Himes: 'I'm an optimist' despite fiscal challenges
Updated 7:42 am, Tuesday, May 10, 2011
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, now in his third year in Congress, remains optimistic, despite the steep economic challenges facing the nation.
"I'm an optimist," Himes told a Monday luncheon of the Fairfield Rotary Club. "I think that we're going to get something done."
But it won't be easy, Himes warned. In fact, he said, there are difficult discussions ahead on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. He added, however, that budget deliberations have "gotten progressively more honest."
Just those two entitlement programs, Himes said, comprise about $50 trillion in unfunded liabilities. He said about $8 trillion of that is for Social Security. "We've fixed that before," Himes said, referring to changes in 1983 that raised the retirement age. "It can be fixed, nobody is going to be happy, but our population is aging."
He said he wouldn't support cutting payments to current Social Security recipients, but said that consideration should be given to tweaking the system for those like himself who are still several decades away from retiring -- among the options that should be weighed is means testing.
The financial problems of Medicare, Himes said, will be more difficult. The Republican-proposed voucher system doesn't address growing health-care costs. "It's lazy, it doesn't get at that 15 percent annual increase," he said.
Eventually, Himes said, the discussions will likely lead to questions about health-care rationing. "Do you really think that health care is different from every other products and services, that everyone will always get everything they want?" he said. For example, Himes said he supported Medicare reimbursements to doctors who provide voluntary end-of-life counseling, which became labeled by some critics as "death panels."
In response to a question from the audience, Himes said while he believes everyone should have a living will, he does not think it should be required of Medicare recipients.
On another topic, Himes said he is pleased with some of the financial reforms enacted since the economy's 2008 meltdown, though he is concerned about some aspects of the reforms because he thinks they make the market less competitive for smaller community banks.
Democrats need to move away from demagoguery when discussing the entitlement issues, Himes said, while Republicans need to accept that the tax code needs to be reformed.
"We got into this mess in a very bipartisan way, and we're going to have to get out of this mess in a very bipartisan way," he said.