He beat his Republican opponent by more than 13,000 votes last month, but who does the man who represents one of the most diverse constituencies in the state think about when he’s in Washington, D.C.?
“The concept of the average constituent in my district probably has less meaning than in most because I have such an incredibly diverse district across every spectrum,” U.S. Rep. Jim Himes said Tuesday. “So one of the real challenges of this job is how do I best represent a diverse group of people.”
But it’s not as much as a challenge as one might think, he added.
“All too often people want to assume the multi-millionaire in Grennwich, your unemployed person in Bridgeport have radically different political agendas, but that’s not true,” said Himes.
Case in point, the meltdown of the financial services market.
“There’s a powerful common interest across those radically different demographics in getting it right,” Himes said. And as controversial as it was at the time, Himes said the Dodd-Frank reform of the financial services industry got it right.
But what about the extension of the Bush tax cuts? The tax cuts expire on Dec. 31 and progressive Democrats, including most of Himes’ colleagues in the Connecticut delegation support the extension for the middle class, while Republicans support an extension of the tax cuts for all income levels.
“First it’s important to be clear,” Himes said. “I was calling for a temporary extension, one year, two years, whatever the right time is for the upper end tax cuts.”
Himes described the backlash over the extension as “having a Tempest in a Teapot feel to it.”
“Unlike Republicans I wasn’t calling for a permanent extension,” Himes said. But he admits the progressives have two good arguments against his position, which is formulated partially on comments made by Economist Mark Zhandi.
The first argument is that it costs money—about $700 billion in order to extend the tax cut to the upper income brackets—“but now is a time not to be contractionary and tax increases are contractionary,” Himes said in support of the extension. He said the second progressive argument is the fairness argument, which is “also a powerful argument when you look at who benefited from the 2001-03 tax cuts the upper end certainly benefited disproportionately,” Himes admitted.
“But how do you balance the fairness in the tax code to the fairness of 770,000 households who might otherwise have been employed,” said Himes. “It’s a legitimate argument, I don’t dismiss the people who disagree with my position, but right now the most important thing we must do is nothing to harm recovery,” he said.
U.S. Rep. John Larson has suggested that the $700 billion the government would save by not extending the Bush tax cuts to the upper income brackets could be used to pay down the national debt.
Himes, who is entering his second term this January, disagrees with the members of the Connecticut delegation on this point.
“You begin paying down the debt and addressing the fiscal situation once you have a robust economy. You don’t do it when you’re at significant risk for a double dip recession,” said Himes.
He said this reality is recognized by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which says none of the recommendations should kick in until 2012. The commission, co-chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, created to look at ways to lower $13 trillion federal deficit released its recommendations Wednesday.
In his first trip back to Connecticut following his reelection bid Himes talked about the draft recommendations of the commission, which set him apart from the rest of the Connecticut delegation and his party’s leadership.
According to news reports Himes told the Greenwich Rotary Club that “The left-wing of my party has muddied the waters by calling the Bowles-Simpson Commission the ‘cat food commission.’ That’s scare tactics,” Himes said. “I’ll continue to fight for my priorities.”
And some of those priorities include what Himes, a Goldman Sachs alum turned nonprofit housing advocate, said he thinks Congress has some “unfinished business around the housing arena.” He said Congress has to address the reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or risk losing the 15 year and 30 year fixed mortgage.
“Do we as a country value the 30 year fixed mortgage?” Himes said. “Now we’ve got an interesting discussion.”
Even though Republicans have signaled they’re ready to get rid of the two government backed lending agencies, Himes believes society wants some things like a 30 year fixed mortgage which doesn’t exist without them. He said it’s unclear if that conversation will happen when the 112th Congress convenes, but it’s one he’s looking forward to.
On Tuesday Himes and his staff were packing up their office and getting ready to move to a better one with an outside view. The office he currently occupies looks out over the inside rooftop of the Cannon Office Building, which his staff refers to as the “prison yard.”