Bridgeport News - Himes Shocked' by Shays' Views on Economy
by Ken Borsuk
Calling it the No. 1 issue on voters' minds, congressional candidate Jim Himes blasted incumbent U. S. Rep. Christopher Shays' (R-4) record on the economy.
"Chris Shays has been more wrong on the economy than he has on the war in Iraq," Himes said. "On his watch we've racked up a historic federal deficit, $5 trillion. That matters. That reduces our economic stability."
The Democratic nominee spent 12 years working on Wall Street. Predicting that the economy would be the dominant issue in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 election, he said steps must be taken right away to address it, including middle class tax cuts and another stimulus package, which would be used to fund the country's infrastructure.
He said not only would it address projects needing attention, but it also would circulate money into the economy and create jobs.
Last month on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio, Shays remarked, "Our economy is fundamentally strong. No one can argue with that."
Himes said on Monday that he was "shocked" to hear that.
"It shows a complete lack of understanding of the American economy and an odd distance from an awful lot of his constituents," Himes said.
Michael Sohn, Shays' campaign manager, stood by the comments about the strength of the economy.
"It is strong, otherwise the economy wouldn't have grown 3.3% in the last quarter," Sohn said. "Obviously there are issues like the housing market and the need for an energy policy, but the economy is growing. It's not slowing. That's a fact."
Sohn said Shays was eager to take action on housing and energy policy, and he and his fellow Republicans urged Democrats all summer long to come back to Washington and go into session so action could be taken. Sohn said energy prices would go down under Shays' proposal to do offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the continental shelf. Sohn said it was congressional Democrats who were letting people down by not debating the issue with Republicans like Shays.
"When you go home and have a vacation, that's not having a debate," Sohn said. "That's not getting things done."
Himes has proposed middle class tax cuts that he claims will put money in the hands of people who need it while encouraging them to do things with it, including paying for education, investing in new homes and saving.
"Once we fix the economy, a lot of these problems will be easier," Himes said, citing issues like increased unemployment and debt.
Speaking about the federal bailout with tax dollars for mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Himes said it was similar to the bailout earlier this year of the private bank Bear Stearns, and that it showed "our economy is in a lot of trouble" and government isn't protecting American citizens from having to foot the bill.
He criticized Shays, a member of the financial services and government oversight and reform committees, for not doing enough to stop this from occurring.
"The subprime crisis was not an accident," Himes said. "You had a corner of the financial sector running amok while our overseers, and in theory Chris Shays is one of our overseers, stayed silent. We will restore oversight. We will put in place smart regulation to keep this from happening again."
Sohn said Shays has done oversight and had sounded the alarm about Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as early as 2002 when he authored the bipartisan legislation known as "No Securites Left Behind." The legislation would have forced the companies to comply with 1933 and 1934 securities laws they had been exempt from. The law faced bipartisan opposition and wasn't passed, but the campaign claimed portions of it were used in the 2008 American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act.
"These partisan, erroneous attacks only discredit Himes because the record clearly reflects Christopher has been among the leading advocates on this issue for years," Sohn said in a statement. "The bottom line is he's been working with Democrats and Republicans to try and avoid the type of government takeover we're seeing today."
Himes has also spoken about Social Security, calling it a "cornerstone" of the economic security of retirees and coming out against any attempt to privatize the system, which he claims Shays is in favor of.
Himes said any attempt to do that could result in needing another federal bailout, which could jeopardize seniors dependent on Social Security.
"Privatization of Social Security is a terrible idea at any time," Himes said at a press conference on Monday in Stamford, surrounded by senior citizens supporting the campaign. "It shouldn't even be an idea when our economy is as insecure as it is now, especially when even the experts have shown themselves very, very bad at evaluating risk, and where our government has shown itself not particularly good at oversight."
However, Shays' staff fired back, claiming that Himes was flat out wrong in his claims about where the congressman stands.
"Chris does not support private accounts," Sohn said. "Jim Himes and his campaign need to go back and do their homework."
The Himes campaign cited several past statements the congressman made supporting personal accounts allowing people to invest part of their Social Security.
Sohn said Shays believes the system needs "reform," but also generational fairness to insure that people receiving benefits would continue to receive them and those promised benefits would "inherit a viable and solvent system that meets their needs."
Himes tied Social Security into the overall concerns about the economy. All ideas, he said, except for privatization, should be on the table for discussion, including raising the retirement age and raising the income cap. Himes said there should be a blue ribbon bipartisan commission to look at Social Security and propose a policy for Congress to vote on.
Sohn claimed there had already been four commissions within the last 27 years and no results. Instead, Sohn said, Shays wants debate between the political parties so a consensus may be reached about how to proceed and solve the problem, similar to how both sides came together to create a balanced budget in the 1990s.
"We move forward in this country when we debate on the issues," Sohn said.
By making the economy stronger and getting more people employed, Himes said, more people would be paying into Social Security. Economic growth is key to the system's continued life, he said.