Senator Tim Scott exemplifies the unique American ideal that anyone has the opportunity in our country to succeed at the highest level. Born of humble origins, Scott overcame obstacles and challenges that are insurmountable to most, but he proved triumph is possible through hard work and dedication. Scott cannot help impressing those around him with his ability to communicate his ideas in a straight forward and clearly articulate way, a quality lacking in most politicians. South Carolina is truly fortunate to have him as our senator, a man who is driven to help and serve his fellow man.
After three years as South Carolina’s U.S. senator, what has surprised you the most on the workings of the Senate?
I have had two big surprises. One is the fact that we continue to spend money we do not have, and we haven’t figured out how to prioritize our responsibilities.
The second is that while there is such a partisan environment in Washington, you can still consistently find someone on the other side who is willing to pay attention to issues that you find important. If you’re willing to work in a bipartisan fashion, you can. It’s harder on the bigger issues.
In education, we’ve had a lot of success on apprenticeship programs that have been hailed from South Carolina as some of the most successful programs in the nation. Cory Booker has been willing to work with me on “Investing in Opportunity,” my new legislation on fixing and improving distressed communities. I’ve had many Republican co-sponsors as well, such as Mike Bennett from Colorado and Gary Peters from Michigan, so there’s opportunity for some bipartisan cooperation if you’re interested in making it happen.
That and the spending — we’re just nibbling around the edges when we need to get serious about controlling our spending and bring it down some.
What bills do you hope to introduce in the Senate in the next year or two?
Perhaps my signature legislation this year will focus on opportunity. For my past pieces of legislation, I’ve had school choice; I’ve had work skills and apprenticeship programs. This year, we are working on a piece of legislation called “Investing in Opportunity” that is designed to defer the capital gains tax if you’re willing to invest or reinvest those dollars into distressed communities. That, according to the experts, will impact $15 to maybe even $20 billion on an annual basis, reinvested in the communities that are distressed and that would use the designation or the definition created by the new market tax credit for low income communities. It would have an impact in every state and would touch 50 million people –– 5 million in South Carolina –– so we can have a real impact using private sector dollars to create more opportunities, more jobs and better infrastructure in the underperforming communities while at the same time not adding a single bureaucrat or new government program. And we’ve got, as I said, a bipartisan coalition engaged and interested, as well as folks in the private sector doing it too.
Would that capital gains diversion, or delay, be similar to a like tax exchange with property sales?
No, it is modeled a little bit after the 1031 exchange that we use to talk a lot about –– the 1031 (insurance) and the 1035 (real estate) exchanges. It is similar, except you’re going to pay that tax. After five to seven years, you’re having to pay the tax on it.
So there is a sunset?
Yes, you have to knock it out, which is good because it doesn’t cost the government anything other than lost interest on those dollars, which is the biggest cost. But as far as we can tell, the return on the investment will far exceed any costs associated with it.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing South Carolina?
It’s hard to not suggest the economy, because we’ve had stagnant wages for so long. Even recently when the Jobs Report came out, there were 160,000 new jobs created in the private sector. The challenge is that not enough of those jobs were in the right sectors, and too many of the jobs were not full time jobs. So our unemployment rate remains unchanged, but our underemployment and those who are no longer looking for work is still too high. Gov. Nikki Haley has done a really good job in South Carolina specifically in helping to lead the economic renaissance that we’ve seen in manufacturing, but it still remains the top issue right here throughout the state, and healthcare and the cost of healthcare will continue to be a “Top Five Issue,” I think, for the next few years.
Could you give us your thoughts on the importance of a traditional family unit and the special role that a father plays in it?
To me, it is hard to overemphasize the importance of the traditional family where there is a father in the household. The fact is that it is worse in the minority communities, especially the African American community where I believe 72 percent of kids are born into this world without a father in their home. For African Americans, that’s three out of four.
Overall, in the state and in the country, I think 40 percent of children grow up without a father in the home. If you measure the outcomes of those folks who do not have a father in the household versus those who do, it is drastic on every major measurement, from economic to education, to incarceration rates. It is an undeniably strategic disadvantage, so the role is a very important one.
What do you think the government could do, if anything, to strengthen the family?
We can look at all the impediments in the tax code that are in opposition to marriage; removing all the marriage penalties that are in the tax code would be one way of doing it. I honestly think that the greatest answer is in government as related to restructure of the family unit. I think we could help encourage work and continue to work toward the type of infrastructure that is conducive for healthy economic environment, which may attract more folks to the workplace, which in turn alleviates the stress and pressure at home. But the government doesn’t have a specific role in bringing dads back in the household; it’s probably above our pay grade. We can do things that are encouraging, like the focus on mentors. I went and visited two of the prisons in South Carolina, and there’s a program called Proverbs 22:6, which focuses on uniting fathers who were incarcerated with their kids, sometimes for the first time. Programs like that encourage a father to be involved with his kid and are very helpful. It’s just not the primary role or objective that I think government can accomplish.
