Himes talks economy, deficits and guns at Shelton town meeting

The economy, budget deficit and gun control were the top topics during a town meeting with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes at Shelton Town Hall on Saturday.

But issues such as veterans’ mental health needs, the influence of money in politics, immigration reform, student loan rates and genetically modified food also were raised by people at the meeting.

About 125 individuals attended, coming from Shelton and nearby towns.

Michael Scala, president of Lex Products in Shelton, said his company might have to lay off up to 50% of its workforce because of uncertainty about the federal budget sequester.

Lex Products makes electrical power and distribution systems for the entertainment and defense industries.

Sequester impact on government contracts

Scala said the sequester — the across-the-board budget cuts designed to lower the deficit — “had essentially stopped all our Department of Defense contracts.”

Himes, a third-term Democrat, said the sequester was supposed to get Congress to pass a more comprehensive deficit reduction bill and was “never designed to go into place,” partly because across-the-board cuts are “stupid.”

“I do think the temperature is going to rise,” Himes said of the sequester, a policy favored more by Republicans than Democrats. Many Democrats would prefer tax increases on wealthier individuals and businesses rather than budget cuts.

Inaction during the last Congress

The inability of Washington to get as much done as needed was a consistent theme for Himes. He said the 2012 legislative session failed to address many important issues.

“The last Congress was a pretty tough Congress,” he said. “I’d say we earned our 9% approval.”

However, Himes said, the new Congress seated in January has passed Hurricane Sandy aid, the Violence Against Women Act, and $600 billion in new taxes on upper-income Americans.

He also said immigration reform is likely to pass this year.

Sees slow economic progress

Himes said the economy turned the corner in 2009, with slow economic growth ever since. He said the budget deficit will come down this year because of that growth as well as the tax increases and spending cuts approved by Congress.

The biggest long-term fiscal issue for the country is lowering health care costs, Himes said. Medicare and Social Security could consume the entire federal budget in a decade, he warned.

“Our population is aging,” he said, leading to more beneficiaries.

Himes said he can support increasing the eligibility age for Social Security but thinks people with physical-intensive jobs should perhaps be able to collect at a younger age than “the guy who wears a tie.”

A Shelton resident told Himes it’s time for the United States to focus more on its own problems — including the budget deficit — and less on exploring Mars.

Guns and veterans issues

Speakers on guns were among the most passionate. One man said law-abiding armed people can help prevent mass murders, and that their actions do save lives.

Himes said while he supports “the right of people to protect themselves,” he doesn’t want the United States to become a place where everyone is armed — including in schools, churches and theaters.

Al Meadows of Shelton said many active military members and veterans need help with mental health issues. Some of their problems can be attributed to the multiple combat tours they must go on, he said, questioning why that is necessary with such a large military.

Money in politics and term limits

On money and politics, a speaker pushed for publicly funded campaigns to combat the power of lobbyists. Holding up U.S. currency, he said America now is not “a real democracy,” but “a money democracy.”

Another speaker said the way to take money out of politics is term limits, which she said would help return the government to the people.

Himes said term limits would limit people’s choices, but he’s willing to discuss the idea. “Many of my colleagues are past their sell-by date,” he said.

One speaker said the country needs to make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to become citizens. Himes said high-tech companies tell him they can’t find enough engineers and programmers in the American labor force.