Addressing the Senior Men's Association of Darien on Wednesday, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn. 4) asserted that Social Security is "in good shape" and called on the President to withdraw forces from the conflict in Libya "as soon as possible."
Himes, who touched on a wide range of subjects during the hourlong appearance, began by presenting a slideshow on budgetary and economic issues.
"I would submit to you that we can't be fifteenth in infrastructure and expect to be number one on the economy," Himes told the group, noting that "cracks are starting to show" due to sinking graduation rates and levels of innovation.
While the current national debt poses risks to the U.S. economy, Himes said, "it's not our biggest long term problem."
"$14.1 trillion is actually considerably less than what we have promised to each and every American alive today over the course of their lifespan in projected Medicare benefits," he said. "That figure is about $32 trillion."
"If we could fix [rising medical costs], that's the elephant in the room," Himes added.
The congressman drew a sharp distinction between Medicare and Social Security, however, pointing out that the program's trust fund can be sustained for another 20 years without any benefit or revenue changes.
"Don't let anybody ever tell you Social Security is in crisis," Himes said.
Himes praised the recent work of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission and argued that scaling down debt in the long run would require all parties to "jump in together."
Still, he warned against focusing on the wrong budgetary priorities.
"It's important to recognize that earmarks plus foreign aid are less than one percent of our outlays," Himes said.
"We need to cut, but not at a speed that slows the economy," he added. "Let's not hurt those things that we know are going to have a substantial return and allow us to be prosperous in the long run."
Asked by a member of the audience to comment on the U.S.'s ongoing intervention in Libya, Himes said he was glad ruler Muammar Gaddafi "is not killing thousands of people" but that "it is absolutely not our job ... to be getting engaged militarily in every time there is a local uprising that seems to be democratic."
"I'm not going to pound on the President for doing what he did ... but I want us out of there as soon as possible. We cannot be engaged in three wars in Muslim countries," Himes added.
The congressman spoke briefly on immigration — advocating that the U.S. "staple a green card" to high-level degrees earned by foreign students — and gun control.
"Let's make sure that anybody who is exercising their Second Amendement rights is not a felon, is not psychologically imbalanced, and is qualified and trained to use firearms," Himes said. "That would be a huge step in the right direction."
Himes also told Wednesday's audience that while he supports the science of global warming, he believes that there are good strategic reasons for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on foreign oil.
"How much longer are we going to have three carrier groups in the Middle East because oil lines are so important?" Himes asked. "How much longer are we going to be buying oil from Venezuela?"
A complete version of Rep. Himes' appearance will be broadcast on TV79 beginning Friday, March 25.