Sunday, July 01, 2012
By James Lomuscio
From President Barack Obama’s health care plan upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court to the national debt to religious institutions’ rights to Congress holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4) fielded an array of questions today from an overflow crowd of about 125 in the Westport Public Library’s McManus Room.
Upon being introduced by Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Himes began his town meeting by recapping two important bills that recently passed: a two-year extension on transportation legislation that will generate two million jobs and a one-year extension of education legislation keeps the Stafford loans at 3.4 percent, an amount that had been set to expire today.
“It would have expired today, and this matters to students who are needy,” Himes said, saying the increase would have cost students an extra $1,000 a year.
He also said that “Medicare and Social Security are at the core of the country’s fiscal challenge,” with Social Security being the easier of the two to fix.
Calling Social Security “one of the true, great accomplishments for our country,” Himes added, “it needs to be fixed for a number of reasons,” primarily because fewer young people pay into it. He said it can be revamped by “raising the cap and raising the retirement age.” Medicare would not be as easy, he added, due to spiraling costs annually.
Mary Nicholas asked where Himes stood on Obama’s healthcare provision “forcing (religiously affiliated institutions) to provide coverage for abortion, sterilization and birth control.”
Himes stressed that he, too, was “uncomfortable with that stance, ” and that “the right to conscience is important constitutionally.” He noted that he is currently working with Christian Scientists whose faith precludes them from buying health insurance.
“Let’s have a compromise, a practical accommodation,” Himes said. “At the end of the day, that’s where I think we’ll end up, a conscience exemption.”
The most confrontational comment came from Robert MacGuffie of Fairfield, who asked Himes if he were ready “to step down” for voting on legislation that increased the national debt from $10 to $15 trillion “in just three years.”
As Himes responded, saying that without the stimulus the country would be in the same dire straits as Europe, a recession comparable to the Great Depression, MacGuffie kept interrupting, causing a brief shouting exchange between Himes supporters and detractors.
In it, he suggests that tea partiers should “pack the hall… spread out” to make their numbers seem more significant, and to “rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation…to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early…. to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda…stand up and shout and sit right back down.”
In answer to one woman’s question on the Affordable Care Act, HImes responded, “It shouldn’t divide us the way it does.”
“Nobody is comfortable with the government saying you must buy something,” he said, “but what the mandate is saying is that if you can afford it, you should pay into the system.”
“I don’t know why the right wing is against it,” he said. “It’s all about personal responsibility.”
HImes also noted that employer-based health insurance, a business practice in effect since 1946, puts greater strains on businesses in a down economy, especially in Connecticut where unemployment is at 8.2 percent. He added that such employer health benefits also bind entrepreneurial individuals to jobs, preventing them from launching their own companies.
Regarding the sizeable walkout of Congress Democrats during the vote on whether to hold Holder in contempt for investigations into the “Fast and Furious” scandal, Himes stressed that he stayed and voted against contempt, “even if I knew I would lose.”
He remained, he said, because his constituents sent him to Washington to vote, not walk out.
Himes received a round of applause at the end of the 90-minute session—the first such meeting in Westport by the two-term congressman since March 2011.
Posted 07/01/12 at 10:28 PM Permalink