WESTPORT, Conn. – U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th District) did a double-header Thursday — speaking in the morning with about 200 retired men at Y’s Men in Westport, then in the afternoon with about 25 people at Funchal Cafe near the Main Library in Bridgeport.
In Westport, Himes talked global issues — primarily the almost $4 trillion “with a ’T’” — federal budget. Himes asked the group to visualize a pie chart in which about two-thirds is entitlement programs — Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and interest on debt — in decreasing order of cost. All are non-discretionary, all are on “auto-pilot,” and all are programs on which Congress does not vote.
The other third are discretionary programs, on which it does vote.
We have important decisions to make in both, and if we don’t, entitlements will “squeeze out” the discretionary programs, Himes said.
"We have a problem because more people are beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare than are paying in,” he said, asking rhetorically, “How do we reform it?”
At the same time, Congress needs to determine America's role in the world. Should we be the world’s policeman? "How do we feel about the trillion or two dollars that we have put into Iraq and Afghanistan?” Himes said.
“If we don’t start to act in about three years, we will begin putting these programs in jeopardy.”
Himes’ Westport presentation was about macro issues. His Bridgeport session was all about “kitchen table issues:”
Participants asked about issues such as turning up the heat in public housing and the uptick in violence by young men of color. Himes mentioned Greenwich-based Kids in Crisis, a nonprofit that finds overnight accommodations for children caught in violent homes, which just lost funding of$750,000. That's “a huge step back,” he said.
There were no immediate solutions, but Himes said promised to look into all.
One man said that Joe Ganim received a second chance as he was re-elected mayor, and asked “How do we give their chance in life?” Himes talked about a program supported by U.S. Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey to that point.
And in a discussion about Bridgeport’s Innovation District, Himes said he supports community college programs that offer coding, advanced manufacturing and similar technology courses.
When the Middle East was brought up, Himes said, “Our friends are almost as bad as our enemies. … Weapons we send to our allies too often wind up in our enemies’ hands."
He concluded by saying, “A rounding error in the money we spend in the Middle East would transform Bridgeport.”
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