More than 30 Darien League of Women Voters members and guests recently gathered at the home of Gary and Martha Banks to listen to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., discuss Congress.
Himes, a three-term congressman, is on the House Committee on Financial Services and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
In his approximately 15-minute presentation before opening the meeting to questions, he pointed out that there was some cause for optimism.
First, the economy was at its worst in 2009 when he was first sworn in, and while there is still too much unemployment and an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, the situation has improved and the deficit has been substantially reduced, he said. Congress has not been much help, however, and there is a need for more investment in infrastructure and education, he said.
Himes said he is hopeful that after two years of partisan conflict, including a government shutdown, the anger of the populist movements on the right and the left has begun to dissipate. He also is hopeful that a farm bill will be passed and something accomplished on immigration.
As for education-related legislation, he said that may have to be left to individual states.
Two issues garnering considerable national attention are the Affordable Care Act and the National Security Agency data-
On health care, Himes said that people now are able to get coverage if they have pre-existing conditions, that more people have coverage, and the rise in health-care costs is tapering off. On NSA surveillance, he said it was instituted following the 9/11 terrorist attacks under the Patriot Act, which he believes wields too much power to the government and should be scaled back.
As for Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who publicly disclosed a number of top-secret documents, Himes said, he is "no hero. We should supervise the NSA, but not through a 28-year-old whistle-blower."
Himes was asked about the XL oil pipeline from Canada down through the United States -- he wished it did not involve transporting dirty fuel across the country, but noted that it could increase jobs.
The challenge of government spending, including for entitlement programs, Medicare, Social Security and the military, is another concern. Himes predicted that there would be no changes for the present beneficiaries of Medicare and Social Security, but in 20 years there should be reforms such as a raise in the retirement age and higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy.
While the military is the country's "insurance" against attack, he said, the U.S. is spending substantially more than other developed countries combined.