During my campaign, I was frequently asked my opinion on the global war on terror and progress we had made in the Middle East. With a background in finance, I am no foreign policy expert; therefore, I could only base my opinions on reports I read in the news.

This spring, when Rep. Joe Wilson asked if I would be interested in going on a trip to visit our troops and learn more about U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Qatar, I jumped at the opportunity. I warned Joe that I may not be the most knowledgeable in this field, but he assured me that aside from my South Carolina roots, that was precisely why he had invited me along.

The day before Memorial Day, we began week-long our trip to U.S. military bases and Embassies across Europe and the Middle East. Our first stop was the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo to meet with Ambassador Tracy Ann Jacobsen. She gave us an encouraging report and praised our troops for the work they have done. Ambassador Jacobsen then introduced us to some of the Nation’s leaders; one of whom told me that if not for the American troops, she and her family would be dead and her country would not be free. After meeting with Kosovo’s leaders, we departed for Camp Bondsteel where we learned more about the U.S. mission in Kosovo and I was also able to meet with members of the South Carolina National Guard.

From Bondsteel, we returned to the Landstuhl Military Hospital in Germany to visit with our injured soldiers on Memorial Day. I met with three of our country’s bravest who had recently fallen victim to an IED. The visit was an emotional experience, one I will never forget, and it was a blessing that no one died in the attack. The MRAP vehicle these soldiers were traveling in saved their lives, and it was built right here in South Carolina.

After visiting with our injured service members, we went to visit more of our American soldiers in Qatar and Afghanistan. Flying over Afghanistan, I was shocked by the size of Kabul, the modernization of the towns, and the region’s infrastructure — improvements attributable to our courageous troops and the Afghan Army. It was evident that Afghanistan is transitioning from a war-torn country to a country in the early phases of stabilization, but one that still has a good way to go.

At Bagram Airfield, one of the largest U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, I met with our servicemen and women, generals, and the base commanders. One of the generals was proud to report that we are currently in the final phase of the mission, meaning that Afghan troops have taken the lead with American troops serving as backup. Our troops have assembled and trained an Afghan army of more than 352,000 soldiers, capable of defending itself against the Taliban. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is currently adding approximately 50,000 soldiers a year, an encouraging growth rate that has both Afghan and U.S. leaders proud. Everyone I spoke to on base shared with me stories of progress and optimism, signs of a job well done, and more importantly, a job worthwhile.

On the last day, exhausted, we visited one last base. I went into this visit thinking it was going to be a similar base visit to the ones we had earlier in the week. Boy, was I wrong.

When the helicopter prepared for landing, we were told that we were now in Afghan territory and were landing at an Afghan military base. I could tell emotions were high as we got off the helicopter and were loaded into armored vehicles. Both Afghan and American troops were on edge at the arrival of our group.

This tension immediately subsided when the general of the Afghan National Army expressed his gratitude to American troops and thanks for the sacrifices made by our troops, their families, and to our government to help their country and the Afghan people. The general assured us that the Taliban will never be back in control and Afghanistan will no longer be a haven for terrorism.

We have lost too many of our young men and women in battle, but the global war on terror has been successful in defeating some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and stopping their deadly attacks on our soil. Since one of the darkest days in our country’s history, we have been successful in protecting our homeland. I have seen firsthand that our troops are in high spirits and morale on the ground is very optimistic. They are confident in their progress, and that the Afghan Army will soon be able to stand on its own. Please continue to keep our troops and their families in your thoughts as they protect the freedoms we each hold dear.

The writer is the U.S. Representative for the Seventh Congressional District.

Read more here: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2013/06/17/3542739/letter-rice-american-troops-having.html#storylink=cpy

Washington, D.C. – Senator Tim Scott and members of the South Carolina congressional delegation today asked the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to ensure South Carolina seniors continue to have access to critical health care supplies. Currently, CMS oversees a bidding program for durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and other supplies, which is intended to reduce Medicare expenses. However, the program designed by CMS falls short in a number of ways, and the delegation has requested a halt to the program in order to reform the process to better reflect its original intent.  If left unchecked, the current bidding program could make it significantly harder for seniors to easily and affordably obtain necessary medical equipment.

