By Roy Fuchs
Congressman Jim Himes told the Y's Men of Westport Weston today this an "excruciatingly dysfunctional time" for Congress.
"It's embarrassing the country in front of the world," said the three-term Democrat who represents Connecticut's 4th Congressional District, which includes Westport.
While the economy is improving, Himes said it is "recovering too slowly."
Numbers released earlier today indicated that the U.S. economy grew at 2.8 percent over the last quarter, "a little bit better than economists had predicted," Himes said, adding: "Congress has been absolutely no help."
The United States has cut the deficit by about two-thirds over the last two years, but the Congressional Budget Office and Federal Reserve have both stated that the way it was done created a "drag" that cost 1 percent of GDP growth and 750,000 jobs, he said.
Himes added that the shut down and threat of default were the "perfectly counterproductive strategy."
On the optimistic side, he said, "I don't think you'll see that again laying ultimatums on the table is not the way to govern a country."
And now, Himes believes, "we'll have real budget negotiations." It will, at the least, recast the sequester, that he termed "stupid cuts."
Himes said he looks toward a bigger deal, despite strong opposition from both parties. The need is to reform long-term mandatory programs of Medicare and Social Security, he said, not by raising rates but by eliminating some of the "many, many loopholes" that will raise revenues by $1.6 trillion annually.
Himes called the Affordable Care Act "fairly confusing." And while the national website is a "disaster," Connecticut's exchange is "quite good," and 8,000 families have already signed up, he said.
The legislation has extended the solvency of Medicare by about 12 years, begun to close the "doughnut hole", and requires drug companies to provide discounts on generic drugs, Himes said.
He called the president "flat out wrong" when he said everybody who likes their plan can keep it, then noted that this affects fewer than 4 percent of those insured, and only those with individual policies.
Himes said healthcare inflation was the biggest driver of budget growth, while noting that growth fell to less than 3 percent over the last two years.
He said he is optimistic that the "political dysfunction is healing itself," that the Chamber of Commerce will back more traditional Republicans in their primaries, those favoring small government, low taxes and a willingness to work with the other side.
Himes noted that for the first time in U.S. history there is an opportunity to become energy independent, a huge plus for national security, and, he added, it reduces domestic manufacturing costs and has begun to bring companies back.
Himes ended his talk saying the "absolute key" to economic vibrancy is the U.S. education system --- where you are born should not be the great determinant in your success, whether you choose to be an electrician or a Ph.D.
U.S. schools, he said, particularly in the large cities, are not preparing students for entrepreneurship, either as an owner or as an employee.