WESTPORT, Conn. — In a recent talk before the Westport Rotary, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes said that there’s “not one single dominating issue” in the Fourth District but outlined three issues that would strengthen the middle class in Fairfield County.
“Job One,” he said, “is spurring economic growth.” Even though we’re come a long way since January 2009, “Our middle class is hanging on by its fingernails, and that’s not right,” Himes said.
The Affordable Care Act was again deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, assuring coverage to many who didn’t have it, reducing medical costs and helping hospitals become more cost effective, Himes said.
He then cited Housatonic and Norwalk community colleges for preparing students for the advanced manufacturing jobs growing in the U.S. economy.
Housatonic CC has established an Advanced Manufacturing Center, and Norwalk CC, in collaboration with IBM, has begun a “school within a school” at Norwalk High that offers a six-year program promising graduates a high school diploma, an associate's degree and at least an interview with IBM.
But Himes said employers increasingly tell him about employees who can’t afford to live here, and whose quality of life is compromised by long commutes on our “1950s highways and railroads.”
Himes sees Congress addressing infrastructure in August. It won’t raise our 30-year-old 18-cent gas tax, but Congress does appear willing to pass a “one-off” deal allowing corporations to repatriate off-shore funds under a 15 percent or 20 percent tax rate instead of the standard 35 percent, and will earmark those taxes for infrastructure investment.
He called Trade Promotion Authority another economic growth issue, though “very complicated.” He is one of the few Democrats supporting President Barack Obama on the issue, while unions and liberal Democratic groups call the agreement “a job killer, bad for the environment, and great for the multi-nationals.”
He argues that lower-end blue-collar jobs were long ago moved to low-wage China and Mexico. Meanwhile, about a million higher-skilled jobs have returned to the U.S., to take advantage of the more productive American worker, less costly and cleaner domestic energy and the time and money savings from shorter supply chains.
And because Fairfield County is by far the heaviest exporter in an export-heavy state, Himes believes TPP could be a huge source of growth for our exporters.
Is ISIS an “existential” threat to the U.S., he was asked. No, nor is terrorism generally, unless a terrorist group gets weapons of mass destruction, Himes said.
To a question about Brazil, Himes, who was born in Peru and worked in Latin America, commented more broadly. “We’ve ignored Latin America,” he said, but the trade agreement will allow us to focus there and on Asia.
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