Rep. Jim Himes: Budget Debate 'Profoundly Dishonest'

Monday, April 04, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show,Jim Himes, U.S. Congressman (D-CT-4), discussed the budget negotiations ahead of Friday's deadline.

Giving the Republicans credit

The government will shut down on Friday if Congress can't pass a budget for this year, but Republicans are already touting a new long term fiscal plan to come on the heels of the current debate. Expected to be announced tomorrow, the GOP proposal would eliminate $4 trillion in spending over the next decade—ambitious, because Congress can't even agree on whether to cut $66 billion from the 2011 budget. To make matters more controversial, entitlement programs will be on the table. But that's actually welcome news for Democrat Jim Himes.

One of the terribly disheartening things about this crazy debate over the current budget is that it plays exclusively in that 12-13 percent of our outlays known as 'non-defense discretionary.' It's a profoundly dishonest debate over $10 billion here, $20 billion there. If Republicans have put together a proposal that, like the Simpson-Bowles commission, is about the whole budget, entitlements and the tax code, I applaud them for that. But I expect there will be plenty in there that Democrats like me will object to.

Reviving Simpson-Bowles

Representative Himes brought up last Fall's Simpson-Bowles commission, the deficit reduction team tapped by President Obama to make recommendations for fiscal sustainability. The commission's proposals were sobering and unpopular, but Congressman Himes said that we can't afford to ignore them any longer.

I'm on record as having said that if it came to a vote, I would vote in favor of the Simpson-Bowles proposal. I don't know how many members of Congress have said that. It's a package of bad news; there's nothing in Simpson-Bowles that's fun to talk about or that pleases constituents, but it's a comprehensive and relatively fair plan for fiscal sustainability. If Republicans can produce a budget for 2012 that has intelligent cuts, that doesn't hurt our most vulnerable populations, and makes investments in things like transportation and education that are absolutely critical, then yes, we're talking.

Military spending: The $800 billion elephant

It's the lack of "intelligent cuts" in the current budget debate that bothers Representative Himes. For Congress to take on programs like Head Start without looking for waste in military spending makes no sense, he said. In fact, Republican leadership is seeking more money for defense than the Pentagon has even requested. Himes said that was ridiculous amid all the calls for fiscal austerity.

We're spending almost $800 billion every single year on the Pentagon, on our security. That's more money than every other country on the planet combined spends. That's not a sustainable thing, neither are the now three combat actions around the world. If we're going to be serious about long term sustainability, we're going to have to do, frankly, what [Defense] Secretary Gates proposed, which is $130 billion in cuts to the defense apparatus. There's a lot of waste there. We need to rethink our role as the world's policeman, as 'Johnny on the spot,' because we can no longer afford it.

Lower corporate taxes, raise receipts

Long term sustainability means raising tax revenues, not just reducing spending, the Congressman said. Himes singled out the United States' poorly conceived corporate tax code, and the examples of major corporations like GE, which apparently didn't have to pay anything last year.

Our corporate tax code is a disaster. We have the second highest rate in the world, but there's a jungle of credits and deductions and loopholes that allow corporations to pay a much much lower effective rate, so you see things like corporations paying no or little taxes. In the spirit of Simpson-Bowles, we should reduce the corporate tax rate so it's more competetive internationally, but then get rid of loopholes deductions and credits that make such an unholy mess of the tax code.

'Social Security does not need to be the third rail'

Last Fall, the Simpson-Bowles commission proposed raising the Social Security tax cap above its current level of $106,000—that is, Americans don't pay Social Security taxes on any annual income above $106,000. That spares a significant population and a staggering amount of their income from feeling the full effects of Social Security costs.

Social Security will need to be addressed in any serious conversation about the budget, Himes said, and proposals like the ones made by Simpson-Bowles will have to be on the table.

Social Security does not need to be the third rail. In 1983, Reagan and Tip O'Neill raised the Social Security tax cap and made a couple other adjustments and it worked. It wasn't easy to do, but mechanically it's pretty easy to do...Simpson-Bowles recommended raising the cap as well as a very gentle raising of the retirement age over a period of about 40 years. I think those two ideas and perhaps others will be very much on table when we have discussion about Social Security.


Jim Himes


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Comments [18]

b.mark from stamford, ct.

Why is it so difficult to remind republicans that it was during the bush administration that our all of our finanical troubles began...and to keep reminding them. Are your intimidated by their blatant distortions and lies. brave.

Apr. 06 2011 10:32 AM
Deb Ruffin from NYC

I blogged on this topic this morning from a very discouraged place.Ike warned us about the Military Industrial Complex and a permanent weapons industry in 1961. Fast forward to today's budget debate and who benefits? Not the people.

I'm so glad I turned on the radio, heard the program, read the comments and now I'm hopeful. There are so many holes in the GOP budget proposal (even in the WSJ article on the plan). It's nice to see how quickly so many people have driven right through them.

Apr. 04 2011 10:46 AM

Take a knife to the Pentagon and Homeland Security budgets. Cut the fat!
Fat=private security companies, arms manufacturing and consultants. Take the money and put towards medicare, social security, education, infrastructure and alternative energy.