I like the idea of encouragement.
Yes, I think we all play a role, from a leadership standpoint. When I look at some legislation that I’ve worked on, there is a correlation between better education and family stability. I hope that the success of some of our legislation leads to social impact, but primarily comes down to values and the disintegration of community –– things that I don’t and that we don’t control, and no one wants us to either.
As a successful small business owner, what do you see is the greatest impediment for business owners today?
Red tape. I think taxes are very high, and the funny thing is that we have the world’s highest corporate tax rate — 35 percent. We don’t allow for overseas profits to be brought back to our country without double taxation. We have a convoluted, complicated tax system on the personal code, and yet I think the most damaging thing to businesses is the regulatory environment that’s been created over the past several years. I think 2015 was the first year we saw more businesses closing or going away than opening because of the regulatory environment.
Do you see that on a local level too?
Yes, I think the planning, zoning and red tape from the counties and cities all adds up. So by the time you get through with the local folks, you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh!” and then the federal government says, “I got a couple more for you.”
Leading into that, do you think the REINS Act will be passed and signed and if so, will bureaucracies find a way around it?
Under the current environment, it will not be passed. The REINS Act is a great piece of legislation that basically says that at the 100 million threshold (when the regulatory environment and its impact surpasses $100 million impacting the environment in the job market and the economy), you have to have a decreed trigger. (It means any government regulation that will have a $100 million impact or greater must be voted on by Congress and signed by the president.) The fact of the matter is, that would be wonderful. The current administration will not support that, so we would have to have a veto-proof supermajority in both bodies in order to get that to happen. So if we are lucky enough to get someone who is pro-business in office with the next administration, that would be awesome.”
You are a living embodiment of the American Dream. Please explain to us how your opportunity agenda can help others achieve the same American Dream.
For me, my mom is the living embodiment of the American Dream, because she worked so hard and so long to make sure that I had the chance to experience the American Dream. I would say that I’m standing on her shoulders. My opportunity agenda focuses on those keys to the American Dream, as far as I can see it, based on the historical information, personal experience and the data. Education seems to be the closest thing to magic in America, and if you want to experience the American Dream, a good, strong foundation includes education.
Second are the skills, the work skills. We’re once again continuing to push forward on making sure that apprenticeship programs will continue to move forward, which allows people to earn and learn at the same time. And then third, hopefully the “Investing in Opportunity” will be a key component for what I think we can do to help others experience the American Dream. And then finally, just from a leadership standpoint, sometimes you need a beacon of light, someone who is crazy enough to stand up and say, “Hey, its dark over here, but guess what? All things are possible!” So we speak at a school every month, sometimes twice a day, just trying to find a way to help encourage young folks to continue to dream and expect that their lives will be better.
Do you believe we should build a wall between Mexico and the United States?
The question within the question that I heard was how important is it for us to know who’s in our country? I think the answer is very important. One of the ways that we get there is through having secure borders. Physical borders, like our southern border that we have paid so much attention to, are obviously important, but also the entry-exit system in our visas is broken –– the biometric system. Forty percent of the people who are here illegally came here legally first and then overstayed their visas. So 40 percent of our problem, if there are 16 million people, is about 6.4 million people who are here because they overstayed. So we need to fix our border, yes, but we need to fix the whole concept of a border.
I think a country without borders is a country at risk, and I think as much as we think about the folks crossing the border to find work, we should focus like a laser on the national security implications of porous borders. If we have more folks coming through the Mexican border who did not come from Mexico, imagine when those who have nefarious plans and have been involved with nefarious behavior use that border to enter our country. That would be a scary thought.
How did your faith in Christ shape your role as a U.S. senator and your life in general?
It’s central to who I am as a being, so the essence of who I am is a Christian. I would say I am a Christian-American before I am anything else. For me, I can’t think of anything good that I do that doesn’t have an anchor in my faith, and with most of the bad things that I do, I can tell that they are bad because of my lack of faith. So, the whole notion of Matthew 22:37-39, loving your neighbor as yourself, requires me to love myself so that I can love my neighbor and requires me to first understand that the essence of love is not a characteristic that someone has, it is the experience that we receive by knowing God. God is love, it’s not one of His characteristics –– it’s who He is. So for me as a Christian, it impacts me daily, and every essence of my service to other people is driven by the notion of Luke 6:38, that you receive by giving, not by asking and looking for yourself first. I don’t know how it doesn’t affect my service.