By Mary Orndorff Troyan
Gannett Washington Bureau
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - Conservatives should promote their agenda of lower taxes and smaller government using plainspoken appeals to Americans' hearts and minds, Sen. Tim Scott told a major national gathering of the political right on Thursday.
Scott, the new Republican senator from South Carolina, said he prefers not to talk about federal spending in terms of billions and trillions of dollars. Instead, he prefers to say the federal government earns $22,000 and spends $34,000, he said.
"Only in the federal government can that happen," Scott said. "We have to make it digestible for guys like me."
Scott spoke for about 15 minutes without prepared remarks or a teleprompter from the main stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It was his first major speech in Washington since joining the Senate in January, and he peppered it with familiar, folksy stories about growing up poor with a single mother in South Carolina.
He said he when he talks about the $16 trillion federal debt to his 93-year-old grandfather, who drives a Ford F-150 pickup truck, he describes $1 trillion as "33,333,000 F-150s."
"We have to bring fiscal sanity back to Washington D.C.," Scott said.
Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said Scott proves the Republican Party's ability to foster fresh, diverse leadership. Scott, 47, is the only black Republican in Congress and the first black senator from South Carolina.
"We're looking for talented, young, committed, conservative leaders to help us take this nation back to the America we all want," Cardenas said.
Scott was a congressman from South Carolina's 1st District when Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to the Senate in December to replace CPAC-favorite Jim DeMint, who resigned to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Scott must stand for election in 2014 to finish the term.
Scott's only previous CPAC appearance was in 2011, when he gave a four-minute speech, according to his spokesman.
Scott said he opposes the 2010 health care reform law, wants a lower corporate income tax rate, and favors school choice - all welcome topics at CPAC. His message was mostly upbeat and optimistic about the country and the Republican Party.
"We are an opportunity society, not a society that believes in redistribution," Scott said, drawing applause.
Scott also mentioned the late John Moniz, the Chick-Fil-A franchise operator who became Scott's mentor.
"He taught me that having a job is a good thing, but creating jobs is a far better thing," Scott said. "He is a part of my path of becoming a red-blooded conservative because he taught me to think my way out of poverty."
Also Thursday, South Carolina's senior senator was part of a CPAC panel discussion on Iran and the threat of radical Islam.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his biggest fear is a nuclear Iran and that nuclear technology will end up in the hands of terrorists.
Graham said that before President Barack Obama makes a planned visit to Israel, the Senate should approve his resolution before outlining how the U.S. would defend Israel if it's attacked. The resolution affirms American support for Israel's right to defend itself, and encourages diplomatic, military and economic support if an attack occurs.