Himes talks tough issues with seniors

Congressman Jim Himes paid a visit to the Greenwich Senior Center Tuesday afternoon for a candid discussion and open Q&A forum with local seniors. During the hourlong talk, he provided extensive updates on his recent work in Congress and offered his opinions on a myriad of topics, spanning health care, the deficit and even polarizing international issues such as the Benghazi attack.

The meeting began with Mr. Himes providing a focused update on health care. He emphasized vehemently that despite the uncertainty resulting from Obamacare, people could rest assured that those individuals covered by Medicare and Social Security would face no changes.

“It’s important that most of you who are on Medicare and Social Security, and I suspect that is most of you, know that these programs are not part of what you’re hearing with the exchanges, with people having their policies canceled,” Mr. Himes said.

He stated further that while the national website for health care coverage was and continues to be plagued by serious issues, the Connecticut website is actually functioning quite well. According to Mr. Himes, nearly 40,000 families in the state have signed up using the website, some of whom were previously unable to acquire health insurance.

Before opening up the discussion to the floor, Mr. Himes also talked frankly about the general climate of the Capitol, and what it’s been like to work in Congress. Citing examples such as the problems with national debt and the October government shutdown, he briefly spoke of his satisfaction regarding the recent House of Representatives approval of a federal budget deal.

“It’s been a pretty frustrating time to be a representative in Washington, because in the past three to four years, we’ve had a very dysfunctional Washington. … The one thing I’m happy to report is that last week, the House of Representatives passed a federal budget. So for the first time in five years, we’ll have a federal budget, which will give us something to work towards,” Mr. Himes said.

While most of his updates centered around local issues, particularly health care, the questions posed by the seniors were equally internationally focused. One topic of fervent discussion was regarding the lack of closure on controversial incidents such as the Benghazi attack and Operation Fast and Furious in Mexico. When asked for his opinion, Mr. Himes offered a detailed answer, drawing on his experience participating in the Intelligence Committee.

“In both cases, you have tragic events that I think are being kept alive in the public imagination, in the hope that it will embarrass the administration and embarrass the president,” Mr. Himes said.

Throughout the dialogue, the congressman did not shy away from discussing heavy topics, and sharing his personal opinions, particularly regarding that of military assistance to foreign countries.

“I represent you, so you have the right to know how I think about these issues. I look at our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I am deeply skeptical of our sending our people into places like Syria or Egypt or Libya. Because at the end of the day, they end up being killed, wounded, and it’s not clear that we leave the place better off than when we arrived.”

The conversation circled back to health care, with one individual stressing her concern regarding the legacy being left for future generations. Mr. Himes echoed this sentiment, stressing that a major task left at hand was reforming programs such as Medicare and Social Security both fairly and equitably. If these programs are left unchecked, Mr. Himes warned that they would begin to consume an exorbitant and unsustainable proportion of government funding.

“For Medicare and Social Security, we haven’t set aside the money to deliver on these promises. By the time I’m eligible for Medicare and Social Security, if we don’t make a couple of changes, those programs won’t be there.”

Toward the end of the discussion, Mr. Himes was asked about the proposal to relocate the senior center across the street to the Board of Education building, with the use of private funds. While he freely admitted that he was not updated on all nuances of the argument, he advocated for the Board of Education’s relocation to a more modern building, and sought out more opinions regarding a new senior center.

Mr. Himes called upon Mary Lee Kiernan, a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, to share her thoughts.

“The horizontal nature of the Board of Education building is conducive toward a senior center, and of course the age and quality of the current senior center is a drawback,” Ms. Kiernan said. “I would certainly favor the public-private partnership that was proposed some years ago to renovate the Board of Education building and expand it as a large community arts center that would also house our senior population.”

The audience, who had been waiting anxiously for updates on a relocation, were elated to hear this, and eagerly reaffirmed the importance of keeping the senior center on the avenue.

On this hopeful note, the conversation concluded, and Mr. Himes encouraged audience members to contact his office for any further help they might need.

“If you stumble into a difficulty, please do contact us. We can shake some cages in these bureaucracies, and try to get problems resolved,” he said.

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