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U.S. is winning war in Iraq, Martinez says

The Republican senator also says the private sector must solve the health care crisis.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP, Times Staff Writer
Published January 17, 2008


SAN ANTONIO - America is winning the war in Iraq, and the quest for universal health insurance has to be a private sector solution.

Those were the two top messages U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez underlined at a 45-minute luncheon address Wednesday to the Pasco County Council of Chambers business group.

Here are some highlights of his speech:

Iraq and foreign policy

"We made a decision a year ago ... to surge our troops. The fact of the matter is - which I believe is one of the most brilliant turnarounds in military history - the surge has made a difference in Iraq to the point that today, there's no doubt, there's no question, even in Hillary Clinton's mind, that we are winning in Iraq. ... It is still a complicated situation, still difficult. But U.S. casualties are the lowest they've been in four years."

"We have largely defeated al-Qaida in Iraq. Just think of the difference, of having defeated al-Qaida in Iraq versus saying al-Qaida won in Iraq."

National Catastrophe Fund

"I support a National Catastrophe Fund. ... (But) there's very little enthusiasm for it in the Senate to move it forward. It's difficult to get a consensus on it. The coastal states all pretty much agree ... (but) if they come from Iowa, they're just not interested. It's a long shot but we're working on it. I'm just not real hopeful the federal government is going to be part of the solution."

Homeowners insurance in Florida

"Property taxes in Florida are too high ... Counties of this state have to learn to live with less than 15 percent raise every year." Martinez said he would work with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to fund more research into mitigation of hurricane damage.

Energy policy

"We need to become energy secure. We need to increase and do more with nuclear plants. We haven't done any in 25 years, because of environmental extremists. But we're beginning to see now we can do nuclear. It's a big part of the energy story here in Florida."

Economy

"My hope is we can come together, Republicans and Democrats, and do some sort of stimulus package. We need to make sure whatever we do is economically sound. ... As a result of (Federal Housing Administration reform), an estimated 21/2-million adjustable rate mortgages that are scheduled to reset this year might be able to refinance under the revamped rules for FHA."

Health care

"Four million Floridians are uninsured. ... I believe the way to fix the health care system is through the private market, not to turn to socializing, a government-run health care system." Martinez also advocated tax credits for the unemployed who take private health insurance, as well as a common electronic records and prescription system available to all doctors and pharmacies.

Electronic surveillance

"Who are we trying to kid? A conversation between a known terrorist with another known terrorist outside of the United States - because of our technology and things we shouldn't be talking about, we can intercept it. Should we? Of course we should. If one of them is talking to an American overseas, I'd just as soon know what they're talking about."

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813)909-4613.