In the letter, the delegation wrote: “In the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, Congress designed the Competitive Bidding program with the intent of reducing Medicare and beneficiary expenditures through competition while ensuring that beneficiaries continue to have access to quality items.  However, the CMS-designed program in its current form is neither competitive nor does it protect beneficiary access to high quality medical supplies. In fact, many patients will likely have to find a new supplier, often in another state.  Additionally, there are numerous flaws in the Competitive Bidding program that prevent it from ensuring quality and access for Medicare beneficiaries.”

The letter continued, “We are also concerned that general access to local providers will soon be a thing of the past. More than 25 contracts have been won by companies that are 2000 miles away from the bid area for which they were awarded.  One company in particular won bids to provide oxygen in all of the South Carolina competitive bid areas, but this company is located in California. Bids on more than 200 contracts have been awarded to companies in states that do not even share a border with South Carolina.  Instead of continuing to have access to their local providers, Medicare beneficiaries will have to work with companies that are located an average of 200 miles away from the market that they will be serving after July 1.”

Senator Tim Scott, Senator Lindsey Graham, Representative Joe Wilson, Representative Jeff Duncan, Representative Trey Gowdy, Representative Mick Mulvaney, and Representative Tom Rice all signed the letter.

— Tourism is one of South Carolina’s leading industries, and the Grand Strand is the economic engine driving this industry. More than 14 million tourists visit Horry and Georgetown counties each year, bringing with them hundreds of millions of tourism dollars. The two counties produce 36 percent of the state’s tourism dollars, which are spread around the state to fund health care, education and infrastructure projects.

In order to preserve this vibrant, successful tourist destination, South Carolina must invest in it.

The Grand Strand competes with Orlando, Las Vegas and Virginia Beach. Competition is fierce; and if infrastructure is ignored, South Carolina will be passed by. Thousands of visitors leave the Grand Strand each year and never return due to inadequate access. Our visitors’ biggest complaint, according to recent surveys: poor transportation infrastructure.

Interstate 73 would connect the Grand Strand with other parts of the state, I-95 and beyond. It would boost tourism by at least 7 percent, translating into an additional $900 million in direct tourism spending in the Myrtle Beach area alone. This influx in tourism spending would bring South Carolina more revenue via tourism and sales tax dollars. Ultimately, the $2.4 billion project would have a $4.1 billion economic impact on the regional economy, not only paying for itself but generating additional revenue for the state.

The benefits wouldn’t stop at the beach. It is no secret that South Carolina’s unemployment rate is too high. This interstate would cross through some of the most economically deprived counties in the state, creating a much-needed economic boost. Eighty percent of relocating companies seek a location within five miles of an interstate. Access to I-73 would create economic opportunities and thousands of jobs in these impoverished counties.

As our economy slowly inches out of recession, I-73 would provide an important boost. I-73 is projected to create 7,000 jobs annually for the five years of construction and 22,000 permanent jobs after construction and have a total economic impact of $1.98 billion each year.

I-73 also would greatly improve South Carolinians’ quality of life. Those 14 million annual visitors to the Grand Strand must travel on roads built more than 60 years ago. These roads were not built to carry this amount of traffic, which is evident by the gridlock visitors and locals experience in the summertime. On a busy summer day, the 14-mile trip from Conway to Myrtle Beach can take an hour or more. That’s part of what keeps people from coming back.

During a hurricane evacuation, the inadequate and outdated road system could prove deadly. On any given weekend during tourist season, hundreds of thousands of visitors crowd our beaches. The inadequate road system means it takes longer to evacuate, which means the governor has to order an evacuation earlier. But sometimes the evacuations prove unnecessary, which costs our state millions in lost tourism dollars. I-73 would dramatically reduce the Grand Strand’s evacuation time.

South Carolina is blessed to have one of the nation’s top tourist destinations. It provides the state with hundreds of millions of tourism tax dollars annually. If the Grand Strand is to remain a top destination, it must provide interstate access. Infrastructure is an investment, and an investment in access to the Grand Strand via I-73 would pay a handsome dividend to all South Carolinians.

