Emotions ran high tonight as U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, discussed the country's economy with former U.S. Comptroller David Walker and about 75 district residents at a forum at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
Walker, who served as comptroller under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, painted a bleak picture of the country's fiscal situation, as the country faces a $1.4 trillion debt, 47 percent of which is being held by foreign nations, he said.
"You cannot spend more money than you make at increased rates without sooner or later having a day of reckoning," said Walker, a resident of the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. "Our day of reckoning is coming."
Walker said the main driving forces behind the country's increasing debt and deficit include the expansion of government, rising healthcare costs, retirement income costs, education costs and self-interest.
He also outlined potential solutions, including Social Security reform, reducing the rate of increase in healthcare costs, and streamlining the tax codes.
"We have to make tough, transformational changes" to the way government works, he said.
Earlier in the evening, Himes, who is seeking election to a second term as a Congressman representing Connecticut's 4th Congressional District, introduced Walker as "studiously non-partisan," citing the fact that Walker has been a registered Independent since 1997.
"He is here to get the facts out," Himes said. "He will critique both parties."
"The facts aren't liberal or conservative; the truth isn't Republican or Democrat," he said.
"For someone who's asking for your vote, there's nothing good I can tell you," Himes said. "The problems are tough and the solutions are not pretty."
Indeed, emotions ran high at times during the one and-a-half hour town hall meeting, particularly when Himes asserted that tax cuts have never increased revenue, which elicited shouts of "Under Reagan!" and "Liar!" from the audience.
But there were also some more light-hearted moments. While discussing his position on the Spending Cuts and Deficit Reduction Working Group, Himes said that he wants to look at the defense budget, but that "if I say we need to look at the Pentagon, then three months from now it's 'Himes supports terrorists' and 'Himes is weak on defense.'"
"Everything has to be on the table, there must be no sacred cows," Himes said. "We can't paint ourselves into corners or we're not going to solve these problems."
Himes praised the stimulus package passed last year as "an integral part of helping us turn a corner," but added, "We haven't turned a corner in any way satisfactory to people still without jobs."
Looking ahead, Himes asked for the opinions of the approximately 75 district residents gathered at the high school on two issues: a $25 billion bill up for a vote next week that would provide aid to teachers and states, and the upcoming expiration date of the Bush tax cuts.
"Do we want tax cuts? I know I do, and I suspect everyone in this room does," Himes said. "But the price to make those cuts permanent would be $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, so please tell me where we would find alternative revenue, or what you want to see cut."
Dorothy Blaustein, a retired Bridgeport teacher, asked Himes to vote for the bill that would help teachers.
"When I worked in Bridgeport, there were 30 kids per classroom, and that would never be tolerated in a suburban school," said Blaustein.
After the discussion was over, Blaustein added: "I like that fellow, I'm going to vote for him."