main St.

• McBee — 2-4 p.m., McBee Town Hall, 38 Juniper Ave.

Wednesday, Sept. 30

• Cheraw — 10 a.m. to noon, Cheraw Town Hall second-floor conference room, 200 Market St.

• Society Hill — 2-4 p.m., Society Hill Library, 114 Carrigan St.

Thursday, Oct. 1

• Chesterfield — 10 a.m. to noon, Chesterfield County Courthouse multipurpose room, 200 W. Main St.

• Pageland — 2-4 p.m., Pageland Chamber of Commerce, 128 N. Pearl St.

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Congressman Tom Rice didn’t discuss presidential politics Tuesday at Joe’s Grill as more than 30 constituents wanted to hear about Iran, growing the economy, veterans and offshore drilling issues instead.

Even after the hour-long event — where people sipped coffee and fired off questions at the second-term Republican — Rice didn’t give any hints about which of the 17 Republican presidential primary candidates he was supporting.

“There was a debate?” Rice jokingly responded when asked about the last week’s GOP debate. “Whoever the Republicans nominate, I’m going to be 1,000 percent behind.”

Rice, who sits on the House Budget Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he was disappointed with Congress’ move for another patch for the highway trust fund in late June rather than a long-term fix. He advocates a long-term bill and no more stopgaps.

“By failing to solve the problem, we place uncertainty on our states, economy and businesses trying to operate in this economy and we hold this economy back,” Rice said. “We need to be getting these obstacles out of the way today.”

In early June, Rice hosted an infrastructure symposium at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology, where he stressed the importance of his proposal to increase the federal gas tax buy 10 cents while offsetting the income tax by $130 a year resulting in a budget-neutral move.

“It raises zero money for the federal government,” Rice said “All it does is move money from the general fund into the highway trust fund so secretaries of transportation can rely on a reimbursement check from the gas tax so they can move ahead with their contracts.”

With still no budget passed, Congress on recess until after Labor Day, new sequester cuts set to take effect on Oct. 1 and several Republican senators who could grab the spotlight over another government shutdown, there’s a chance this fall could look like 2013.

“If they were talking about shutting down over Obamacare again I would not be in favor of that,” Rice said. “If they were talking about shutting things down over issues where public opinion is clearer, better defined, then I might support it.”

Rice will visit other locations in the Pee Dee and Grand Strand later this week and next.

The following are several questions asked by constituents on Tuesday.

How do you control student loans and college tuition?

I think it is abhorrent; it’s incredible what’s happened with the cost of higher education.

I think that comes back to the colleges…I’m not sure throwing more federal dollars at is the answer. You’ve had federal dollars thrown at it over and over again; state dollars, lottery money and the costs just continue to escalate. The cost far outpaces inflation and it has for decades.

What ideas do you have to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs?

The most shameful thing is the way we treat our veterans. I have seven people that work in two district offices and we spend 42 percent of our time trying to get veterans what they’re already entitled to.

When 80 people get killed (at the VA facility in Phoenix) and nobody gets fired, that is an amazing thing.

VA health care has had a problem for decades and decades. What we need to do is stop funding VA health care altogether. We need to give the veterans access to Medicare or an insurance policy so they can see whatever doctor they want to so they’re not stuck in line in Columbia.

What is Congress doing to bring manufacturing jobs back?

Not enough.

My primary focus has been trying to make this country competitive.

The one thing the president has done that I’ve seen is he worked the trade bill. That trade bill can make us more competitive, open up markets to us, and help us develop manufacturing here.

Everybody talks about tax reform, regulatory reform, the deficit and all these things that make us less competitive and nobody puts up bills. It’s hard.

We can make this country competitive if we get some of these things out of the way that everybody talks about all the time that nobody ever does anything about.

I’d like for you to consider this deal with Iran as a good idea that could change the atmosphere in the Middle East.

I struggle with a plan that legitimizes proliferation of nuclear weapons for a country that hates us, is destabilizing the entire area that our friends deathly fear.

I know there are people with conflicting ideas, I have sat through briefings with Secretary Kerry and with the people from the atomic energy group and they feel like it’s a grand plan. But I’ve also sat through briefings with representatives with Israel that say it’s a horrible plan and we could do far better.

I’m not sure it’s not going to accelerate military action rather than postpone it.

What should be done about offshore drilling?

Let’s do the seismic testing so we know what’s there. Until we know what’s there we can’t make any rational decisions about it. Let’s get our deal done with the federal government for the 37 percent royalties that the Gulf Coast states are getting on off shore oil recoveries. Thirty-seven percent royalties would put a lot of people to work in this state and build roads all over the place.

MYRTLE BEACH,  SC (WMBF) - Congressman Tom Rice would like to invite the public to join him for coffee and discuss federal issues and upcoming legislation.

Rice has been a resident of Horry County since the age of 4 and proudly represents South Carolina's 7th Congressional District.

Rice serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and serves on the Small Business Committee and Committee on the Budget.  

Tom earned both his master’s degree in accounting and his juris doctor from the University of South Carolina.

After completing his degrees, Tom worked for the accounting and consulting firm, Deloitte & Touche, in Charlotte and earned his CPA certificate.  In 1985, Tom returned to his home town of Myrtle Beach to practice tax law with the Van Osdell Law Firm, and in 1997 he established his own practice, the Rice & MacDonald Law Firm.