Mr. Rice represents South Carolina’s new Seventh Congressional District; Mr. Clemmons represents Horry County in the S.C. House; Mr. Wooten is a member of the state Transportation Commission. Contact them at tom.rice@mail.house.gov, RepClemmons@gmail.com or jmw@ddcinc.com.

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2013/06/07/2805779/rice-clemmons-wooten-i-73-essential.html#storylink=cpy

WASHINGTON, June 5 -- America's Health Insurance Plans issued the following news release:

Over the past few months, several members of South Carolina's congressional delegation have signed on as co-sponsors to legislation repealing a new $100 billion health insurance tax that was included in the health reform law. The health insurance tax will increase the cost of health care coverage for South Carolina consumers and employers by more than $1 billion over the next ten years.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a new sales tax on health insurance that starts at $8 billion in 2014, increases to $14.3 billion in 2018, and will increase based on premium trend thereafter. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the health insurance tax will exceed $100 billion over the next ten years.

"Taxing health insurance makes it more expensive, and that is the opposite of what health care reform was supposed to accomplish," said AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni.

According to a report from the actuarial firm Oliver Wyman, "Annual Tax on Insurers Allocated by State," South Carolina consumers and employers will pay more than $1 billion more over the next ten years as a result of this tax. On average, this tax will increase premiums in South Carolina over a ten-year period by $2,124 for individuals purchasing coverage on their own and by $6,870 for families who get their coverage from a small employer. This tax also will increase costs for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries by $3,384 and will increase the average cost of Medicaid coverage by about $1,425 per enrollee over ten years.

Representatives Charles Boustany (LA) and Jim Matheson (UT) introduced the Jobs and Premium Protection Act (H.R. 763), bipartisan legislation to repeal the health insurance tax. Senators John Barrasso (WY) and Orrin Hatch (UT) introduced a Senate version of this bill (S.603). The following members of the South Carolina delegation are supporting legislation to repeal the health insurance tax: Sen. Tim Scott,  Rep. Jeff Duncan, Rep. Trey Gowdy, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Tom Rice, and Rep. Joe Wilson.

AHIP recently submitted comments to the House Ways and Means Committee Work Groups urging repeal of the ACA's health insurance tax as part of a comprehensive tax reform package. AHIP is also raising the awareness of the health insurance tax repeal effort on Twitter using the hashtag #repealthetax.

To learn more about the impact the health insurance tax will have on the affordability of health care coverage, visit www.AHIP.org/Affordability.

By Congressman Tom Rice

News reporter and Director of the United States Office of War Information, Elmer Davis, once said, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a special time Americans everywhere set aside to honor the brave servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. As we remember the fallen today, we also celebrate their lives and the legacy they have left behind.

From the first shot heard around the world, to the beaches of Normandy, and all the way to the mountains of Afghanistan, our military has proven to be a fortress of freedom, but this did not happen without a cost. Our freedom was never free and will never be free; and no one understands this more than the families who have lost a loved one in combat.

My father, Tommy Rice Sr., served in the United States Army and fought in Korea. If anything ever happened to my father, my mother would have had to provide for our family during a time of unimaginable grief. Widows and widowers whose spouses have perished during military service to our country should have their needs met just as they would if their spouses were still alive. This is the least we owe these patriotic families who have sacrificed so much for all of us.

Under current law, if a member of the National Guard or Reserve component of the military dies in the line of duty, their survivor benefits can be calculated differently than those on active duty. This is wrong.

To ensure fair treatment for our guardsmen and reservists, I have co-authored H.R. 1770 with Congressman Jason Chaffetz. This legislation will eliminate the different treatment for those in the National Guard and Reserves who give the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. This is the right thing to do, and I will be working to get this bill signed into law.

As living citizens of the United States, I believe it is our duty to continue the fight our fallen soldiers have courageously fought. We must fight for liberty, freedom, and justice for all, so our children and grandchildren can live and prosper freely just as we have.

I agree with Elmer Davis — we are truly the home of the free because of each of our courageous military members, and for this we are forever grateful.

Tom Rice represents the 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, including Georgetown County. He lives in Horry County.