Feb 20 2007

Shelby discusses immigration reform, health care, troop surge in Iraq

Times Daily

By Trevor Stokes


Troop surges in Iraq, immigration reform and health care were the three central issues raised when Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala., spoke to the Florence Rotary Club on Monday.

He talked about the Iraq war, a subject of concern from several audience members, during the question and answer period.

On Saturday, Shelby voted against the nonbinding motion to stop troop surges in Iraq, which failed to receive the 60 votes needed to move forward.

"We know that we've had great success in Iraq," he said, in reference to the early days in the war that included the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. "We've made a lot of mistakes since then."

Shelby said he supports the controversial surge of 21,500 troops in Iraq. "I think we should not send a message of ambiguity to our troops," he said.

Some, however, were critical of Shelby's overall message of the Iraq war.

"By his following and trying to sell the total Bush line, he beautifully glosses over the seriousness and impossibility of the war in Iraq and the economy," said veterinarian David Mussleman, a Democrat. "If I were a ranking Republican senator, I probably would have done the same."

Alabama's senior senator said the challenge of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists will be with us for the next 50 to 100 years, and said he believes the country will be hit by another terrorist attack.

Immigration reform was also a major theme in his talk. At one point, an assistant brought out a sign that stated an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants live in the U.S.

"We all know immigrants come into the country and bring energy into the economy," he said.

Shelby said, however, he does not support amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and said the debate over immigration reform would re-enter the U.S. House and Senate in the near future. "I'm afraid (amnesty) will be passed and the president will approve it," Shelby said, "We ought to be enforcing our borders, and we don't."

Quinton Hanson, owner of Associated Insurers, was in attendance and agreed. "We're talking about giving amnesty to that group of people when their first act of coming into the country is illegal itself. What kind of a precedent does that send for them in complying with the rest of our laws? I don't mind them being here, I just want them here-legally."

Shelby also showed that Medicare and Medicaid account for 20 percent of the $2.7 trillion national budget.

For Hanson's company, health insurance is the second most costly part of his operation, after payroll, which he bundled with tax costs.

His business provides health insurance to the company's three other employees. "A lot of the other smaller employers quite honestly cannot afford to provide it, and I understand where they're coming from."

Though Shelby rejected the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 on Jan. 24, he said he supported an upcoming bill that folds in minimum wage increases with small business tax breaks. "If you mandate the minimum wage too high, you're going to cost jobs," said Shelby. He said small business tax breaks would buffer increased wage costs.