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The Daily Reflector - Elizabeth Dole Speaks To Crowd At Chamber Luncheon

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The Daily Reflector - Elizabeth Dole Speaks To Crowd At Chamber Luncheon

By Mike Grizzard

With Congress on summer break, U.S. Sen Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., took the opportunity to travel Down East this week and made a stop in Greenville on Tuesday. She spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of 155 at Brook Valley Country Club during the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon, touching on numerous hot-button topics for not only North Carolinians but citizens throughout the country.

Dole will be in Washington, N.C., on Friday. Her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole, is scheduled to be at East Carolina University's Dowdy Student Stores today at 3:30 p.m.

"Give him my best because I will be on down the road," Dole said.

Pacing in front of the crowd Tuesday with what she calls the "Dole stroll," the senator gave her thoughts on:

Gas prices and domestic drilling: Dole said in 2002 she supported a moratorium on drilling off the North Carolina coast, but gas prices reaching $4 per gallon earlier this summer and improvements in technology have changed her stance.

"A lot of things have changed, and you see what's happened with technology," she said. "It's been incredible."

Dole said she informed Gov. Mike Easley that she would support lifting the moratorium. She also supports drilling in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), a remote area of Alaska. President Bill Clinton vetoed a bill to open the area to drilling in 2002.

"We would have had a million barrels a day coming in right now from ANWR," Dole said. "Honestly, I can't find a reason why we wouldn't do that. Environmentally, it's a very small footprint, and it certainly would be something that would help us in the dilemma that we're in."

Dole also supports drilling in the Rocky Mountains along with other steps including conservation, pursuing alternative sources of energy and releasing one-third of the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve. She also has called for a task force to examine possible oil and gas market fraud.

"Let's go from every angle at this, because it is a huge problem," Dole said.

A food-to-fuel mandate using corn for ethanol: Dole said she pushed for a safeguard that would cut off the use of corn if it began to negatively impact farmers. The proposed amendment to the bill was defeated. "Sure enough, exactly what we feared happened," she said. "The price of meat and eggs and milk has gone up."

Dole said the Environmental Protection Agency could wave the mandate but recently declined, "so we're going to have to get it done by legislation."

Taxes: Dole said President Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 should be made permanent, but business owners also need relief. She said the corporate tax rate in the United States (35 percent on personal service corporations) is second only to Japan and proposes a cut to 25 percent. She also would like to see a manufacturing tax credit boosted from 3 percent to 10 percent.

"Generally what my philosophy is, is to keep those taxes low because our businesses need to keep more of their hard-earned dollars ... to be able to reinvest in the business and expand and hire more people and certainly as individuals we want to keep more of our hard-earned dollars," Dole said.

Health care: In a city where the Brody School of Medicine and Pitt County Memorial Hospital are major cogs in the economy, health care and health insurance surfaced as a concern in Tuesday's audience. Chamber of Commerce President Susanne Sartelle said 94 percent of businesses responding to a survey last year listed health insurance as their top concern.

Dole said she sponsored legislation to provide a tax credit for individuals ($2,160) and ($5,400) families to purchase health care insurance. She said small businesses need an avenue to get the benefits larger companies get.

"Doesn't it make sense that small businesses should be able to come together and pool and be able to get the discounts and lower rates that a big corporation can get for its people or a big union for its membership?" she asked.

No Child Left Behind: Dole, who taught 11th-grade history for one year, is all for accountability but believes the No Child Left Behind standards are giving unfair labels to schools that are performing well. "I would not vote for reauthorization without changes," she said. "... The legislation has a lot of good to it, but when the state says a particular school is a School of Excellence and the Feds say it's a failing school, something's wrong."

Immigration: Dole says the nation's immigration problems stem from a failure in 1986 when legislation gave amnesty to illegal immigrants in exchange for securing the borders and enforcing laws. "That did not happen obviously," she said. "Our immigration system is broken. It's not something where we can just tune it up or fix little parts. It is broken, no question."

The November presidential election between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama: Dole said having experience at the top is vital for the security of country. She served with McCain, a former prisoner of war, on the Armed Services Committee. "The man understands intelligence and military matters, and that's the No. 1 responsibility of the commander in chief, the security of this nation," she said. "I think that background is very important."

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