In Westport, Himes talks money, war and civility
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, in a second town hall meeting in Westport since his November re-election, fielded questions Saturday from constituents on national finances and international conflicts.
With Congress debating President Barack Obama's proposed $3.7 trillion 2012 federal budget, Himes called for more investment in infrastructure and education. He acknowledged, however, that Congress is restricted in its spending options.
"We are carrying historically high levels of debt, getting close to 100 percent of GDP," he said. "We don't have a lot of room. We don't have a lot of extra money. The situation is tight."
While indicating that he would consider supporting budget cuts and reform of government entitlement programs to rein in spending, Himes stressed that such measures should be pursued cautiously.
"You do not want to cut at a speed or magnitude that will throw us back into a recession," he said. "You don't need to be too much of a student of history to know that that can happen. It happened in this country in 1937."
Several constituents told Himes the tax code should be revised to increase the federal government's receipts.
"If you took all the people in this country and took away their mortgage deductions, it would not begin to compare with the corporations in this country who are not paying taxes," said June Getraer, a Westport resident.
"GE (General Electric) perfectly tells the story. They're paying no taxes because the tax is so complicated and there are so many loopholes," Himes replied. "Eliminate them [the loopholes], and make the tax rate competitive with the rest of the world."
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also emerged as a leading concern of several constituents.
"Why are we in Afghanistan?" asked Nazareth Azarian, a Fairfield resident. "We talked about money. That's all we care about is money. But do we care about lives?"
Himes said that he opposes a long-term, nation-building mission, and supports Obama's plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq later this year.
The second-term congressman also weighed in on the crisis in Libya, advocating for a multilateral response.
"We as a country -- though our hearts go out to people who are looking for progressive, democratic regimes -- we cannot be in the business of committing our armed services anywhere and anytime this happens," he said. "I want us out of there in favor of the Arab League and NATO as soon as possible."
Himes' Saturday visit followed an appearance in January at Westport Town Hall, two days after the Tucson shooting rampage that seriously injured Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Noting the impact of that incident, Himes closed the Saturday meeting with a renewed call for a civil public policy discourse.
"It will have occurred to everybody in this room that we are in the same context that my colleague Gabby Giffords was in when she was attacked," he said. "That really struck at the core of our system. But this -- the give-and-take between a constituency and its elected representative -- is what makes this country so special."