Jim Himes told Y’s Men of Westport/Weston on Thursday the shutdown was “perfectly counterproductive,” its potential threat “enormously discouraging,” and that we are in an “excruciatingly dysfunctional time for the US congress (that is) embarrassing the country in front of the world.”
He did not point fingers or pull punches. Instead, he focused on “just a little bit of a silver lining in the cloud that is Washington and the congress.”
Our economy is recovering, but too slowly, Himes said. He termed numbers released earlier that day, 2.8 percent GDP growth over the last quarter, “a little better than economists had predicted.” But congress has been “absolutely no help.” We’ve cut our deficit – by about two-thirds over the last two years – but at the cost of 750,000 jobs and one percent of annual growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Federal Reserve.
He does not foresee a rerun of the shut down. “Laying ultimatums is not the way to govern a country.” Instead, “we’ll have real budget negotiations (and) hopefully a bigger deal.” To make a deal sustainable it must include “equitable reform of Medicare and Social Security;” targeted budget cuts to replace the sequester’s across the board “stupid cuts;” and a little more revenue, which we can get by eliminating some of the “many, many loopholes,” rather than by raising tax rates.
But it’s congressional “polarity” that keeps the deal from getting done. The extremes on Himes’ side say cuts of any kind are “untenable,” while those on the other side say the same about eliminating tax deductions or loopholes.
He had just completed an e-mail poll which found that constituents rated our debt and the deficit as the major issue, and jobs and economic growth as the second. While many see these two as in opposition, Himes called the issue “largely a matter of timing:” underwriting new jobs will produce economic growth and higher tax revenues that then pay down the deficit.
About the Affordable Care Act, Himes said information now is “fairly confusing.” While the national website is a “disaster,” Connecticut’s exchange is “quite good,” and some 8,000 families have signed up to date.
Himes called the President “flat out wrong” when he said everyone who likes their plan can keep it. But those losing coverage are individual policyholders who comprise less than four percent of the population, and whose policies are too minimal to meet ACA’s requirements. He added that the 49 percent covered by employers are not affected.
He closed with a bit more silver lining. First, the “political dysfunction is healing itself.” He pointed to centrists Republicans who at last understand that the Tea Party has done them no favors. Groups like the Chamber of Commerce will move assertively to support “traditional” candidates favoring small government, low taxes, and, above all, who are willing to work with the other side.
Another, for the first time in our history the US has an opportunity to become energy independent, a win for national security, while just its prospect has begun to attract manufacturing back home.
Himes talked to our education challenge. The “absolute key to economic vibrancy” is our system of education. “Where you’re born should not be the great determinant in your success – whether you choose to be an electrician or a Ph.D.” Our schools, particularly those in the large cities, must do a better job of preparing students for the more demanding entrepreneurial jobs of the future – for both owners and employees.
Q&A often draws out meatier points. This session was no different. Himes, a former banker, called himself “ambivalent” about an updated Glass-Steagall because decisions “get pretty technical.” He noted that some of the real problems in 2008 were due not to commercial banks, but to Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, investment banks outside the FDIC’s purview, and to AIG, an insurance company. He generally supports Dodd-Frank because “there is still risk out there,” along with its Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from certain types of speculations that do not benefit their customers; and he called derivatives “absolutely essential,” while arguing for making them transparent and exchange traded.
About NSA, Himes a member of the House Intelligence Committee – though for only seven months – said it looks beyond calls’ metadata when it suspects a connection to terrorism or some other federal crime, and typically when one party to the conversation is outside the US.
Photo credit – Larry Untermeyer