A conversation about the federal budget was held at Weston Town Hall, led by U.S. Congressman Jim Himes (D-4th District).
Mr. Himes began the meeting, which took place Friday, Feb. 22, by outlining what he considers the good news and the bad news.
The bad news, said Mr. Himes, is that the United States will most likely go into sequestration — automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that will hit almost every area of government spending — beginning March 1.
“It embarrasses me that this is how we are governing the country right now,” he said, “but it seems to take that kind of crisis to get the Congress to come together to do the fair and balanced deals that we know we need to do to stabilize our fiscal situation.”
Mr. Himes referenced the economic crisis in 2009 to emphasize the progress Congress has made. In response to the crisis, he said, the government enacted the American Recovery Act.
“You can criticize it from a bunch of different angles, but most economists would have said, ‘Look, when you’re really spiraling into recession, don’t cut the budget down — in fact, spend,’ as the United States did choose to do,” Mr. Himes said.
But he is worried that the country is going to fall into larger economic problems if people do not come to the realization that life is much different than it was several years ago.
“We live in a highly competitive world, where to be middle class, you’re going to have to have skills and education,” he said. “How do we make sure we are globally competitive? We make sure that our education system isn’t 20th, like it is in the industrialized world today, but that it’s top three or top one, the way it used to be 30 years ago.”
In order to prevent problems from expanding, said Mr. Himes, the budget issues need to be fixed and the physical infrastructure is going to need investment.
Mr. Himes said the good news is that the sequestration will most likely be put to an end within the next few weeks. This will involve some cuts and some additional revenue.
Mr. Himes also took questions from the approximately dozen members of the public in attendance.
There was a question regarding the ramifications of the upcoming sequestration.
If the sequestration cuts are in place for six weeks, said Mr. Himes, it’s going to create a lot of hassle and real management problems for the military and military contractors. However, it will not affect Social Security checks.
“If the sequestration kicks in for a year, it’s $83 billion in cuts in a $3.8 trillion budget,” he said. “It’s not smart, it will harm our economic recovery and it’s going to create huge inconveniences because they’re across-the-board cuts.”
Arne de Keijzer brought up the issue of means testing for Social Security and Medicare. Mr. Himes said he agreed with the concept but he also posed a counterargument.
“If you make it more of a means tested program, instead of feeling like a program for all of the American people, it will start to feel more like a ‘welfare program’ for people of limited means,” he said, “and therefore there’s a worry that if we’re not all invested in Social Security, eventually they’ll try to zero it out.”