“Boston was a wakeup call for everybody in this room because terrorism is something that only has to get it right once,” Isakson said during a speech at Cobb Galleria. “We missed in Boston. We missed because they’re getting more sophisticated, they’re getting more brazen, they’re finding more ways to find us in more vulnerable ways, so all of us as Americans need to understand once the terrorist genie got out of the bottle, you’re never putting it back in.”
But terrorism can be contained and prevented by a vigilant public looking for things that seem out of place and reporting them to the authorities, he said.
“In Boston that didn’t happen, and the two bombs went off that had only been set on the ground for less than 10 minutes,” Isakson said.
Communications have vastly improved since the 9/11 terror attacks. Isakson said on that fateful day he was making a speech in Congress when a police officer grabbed him by the nape of the neck, dragged him off the stage and threw him into a patrol car, taking him to an undisclosed location.
“Undisclosed to me,” he said. “Everybody else in the world found out about it, but I didn’t know about it.”
By 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, once the planes had struck in New York and the Pentagon, the beepers went down and so did all the cellphones.
“All communication in Washington went down,” Isakson said. “And what was worst of all was the CIA and the FBI couldn’t talk to the Washington police force because there was no interpretative communication.”
By comparison, when Boston was bombed last month, Isakson said all agencies were able to communicate with each other.
“If you look at what happened in terms of good detective work, the good follow-up they did on those two kids, the follow-up they did on those other three that are younger, and other things that will come to your attention later on, our communication is 1,000 percent better. But still they got through one more time,” he said.
The Middle East
In addition to Boston, Isakson referenced Benghazi, Libya and Damascus, Syria.
“It’s the same war,” he said. “It just happens to be in the Middle East. Benghazi was not the byproduct of a Muslim trailer that went in a movie. Benghazi was an organized terrorist attack designed to kill the United States ambassador, and they did it.”
As for Israel’s airstrike on Damascus, Isakson had this sobering statistic: “Damascus is the home of 47 different repositories of sarin gas, ricin and other heavy weapons of mass destruction, which is closer and closer coming into the hands of those who hate us very much and would supply somebody just like the two bombers in Boston.”
No one is recommending sending U.S. troops into Syria, he said, although there are alternatives.
“There are lots of ways we can help with intelligence and support, airpower and things of that nature, which may be appropriate,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, Syria has crossed the red line the president referred to. I think we should take a decisive action to demonstrate that we’re not a paper tiger.”
The senator urged the audience not to be overcome with fear. “Terrorism’s victory is to scare America and Cobb County and not leave your home to go to church, or to go to a marathon or to go to a football game, or to go to a graduation,” Isakson said. “Instead I’m up here to tell you, you ought to go to every one of them that you can. Go with your eyes open and the confidence and the faith that the good Lord is going to watch out for us and our law enforcement will prevail. But, we live in a very dangerous world and we’re in the ultimate war between good and evil.”
On tax rates
On the tax front, Isakson spoke of the Marketplace Fairness Act the Senate would pass later on Monday.
The bill would require online retailers to collect a state sales tax on Internet sales. Most retailers have a third of their sales during the Christmas season, with 25 percent of Christmas sales made over the Internet, Isakson said.
Congress has now come together with the technology and retail communities to decide that tax ought to be collected, he said.
The key word is “collected,” not “levied,” since the tax is already in place, but it has just been too cumbersome to collect until now, he said.
“Taxes that should have been collected and weren’t are going to be collected, and it’s going to lessen the pressure on taxes everywhere else,” Isakson said.
Isakson also spoke of the U.S. Senate’s January passage of the Bush tax cuts, making them permanent. “For 99.1 percent of Americans, for the first time in 14 years, you know next year what your taxes are going to be this year,” he said.
Isakson did not mention that Congress failed to keep the payroll tax from rising. Asked about this after the breakfast, he said, “Well, the payroll tax pays for Social Security. Social Security is always in trouble. It probably should have never been — it was waived at the president’s suggestion as an economic stimulus two years ago, so we lost billions of dollars of contributions to a trust fund that was already underfunded. It wasn’t increasing anything it was returning to what we knew we had to do in order to meet our benefits in Social Security real. Social Security passed in the ’30s.”
Another tax Isakson wants to see fixed is the country’s corporate income tax.
There are $2 trillion American dollars “languishing” in the Cayman Islands and other small off-shore tax havens around the world, Isakson said.
Such havens were created because the U.S. tax code stipulates taxes to be paid twice by companies that are in the U.S. but also are worldwide marketers — such as Coca-Cola.
“Once (you are taxed) in the nation where you earn the money,” he said. “Second where you bring it back to the United States you pay 35 percent more because you’re a United States corporation. We’re the last major developed country in the world that hasn’t switched to a territorial tax system. When you pay once, you pay where it’s earned, not twice, just because you happen to be a resident of the United States of America.”
This kind of tax system is driving American corporations offshore, he said.
Isakson said he hopes to work with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to fix this problem.
He also called for ending tax incentives on products such as ethanol and solar panels.
“So we clean up our tax code, take all these things and take them out of the code,” he said. “That’s going to generate revenue. And we take that revenue and we buy down the tax rate from 35 percent to somewhere between 25 and 28 percent.”
The FedEx Corp. chairman and CEO Fred Smith has said if the tax rate is lowered to 25 to 28 percent, he can repatriate his offshore dollars and compete with any business in the world, Isakson said.
“But you keep it at 35 percent, you keep my dollars offshore, I’m going to have to compete with people around the world, but not the United States of America,” Isakson said, quoting Smith.
The room burst into applause at Isakson’s suggestions.
As Obama prepares to tackle the immigration issue, the Journal asked Isakson what he intends to do about the estimated 12 million immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally.
“Well, first of all we need to get the 12 million that are here to stop getting any more by enforcing our border, No. 1,” Isakson said. “No. 2, when the bill is finally finished and we finish the debate I’ll make my decisions at that time, I’ll never prejudge what decision I’ll make, but we can’t continue to have an open border to the South and a closed border for the type of people we really need coming into the country.”
Isakson wouldn’t answer whether he favors allowing the 12 million some type of path to citizenship or something more severe, such as deportation. Here’s how he answered the question: “There are 100 members of the Senate and 435 members of the House. We’re going to have a debate. I’ll know what’s going to happen in the end and I’ll be happy to answer questions, but I’m not a soothsayer or fortune teller.”