“We’re going to work very hard,” Rice said. “I promise you this. We will put out a budget that balances in 10 years or less. We will conference with the Senate. We don’t need 60 votes to do it. We will come out with a compromised budget in Congress, I’m confident of that. Now how much the president will be willing to work with us? I can’t tell you.”

Rice said some of that common ground, like infrastructure, will be handled in other committees.

“I think there are areas of common ground particularly in the infrastructure,” Rice said. “I don’t think you’ll see that in house budget. You’ll see that from House Ways and Means and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”

On the other hand, Rice said, signature items on Obama’s budget face a slim chance of being included in a final budget.

“The additional giveaway programs the president is proposing; I don’t think they stand much chance in Congress,” Rice said. “The additional tax increases the president is proposing; I don’t think they stand much chance in Congress.”

Budget discussions began in January when Congress came back in to session. Rice said that he expects a budget to be completed by early to mid-March.

BY GAVIN JACKSON Morning Newsgjackson@florencenews.com

Many people swear we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten.  There is much truth to that. When we were children, our parents taught us helpful life lessons.  Many lessons were learned as a consequence of bad decisions and were accompanied with a punishment, but their truth is undeniable.  

Listening to President Obama deliver his State of the Union Speech last night, I could not help to remember some of the life lessons my mom taught me.  I found myself thinking about how different the President’s rhetoric, approach to government, and policies would be if he relied on some of the lessons he learned as a child.

If only the President would have heeded my mom’s advice, his speech would have had a much more profound impact on the Republican-controlled Congress and the millions of Americans listening at home.

Lesson One: There is no such thing as a free lunch.

The President’s “free college” plan may sound great, but we have all learned there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Taxpayers and the students lured into the President’s free college scheme will be responsible for footing the tuition bill.  Furthermore, this “free college” program would only nationalize our education system, making it bureaucratic and costly.  Every student should have an equal opportunity to receive a great education, which is why we should work together to make college more affordable for families and students.

Lesson Two: Never insult an alligator until you’ve crossed the creek.

Last night, the President was boastful throughout his speech.  At one point, he even insulted Congress saying, “I have no more campaigns to run.  I know because I won both of them.”  This is true. The President does not have any more campaigns to run, but he has a country to run and quite a few creeks to cross.  Comments like this, only muddy the waters. 

Lesson Three:  It takes two to tango.

Republicans control Congress now and if the President wants to reform broken laws, fix our tax code, and get things done for our country, he must work with Congress and Congress must work with him.  The President cannot act unilaterally and rewrite our laws as he has done in the past.  Our Constitution clearly states that changes like these, require Congress.  In order to help American families and grow middle class paychecks, we’re going to have to work together.  It’s going to take two to tango.

As we review the state of our country, I believe in a bold vision for a 21st century America that increases opportunity for everyone —more jobs, better wages, viable energy options , affordable health care, and access to education.  In order to carry out this vision, I refuse to burden our children and grandchildren with mounds of debt.  My colleagues and I cannot accomplish this alone.  Republicans are ready to work with the President.  We are ready to get our country back on the right tracks. We are ready to tango.   

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice says everything he hears from the Army Corps of Engineers about the Georgetown port is positive and he is hoping for a decision any day about federal funds for dredging.

Officials in the Corps’ Charleston District said last week they had no funds for Georgetown in their budget and they worried that dredging the harbor to a depth of 27 feet before customers are on board at the port would be a waste of state and county money.

Rice said Wednesday that Georgetown County voters’ approval of a one-cent sales tax that designates $6 million for harbor dredging supports his case that a viable port will bring industry to his district. The state has proposed spending $18 million and the State Ports Authority $5 million to dredge at Georgetown in addition to the county’s $6 million. Rice is trying to get the Corps of Engineers to pay $4 million of the project cost, estimated at $33 million two years ago. Charleston District officials said the cost to dredge the Georgetown harbor will be higher because silt continues to accumulate.

“There’s a little room for adjustment,” Rice said of federal funding for Georgetown. “I think the state and county have certainly shown their belief in the merit of the project.”

Rice said Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Infrastructure Committee, was impressed with Georgetown’s argument for funding. “We feel good about it,” Rice said, “but they haven’t made their decision yet. They’ve gone past the time they told us it would take.”

The Corps may have been working off the assumption that Congress would pass an appropriations measure by Sept. 30, a source familiar with the process said. Funding might depend on when Congress passes an appropriations bill. That could come before the present bill expires Dec. 11 or could be delayed until next year by a continuing resolution. House leadership has said it wants to pass an appropriations bill before Dec. 11, but some members of Congress want to delay until Republicans take control of the Senate. The Corps of Engineers usually presents its work plan within 45 days of approval of an appropriations bill, the source said.

Rice said that he sees “meritorious infrastructure” is an investment rather than an expense. His top priority for his district is Interstate 73 into Myrtle Beach with the port of Georgetown second. He wouldn’t talk about prospective port customers but a document he prepared for the Corps outlined the economic benefits.

