ESCANABA - U.S. Senator Carl Levin visited the Daily Press Friday afternoon following a visit to the U.P. State Fair. Levin discussed a number of issues such as the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, what will be a top priority when the Senate reconvenes, and his thoughts on the Affordable Care Act.
Levin, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said recent news of two U.S. servicemen killed by a newly-recruited Afghan village policeman was a terrible tragedy, but believes the U.S. training the Afghan army is the right thing to do.
"My view of Afghanistan has always been that we have got to train their army, which is a popular army, unlike the government which is not particularly popular," Levin said. "We've got to help put them in a position where they're able to provide the security for the country along with the police - they're now called the Afghan local police."
He noted President Obama's decision to remove the previously added 30,000 combat troops out of the country by September puts pressure on the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security. The president recently set the date to reduce most of the remaining troops by 2014.
"The big issue is whether or not to continue to reduce the force during the next two years or whether to pause in the reductions and then, in 2014, have a steep cliff in the reduction of those remaining 60,000," said Levin. "I've been urging that we continue to reduce. It's the action forcing mechanism on the Afghans. It's the way to succeed; it's the way to remove a target from the folks who the extremists are able to infiltrate - the army or local police - and blow themselves up, and take either innocent folks or troops with them."
Attacks on innocent people, he said, will not win the Taliban anything except increasing an already intense hatred for them inside their country.
Levin also spoke about the biggest issue facing the Senate when they reconvene - cuts to government programs in order to reduce the deficit; the goal is to cut $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
"It's whether or not we're going to have these automatic, across-the-board cuts in every single program, defense and non-defense, which will have major negative impacts on defense and on education, on health care, and on environment programs in the government," he said.
The idea of these automatic, mandatory cuts is referred to as sequestration, which is something put in place to force Congress to do something sensible, said Levin.
However, he estimates 90 percent of elected officials don't want sequestration to happen.
"There's a few folks who are so anti-government in their approach to take it to such an extreme that they don't care, essentially, what's cut or in what way, whether it's a logical way, which is to establish priorities and to put some revenues ... back on the table," he said.
He credited only two of his Republican colleagues, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) for stating their support of additional revenue as part of a plan to avoid sequestration - mainly due to their concern over defense cuts.
Levin said across-the-board cuts are not the answer and he also questions why there is a willingness to do this when there is an unwillingness to restore a higher tax rate for upper income people.
"I'm not willing to cut those important national priorities in order to avoid restoring an upper bracket tax rate to what it was before," said Levin. "I'm not willing to do that and most Democrats aren't, but there's also, in addition to that issue, other areas to look for revenue."
On the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to affirm the Affordable Care Act, Levin said most people not in favor of the act dislike a government mandate.
He also noted some small business people don't like having to provide insurance.
However, most people he has spoken with like certain aspects of the act, even if they don't agree with "Obamacare."
He said most people agree that insurance companies should not deny people for pre-exisiting conditions and that insurance companies should not be able to cap coverage so the sickest people will lose their coverage. Most people also are fine with the act allowing children to stay on their parent's coverage until age 26. However, Levin said the act will still be a major issue.
"At any rate, it will be an issue, and I think that when the Republicans say, 'totally repeal Obamacare,' ... I think they, over time, are going to lose a lot of the support that they have, because the majority of people in those areas I just described like those parts of Obamacare, even if they don't like a government mandate," Levin said.