ANA SANTOS / THE EAGLE
If there’s one thing Rep. Jim Himes knows, it’s money.
The Democrat from Connecticut brought his experiences as former vice president of Goldman Sachs and as a second-term congressman to AU on Feb. 16 at an AU College Democrats event, where he spoke on financial policy and his optimism regarding the American political system.
Himes currently serves as a member of the House Committees on Financial Services and Homeland Security.
He raised his two fundamental concerns about current American government and society, including fiscal irresponsibility within Congress.
“The permeation of money into our system is poisonous,” Himes said. “At worst, it’s corrupting. At best, it is an awful way for elected representatives to spend their time. … Somewhere between corrupted and distraction lies the fact that inevitably, a system that runs on money will prioritize those entities or those people who are providing money and that’s not right.”
But Himes said he isn’t sure how to address the problem of corruption in campaign finances.
“I’m a supporter of public financing for federal elections,” he said. “It’s not entirely comfortable to say that your taxpayer dollars should get used by me to buy ads attacking my opponent, but it’s better than the alternative, which is the system that we have today which is getting worse.”
The second concern addressed what Himes described as the self-pleasuring selection of information and its effect on political thought and voting behavior.
“A democracy relies on an informed and critically-thinking constituency,” Himes said. “I sense that over a generation, we have changed the way American citizens think about issues … Now, the absorption of information has become entertainment, it has become self-gratifying. If I’m on the right, Glenn Beck really makes me feel good. If I’m on the left, Rachel Maddow really makes me feel good … We can tailor the news we receive to our prejudices.”
While discussing fiscal and monetary policy, Himes said Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable in the long run and that Congress needs to address entitlement reform before they are forced by necessity.
“[Social Security] is mechanically easy to fix. I think we can probably do that,” he said. “Medicare is a much bigger problem than Social Security by a factor of five … Until we start getting signals [from the U.S. Treasury], it’s hard to get people to be serious about that.”
The government should rethink its revenue by allowing taxes to rise, cutting spending on subsidies and reconfiguring the defense budget, according to Himes. He said the greatest challenge is deciding what to cut from the budget when no one, including the American people, is willing to make sacrifices.
“The fundamental dissatisfaction with Congress lies in this fact — most of my constituents want secure retirements through Social Security, robust Medicare … a military that can hunt down terrorists in northwestern Pakistan, great highways, superb libraries, good student loans so that you can go to universities like this one, a court system that adjudicates contracts, a government that can take care of the train system and the postal system and everything, and we want really, really, really low taxes,” Himes said. “You don’t get all that. [America doesn’t] really want to make the tough choices. … Those of us who are paid to make those choices inevitably confront that challenge.”
Himes emphasized the need for trust and transparency with constituents regardless of the decisions made in Congress.
“We need to be honest with the American people about what we’re doing,” he said.