“It’s no secret,” Rice said, “that Georgetown Steel brings in ore from the Caribbean through Wilmington.” ArcelorMittal says it would use the port to ship 150,000 tons of scrap, alloys and other raw materials a year. Dredging of the port is a key step in securing the long-term viability of ArcelorMittal Georgetown, the document says.

The port can also attract commodity businesses shipping wood products, petcoke, raw materials and finished products related to the steel industry, salt, aggregate, coal and other bulk and break-bulk cargo, the document said. A Coastal Carolina University study in 2010 said that every 500,000 tons annually can be expected to yield 42 new jobs, $1.3 million in new local household income and $4.4 million in total local economic output. Estimates suggest that potential new customers could generate 3 million tons in new activity at the port, the study said. With one-time dredging, the port will have the ability to generate enough new activity to receive dredging funds, the study added.

Maintenance dredging is a sticking point, according to Brandan Scully, chief of navigation for the Corps of Engineers’ Charleston District. He said the port needs a plan to come up with $6 million a year to maintain the harbor’s depth. Southeastern ports compete for funding, he said.

Scully suggested that county development officials consider dredging to depths for current and potential port customers rather than returning the entire harbor to 27 feet. Present port clients include Holcim US, a cement company; the Hiller Group, supplier of aviation fuel; Metglas, a Conway company that makes brazing foils; and Diproinduca, a company that provides raw materials to the iron and steel industry by converting industrial waste and by-products into assets. Officials in Washington have never raised concerns about Georgetown’s customers or the market it seeks, according to a source familiar with the process.

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Representatives from four South Carolina utility companies say customers across the state, and the country, have contacted them about a phone scam.

According to a news release, the scam involves a call to the customer telling them that they're late on their utility bill or might need a new meter, and that their electric service will be cut off if they don't pay immediately.

The scammer then instructs the customer to purchase a prepaid debit card and tells them to call back with the numbers on the card. 

Representatives from SCE&G, Duke Energy, Santee Cooper and The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, as well as S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs Administrator Carri Grube Lybarker will hold a news conference on Thursday, Nov. 20, at 2 p.m. to go over more details of this scam.

The conference aims to give people more information about scam warning signs so that people will be "more aware and better prepared to protect themselves especially during the upcoming holiday season," the release said.

By U.S. Rep. Tom Rice

It is no secret that many of our interstates, highways, and bridges are in dire need of repair.

This impacts everyone — from the school bus driver taking children to school, families traveling out of state for vacations, and truck drivers transporting consumer goods.

Not only does this impact our daily lives, but it also threatens our safety in emergency situations.

As commuters and consumers, we use our nation’s roads to get from point A to point B, without considering annual wear and tear.

In 2010, highways carried more than 2.9 trillion vehicle miles and public transportation carried nearly 32 billion passenger miles.

Sometimes we forget that our highway system was built in the 1950s by President Eisenhower.

While this system made us competitive as a nation, we must commit ourselves to maintaining it or our competitive edge will literally crumble beneath us.

Currently, road maintenance and highway construction projects are funded by a highway bill Congress passed in 2012, MAP-21. This bill is set to expire in September; therefore, we must act soon so current road projects continue and planned projects move forward.

The next highway bill needs to be fiscally responsible and build on the reforms made in MAP-21.

Congress must further reduce the mounting regulatory burdens and give our federal partners the assurance and flexibility they need in order to fund and approve their projects.

MAP-21 did a great job with its programmatic and policy reforms last time around. It consolidated or eliminated nearly 70 U.S. Department of Transportation programs, which afforded state and local partners greater flexibility with the use of their federal funding.

Furthermore, MAP-21 introduced great standards and emphasized performance management by incorporating performance measures into the highway, transit, and highway safety programs.

These changes, I believe, will continue to focus our federal funding on national transportation goals, increase accountability and transparency, and improve transportation planning and project selection.

These new metrics should be further evaluated to see if their goals are being met.

My colleagues and I on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure have evaluated the benefits some of these reforms have had on our states.

In South Carolina, the performance and asset management emphasis in MAP-21 has provided the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) with the vehicle needed to pursue initiatives within the agency.

SCDOT is one of 10 states undertaking a Transportation Asset Management Gap Analysis as part of a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) project. This two-step analysis looks to identify department strengths and areas for improvement by conducting an online Gap Analysis survey and in-depth interviews with internal stakeholders.

The results will then be used to structure an agenda for asset management planning.

SCDOT has completed the analysis and is currently awaiting results.

As we continue to work on a long-term highway bill, we ought to continue to examine projects like the Transportation Asset Management Gap Analysis and MAP-21’s metrics. Should these projects prove successful, we must expand on them in the next highway bill.

Lastly, the House of Representatives should look at the recent Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (TIFIA) expansion. MAP-21 really put this program into the growth lane by increasing its funding from $122 million annually to $750 million in FY2013 and $1 billion in FY2014. This will provide credit assistance for surface transportation projects and significant leveraging of limited resources. I believe that these types of programs are the wave of the future.

Our highway and interstate system will always be a key component to our country’s competitiveness and essential in our everyday lives. Congress recognizes this, the president recognizes this, and Americans recognize this.

It is my hope that we can come together this fall and enact long-term reforms to repair our current system and fund innovative projects that will last us for years to come.