Congressman Jim Himes reminded the Y’s Men that there had been a recent change in the House of Representatives’ leadership with the ascendency of Speaker Ryan. He also pointed out that this was accompanied by a refreshing increase in productivity. Newly passed bills dealt with a Federal budget that avoided a government shutdown and a three year transportation bill that will provide Connecticut with needed funds to repair roads and bridges. But, notwithstanding these achievements there still remain many serious issues. Included in these are an education system that no longer prepares students to take their place as effective contributing workers in the new economy, wage inequality and the problems surrounding climate change.
Despite the myriad outstanding issues and problems, Congressman Himes focused his remaining remarks on the Federal budget and the role that Americans want their country to play in the world.
He asked the Y’s Men to imagine the budget as a gigantic pie chart. Sixty percent of that chart concerned expenses that Congress doesn’t impact. Included in this sixty percent are Medicare expenditures and Social Security expense. These costs are automatic. Yet, the country is aging, which means that the costs associated with these automatic expenditures are also increasing. And they will continue to increase putting increasing pressure on the non-automatic forty percent until the entire budget is consumed with automatic non-discretionary costs. Congressman Himes stated that while these automatic categories are the subjects of much heated controversy concerning how to deal with them, their present increasing trajectory is simply ruled by mathematics. Congress realizes this and knows that changes have to be made if these benefits are to be available in the future, but both parties have their own way of solving the problem. According to the Congressman what is needed is much less speaking from entrenched positions and more honest conversations about the differing approaches so some rational resolution can be arrived at.
The Congressman feels that the world‘s nations and groups are very slowly moving toward systems of accountable government, which is a good thing. The problem is that the progress is glacially slow. This is not surprising as it took western countries hundreds of years and many wars to achieve still not perfect governmental forms. The Congressman cited the 1500s as the beginning of the modern process for these western countries. The middle east and China still have to undergo much of this process and like the western countries, they will have to do it on their own resolving such issues as the balance between church and state. The Congressman feels that we can help by supporting movements that work toward responsible governments, but that we can’t dictate the form these governments will take, or speed required for these governments to be achieved. He feels that we should only insist on two things and do what we have to do to assure that no government sponsors or supports terrorism, or attacks Israel. All else should be left up to the individual nations and groups with such guidance as we can effectively provide. In this way we may stop our cycle of winning battles, but losing wars, which seems to be our current fate.
Q. What can individuals do to promote the approaches you are advocating with our representatives?
A. You have to demand honest answers no matter how uncomfortable it makes the representative. Don’t let them give you pat answers that really are no answers at all. And if they don’t give honest answers vote them out of office.
Q. What expenses comprise the 2/3 not voted on by Congress?
A. Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt.
Q. What should our relationship be with Russia?
A. The same as with China. These countries will do bad things and when they do we should hit them, but not hit them so hard that we fracture all chance of future relationships. We are too intertwined with these countries to not have some on-going relationship. As a side I want to state that Putin is weak. His economy is in shambles, but we still have to deal with him.
Q. What can you do to enforce the “do not call list”?
A. That is a state level issue not federal. You have to frequently re-up your request to be on that list to keep it active regarding you and in Connecticut it doesn’t apply to charities or political calls.
Q. Can you comment on the Iran deal and what Congress should do?
A. There is risk in this deal and I believe more risk in not doing the deal. Iran was 3-6 months away from testing a nuclear bomb. This will probably prevent that for 15 years. At the same time it will provide their suffering economy with an influx of cash that will allow them to increase support for terrorist organizations. Still, the main goal was to prevent the bomb for some reasonable period of time and hope that the Iranian attitude towards being an outlying nation will change for the better. Hope in foreign affairs is dangerous, but right now it is the best we can get.
Q. What point does our debt have to get to before we are really in trouble?
A. We are not close to being Greece. I believe that as long as the economic and perception trend is good people will have confidence and all will be okay. If things go south then we have trouble.
Q. How do you feel about voting on individual appropriations bills rather than one omnibus bill?
A. Speaker Ryan said we will go back to regular order rather than having the leadership decide on a course of action and impose that on the entire House. I am in favor of that, but he still faces the so-called “Freedom Caucus”. They claim they wanted a regular order of business, but they may also want a more radical change in the government, which poses the possibility of future government clogs.