Tom has served his community through many charitable and civic organizations including the Myrtle Beach Haven Homeless Shelter.

Rice is inviting the public to join him for coffee and discussion: 

Those attending will have the opportunity to meet with Congressman Rice and discuss federal issues and upcoming legislation.

Tuesday, August 11 from 10 a.m. 11 a.m. at Joe’s Grill 306 Russell Street in Darlington.

Wednesday, August 12 from 9 a.m.-10 a.m. at Magnolia on the Main 224 E. Main Street Bennettsville Sc 29512.

Wednesday August 12 from 11:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. at The Charcoal Grill 107 N 1st. Avenue Dillon SC 29536.

Thursday, August 13 Greater Carolina Forest Republican Womens Meeting 12 p.m.-1 p.m. Sam Sneads Restaurant 1004 Glenforest Road Myrtle Beach, SC 29579.

Tuesday August 25 from 8:30 -9:30 a.m. at Johns 707 Diner 9408 S. Carolina 707 Myrtle Beach, SC 29588.

Tuesday August 25 from 10 a.m.- 11 a.m. at The Trestle 322 Main Street Conway, SC 29526.

To RSVP for the open house on August 25 at the Grand Strand Regional Office, email Susan.Dean1@mail.house.gov or call 843-445-6459

A Republican House member is introducing legislation to increase the federal gas tax by 10 cents-per-gallon to help pay for transportation projects across the nation.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), would offset the gas tax increase with a $133 income tax credit that would be offered to drivers to minimize the impact of higher prices at the pump.

Rice said in an interview with The Hill that his measure would not cost extra money but would give states "certainty" about the availability of federal transportation funding as a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the current spending bill looms.

"We have enough revenue already," he said. "Our measure moves money from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund. It would raise the gas tax by about 10 cents-per-gallon, which would cost the average driver about $130 per year. It would be offset by a $133 income tax credit, so it's revenue-neutral."

Congress has been grappling since 2005 with a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year, and it has not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years in that span.

The 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but it has not been increased since 1993, and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying power.

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.

Transportation advocates are pushing for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but Republican leaders in Congress have ruled out a tax hike.

Rice said his measure would index the gas tax to inflation after the initial 10-cent increase is put in place to prevent future standoffs about transportation funding in Congress.

"I hope we don't have to have anymore short-term extensions," he said. "I think it's very harmful to our country. Infrastructure is vital to our economy and it's vital to our competiveness." 

Rice's bill would result in drivers paying 28.4 cents per gallon on gas purchases, in addition to state fuel taxes, to help pay for infrastructure improvements.

The Department of Transportation has said its Highway Trust Fund will run out of money at the end of this month if Congress does not come to an agreement on an extension in the next couple of weeks.

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the transportation funding gap in recent years, resulting in temporary fixes, such as a two-month patch approved by lawmakers in May that is set to expire on July 31.

A $275 billion bill, known as the DRIVE Act, has been introduced in the Senate, but lawmakers in the upper chamber have not revealed how they would pay for the measure. The House has been largely silent on the transportation funding deadline, beyond GOP leaders such as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ruling out a gas tax hike. 

If lawmakers cannot come up with a way to pay for a long-term transportation bill by the end of July, they will likely have to settle for another short-term patch.

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Representatives from the city all the way up to the national level are assuring small businesses in Florence they don't want them to fail due to lack of support or difficult-to-navigate regulations.

"The message is clear that leaders at every level want to see small businesses grow and I think if we partner together and talk about what needs to happen, we can make that happen together," Florence City Councilman Robby Hill said.

Business owners and experts listened to topics regarding the state of small and minority businesses at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Breakfast Friday morning.

Councilman Hill, Florence County Councilman Al Bradley, U.S. Congressman Tom Rice, and S.C. House District 59 Representative Terry Alexander each spoke about their thoughts on the issue.

Hill said he believes the state of small and minority businesses in Florence is strong and the North Dargan Innovation Center is available to those needing more support. He also said the city is now offering rent subsidies to business owners looking to move downtown from the incubator.

"They can move out into the real world as we call it and grow their businesses," he said. "Hopefully, it'll encourage retail development, but also any business that's interested in moving into downtown, there are new financial incentives for them."

Hill also announced Florence's first Startup Weekend, an international event that brings together investors, developers, business experts and entrepreneurs to create small businesses over a three-day period. The event will be June 19-21.

Councilman Al Bradley said the county is making a point to use local contractors and workers for its capital sales tax projects.

Rep. Terry Alexander talked about out-dated regulations that are burdensome for small businesses and how the state legislature now has a committee dedicated to sorting through those regulations.

"In so many ways it is hampering our growth and our development," he said. "If we really want to grow South Carolina, we're going to have to take a look at what is in our way."

Congressman Tom Rice concluded the information session with his thoughts on American competitiveness and how he will continue to push for reform of taxes, immigration and infrastructure.

"We've put a noose around our own necks. We're not even trying to compete," he said. "If we ever develop that competitive attitude, nobody can stop us."

Copyright 2015 WMBF News. All rights reserved.