Himes discusses federal budget in Darien
Updated 3:02 pm, Friday, March 25, 2011
Congressman Jim Himes (D-4) paid a visit to the Senior Men's Association to discuss the federal budget and to field questions about topics ranging from the military action in Libya to why people shouldn't be cynical of politicians.
Himes briefly discussed the financial challenges facing the country and outlined the major areas of spending and what would be cut to balance the books, Himes fielded questions from the audience.
Himes said politicians are still debating how to fund the remainder of this year's budget but he said there is a strong possibility that the government will shut down in April.
"The shutdown will be disruptive but it won't mean people stop getting their Social Security checks or anything like that," Himes said.
Even though the recession weakened the economy, Himes said the U.S. still has one of the largest and most innovative economies in the world.
"The reasons we have such a large economy is because this is a great place to start a business," Himes said. "In the past we also invested heavily in our infrastructure."
However, Himes cautioned that investment in infrastructure has weakened over recent years and as a result, the economy has weakened.
"We're investing only about two percent of our gross domestic product," Himes said. "We're 15 in the ranking of world infrastructure."
The mounting debt in the country is always a concern but Himes said the debt is not the biggest concern. The real problem lies with Medicare because there is $32 trillion in promised benefits that aren't being funded," Himes said.
"Medicare and Social Security account for almost half of the government's total spending," Himes said.
Like Medicare, Himes said the health-care system in general needs to be reworked because the U.S. spends more than any other country but the results aren't as good as the countries that spend less.
"One of the issues with health care is that the demographics have shifted and that's not something that can be blamed on Republicans or Democrats," Himes said. "We've reached the point where we have a higher percentage of senior citizens."
Himes concluded his presentation with a reassurance that the U.S. wasn't on the verge of an economic collapse like Greece.
"We are not on the verge of becoming Greece," Himes said. "We need to make cuts but not cut at a speed that slows the economy. We need to invest in infrastructure and education."
One audience member asked Himes his opinion on the recent military action taken place in Libya. Himes said he was torn on the issue because he was glad no more civilians would die as a result of the intervention, but admitted he was concerned that the U.S. was now involved in three separate wars in Muslim countries.
Himes was also asked his thoughts on whether global warming was a legitimate concern.
"I believe it's a serious issue," Himes said. "I am, and always have been, a supporter of nuclear energy and I think we need to be smarter on energy."
Himes said the dependency on oil was a growing concern and he would like to see cleaner, safer fuels being developed. Although he was a proponent of cleaner fuels, Himes said he was aware that oil was still the most reliable fuel source.
"I also support drilling," Himes said. "However, I don't want to see drilling in the Alaska wildlife refuge."
As an alternative to oil, Himes said he would like to see more effort go into finding a way to extract natural gas that wasn't as harmful to the environment.
One of the last questions Himes answered was how the government was working to improve the quality of education.
"Education is a very big and challenging issue," Himes said. "We have horribly failing schools in areas of poverty such as Bridgeport."
Himes said he would like to see more intervention in areas of poverty to help improve graduation rates for students because the overall graduation rates in the country are declining.
"Even in areas like Darien and Greenwich where the schools are very good things can still be done to make them better," Himes said.