The U.S. must continue its pursuit of Islamic State group and other terrorist groups, or risk an increasing threat to safety of Americans, first-year U.S. Sen. Todd Young said.

The Republican from Indiana talked about military force, health care and tax reform, and changes in U.S. immigration laws during a Saturday interview in Columbus, where he had spoke that morning during the annual Veterans Day program.

Young is among a handful of senators calling for Congress to adopt a new authorization for use of military force specifically targeting Islamic State group and its associated forces, as well as continuing the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

But since the war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history, claiming more than 3,500 American lives — including military and contractors — and costing in excess of $1.07 trillion, political resistance on both sides of the aisle is expected, Young said.

“But it’s not as if we have a choice here,” said Young, a Senate Foreign Relations committee member. “If we disengage, the threats will grow — and that will leave Americans less safe and secure.”

Describing terrorist organizations as a “hydra-headed movement,” Young said there are new ISIS branches in West Africa, emerging al-Qaeda franchises in Yemen and northeast Africa, and growing instability in Iran.

While Young said he doesn’t believe the 16-year-old Afghanistan conflict will be a perpetual war, the senator does characterize it as a battle against a small segment of Muslims that promotes a “perverted and violent ideology.”

Young cited a recent example of how a military withdrawal can backfire, referring to the 2011 pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq.

“When it created a power vacuum, the Iranians moved in, ISIS grew out of the instability, and now we have a seething cauldron of dysfunction and instability that ultimately creates a threat for America and its allies,” Young said.

Noting that former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar has long warned against the convergence of weapons of mass destruction with state-sponsored terrorism, Young said North Korea now exemplifies what Lugar was talking about “in its most aggressive and fearsome form.”

“Congress may need to take some action, whether it’s in the form of oversight or something else in the coming months,” Young said. “We can’t allow politics to get in the way.”

Health care

While drawing a hard line against foreign threats, Young said he is willing to compromise with Senate Democrats on some domestic matters.

Young said he believes he is the only Senate Republican who has sent letters and made personal phone calls to every Senate Democrat to solicit their ideas, which has resulted in meaningful dialogues on health care.

“I’m prepared to work with anyone who has good ideas on how we can increase access, reduce the cost and improve lives,” said Young, a member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Instead of insisting on repealing the Affordable Care Act as many other Republicans have, Young expressed a willingness to instead discuss reforms and improvements to the law. That will require compromises from both parties, however, he said.

For his fellow military veterans, the former Marine is pressing the Veterans Administration regional office in Indianapolis about long wait times for benefit claims and appeals.

Citing one appeal that lasted 10 years and many others lasting up to six years, Young said he has asked the VA what it needs to better serve veterans.

The senator said he is willing to support more funds for the VA, as well as streamlining operations to provide better customer service.

“If it’s the ability to exercise more managerial discretion within the VA to reward good performers and transition out bad performers, we need to do that,” Young said.

Although he cited progress in veterans legislation in recent months, Young said he will continue pressing the VA bureaucracy until he sees significant improvement in the quality of care.

Tax reform

Unlike well-publicized versions of the House tax reform plan, the new Senate plan unveiled late last week includes the medical expense benefit that Hoosiers in nursing homes utilize to help them pay for their care, Young said.

While encouraged by what he’s seen so far of the Senate plan, Young said he anticipates it will continue to evolve in the weeks ahead.

“Ultimately, my litmus test will be whether it will be better than the 30-year-old highly complicated legislation we have now,” Young said. “If it is better, I’ll be voting for it. If it’s worse, I won’t.”

Portions of the Senate tax plan that meet with Young’s approval include lowering the current top tax rate of 39.6 percent, increasing the standard deduction, and reducing time and paperwork burdens on taxpayers.

In order to keep more manufacturing jobs from moving overseas, Young said it is necessary to providing tax relief to U.S. corporations.

One change he supports is creation of a territorial tax system for U.S. corporations with overseas operations. Supporters say the current system forces these companies to pay more taxes than competitors, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

Immigration

After U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be wound down, Young called for a bipartisan solution to reform legal immigration, prevent illegal immigration and address the question of what to do with undocumented men, women and children already living in the United States.

Young, who expects debate in Congress will continue on DACA, said he is prepared to make compromises in order to create certainty for the program’s future.

But such steps should be handled at the same time as other immigration issues by whatever congressional committee has jurisdiction, Young said. In the case of DACA, it’s the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said.

For college-educated immigrants, the U.S. needs to allow them to stay in the country, create new companies and add to the economy, the senator said.

On the lower end of the work scale, Young said he advocates making sensible changes to guest worker programs.

“We need to enforce existing immigration laws as well,” Young said. “For example, if employers are breaking the law by hiring illegals, we want to make sure they are held accountable.”

Immigration reform will require a layered approach that should include patrolling drones and other new technology, as well as fencing, walls and border patrols, Young said.

With the possibility of Republicans losing some seats in midterm congressional elections next year, the freshman senator — who succeeded Sen. Dan Coats upon his retirement from elected office — understands there may be a reluctance among some of his GOP colleagues to take bold and controversial steps on any issue.

“I’m not naive about the political forces,” Young said. “But I hope Republicans can move forward. We’ve got some consequential and long-standing challenges, and we may need to act boldly.”

The Young File

Age: 45

Background: Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; raised in Hamilton County, Indiana; resides in Bloomington, Indiana.

Education: Graduate of Carmel High School, U.S. Naval Academy; University of Chicago (MBA), and Indiana University (JD)

Military: Captain, U.S. Marine Corps., served from 1995 to 2000.

Prior political office: U.S. representative for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, January 2011 to January 2017.

Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; Commerce, Science & Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Family: Wife, Jennifer. Four children: son Tucker, and daughters Annalise, Abigail and Ava.

U.S. Senate office locations: 

  • 400 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; phone 202-224-5623
  • 46 E. Ohio St., Suite 462, Indianapolis, IN, 46204; phone 317-226-6700
  • 3602 Northgate Court, Suite 15, New Albany, IN 47150; phone 812-542-4820
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.