Apr. 04 2011 10:35 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

Maybe it's because Social Security is a well functioning government administrated program. Sure their needs to be minor tweaks to the system, but it is an amazing accomplishment.

Our health provider/insurance industry (Note: I didn't say health care industry) is BY FAR the biggest problem facing the nation, one of the reasons why the Obama admin. passed the Affordable Healthcare Act, although not in the form that I think is best (at least it was something to work from).

So the discussion about whether to cut WIC, NPR, etc., means less than nothing unless there is a restructuring of healthcare, U.S. war-making expenditures, etc.

Apr. 04 2011 10:34 AM
Ben from The Rational Universe

I actually applaud all of the folks trying to get a handle on reducing entitlement spending. Unless we can do this, we're doomed in the long term.

But let's not forget about revenues as well as spending. Instead of asking Obama to fire Immelt from his commission, let's just create a Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax. Right now. Immediately. As in this week.

The Republicans say our corporate tax rate is huge, like 35%, whereas the rest of the world is at 20%. Which is nonsense, but let's call their bluff.

A CAMT of 20%. All corporations must pay a minimum of 20% of their US revenues, regardless of tax credits or deductions. That should move about 10,000 attorneys away from lobbying, creating and exploiting loopholes -- work that doesn't do anything for the US other than reduce our revenues. Instead, they can find meaningful work creating and producing.

And our income will grow substantially. Democrats and Republicans will both support this. The only people who will oppose it are the corporate overlords, so let me log off right now before AT&T traces this message and has me taken out. Bye!

Apr. 04 2011 10:32 AM

Cut aid to red states. they don’t want our socialism or my tax dollars.
Let the market fix their economies.
sink or swim mississippi

Apr. 04 2011 10:29 AM
DrSteve from NY, NY

Shame on congressman Himes for offering Republican-lite instead of a real opposition.

The number one issue is inequality and the failure of income and wealth to rise for 95% of the population. Everything else is a dishonest distraction, of the plutocrcy, for the plutocracy, bought by the plutocracy.

We already know that privatizing Medicare, buying it through private insurers, adds 15% to costs and does nothing to improve efficiency.

Private insurers only compete on avoiding providing care to sick people. The last thing we need is more private insurance.

The only real solution is expanded and improved Medicare for All, single payer national health insurance, allows us to cover everybody automatically and control costs both individual total out of pocket costs (so you can afford to get care when you need it; no disincentive to get care when you need it; no medical bankruptcy if you are very sick) and also system wide costs (percent of GNP going to health care). The big lie by both republicans and democrats in the last round of very incomplete health care reform was the focus on just the federal government cost (which is meaningless), not total individual out of pocket costs (premiums, copays, deducitible, uncovered) and total national system cost, to say nothing of cost to states and localities, costs to employers, etc. See

Apr. 04 2011 10:27 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I don't think I heard anything about cutting corporate subsidies, either.

Apr. 04 2011 10:26 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm sure there are places the defense budget could be cut (although I wouldn't dismiss al-Qaeda as easily as the caller did), but nowhere in Rep. Himes's list did I hear anything about the money spent on military contractors. Their personnel get paid more than actual members of the military do, & there's way too little control of *their* spending, let alone their conduct.

Apr. 04 2011 10:25 AM
Big Jiggy from Bronx

GOP is out to destroy Social Security, medicare and medicaid.

They really need to move to China, they to have no social security, medicare and medicaid.... GOP will love it.....

PS Business bribing Politicians is pretty much defacto leagal there, so they can get thier money

Apr. 04 2011 10:24 AM
Tom from Upper West Side

Why won't anyone call defense appropriations what they really are? - jobs programs.

Just about every congressional district has industry,large and small, participating in defense projects.

Apr. 04 2011 10:23 AM

@ Susan:

Yes, and we've been going down this path for a very long time!

Apr. 04 2011 10:23 AM
Robert from NYC

What you're all really soft on is standing up for what is right and standing up against those Republican policies that are just wrong. You yield to them all the time and their policies get past. It's third and maybe fourth party time folks, or just time to stand up against these wimps and get some real people who stand up for our needs and not the lobbyists, the bad lobbyists that is. There is good lobbying too.

Apr. 04 2011 10:22 AM

Hopped on here because the caller said exactly what I was going to, but wanted to elaborate...

When will we realize the full costs of maintaining our American EMPIRE and feeding the military-industrial complex?

Apr. 04 2011 10:21 AM

This fight really strips bare who is fighting who? Rich versus the poor.

Apr. 04 2011 10:18 AM

Yes, that Nan Haywood was incredibly vague and filled with platitudes. She should so just fine in office.

Apr. 04 2011 10:16 AM
Bell Amber from nyc

Does this man have any opinions on our spineless president and his performance with the budget?

Apr. 04 2011 10:15 AM
Hammer Slammer from staten island

this lady sounded like a cryptographer

Apr. 04 2011 10:11 AM

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