Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) took a series of votes yesterday to balance the urgent needs of the jobless with the increasing need to focus on the government's fiscal health. The Congressman voted in favor of the Defense Appropriations Act, which makes critical investments in the readiness and capabilities of our armed forces, including giving our men and women in uniform a 3.4% pay raise. The bill also provides desperately needed relief to those Americans struggling with unemployment.
"Far too many Americans have lost their jobs and fear for their home and health care," said Congressman Himes. "These temporary programs will allow people basic peace-of-mind while the economy recovers and job growth returns."
The Defense Appropriations Act includes a number of provisions to help those Americans hit hardest by the recession. It extends unemployment benefits through February 28, 2010 and extends from nine to 15 months the 65% COBRA health insurance subsidy for individuals who have lost their jobs. The bill also allows the Small Business Administration to continue several enhancements to its loan guarantee programs so that small businesses can access credit more easily. The bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 395 to 34.
The Congressman voted against a $75 billion Democratic spending plan which largely expanded programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. While the Congressman shares many of the priorities contained in the legislation, he was unwilling to authorize additional spending when over $545 billion, or more than two thirds, of Recovery Act funds are still being spent. This bill uses remaining funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to pay for this expansion. The Congressman believes that TARP funding, which was regrettably requested by President Bush, Treasury Secretary Paulsen, and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke as critical to averting financial meltdown, should not be used for anything other than debt reduction unless the money is distributed through the full appropriations process.
"As many sectors of the economy begin to show clear signs of recovery, we need to get our fiscal house in order," said Congressman Himes. "The simple facts are that we have to pay our bills, and the only long-term path to continued improvement is to replace public spending with private-sector job growth."
According to the Treasury, the United States will reach the legal limit on the national debt on December 31, 2009. Legislation the Congressman helped pass yesterday will increase the limit on the debt by an amount sufficient to cover obligations through February 11, 2010.
"As it has been for decades, this vote will be demagogued. But not raising the debt ceiling would mean a stop to Social Security checks to our seniors, paychecks to our military, and interest payments on Treasury bonds," said Congressman Himes. "That would be the height of irresponsibility."
In 2001, the previous Administration inherited a projected ten-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion. The country was posting annual surpluses and paying down the debt. But years of deficit spending squandered those surpluses, and now the U.S. faces trillions of dollars of deficits. Increasing the debt limit is part of cleaning up the mess we inherited from the Bush Administration. Failure to increase the debt ceiling and the resulting inability of the government to meet its obligations could shake global financial markets and drive up the future cost of government borrowing or risk hurting the U.S. credit rating.