When asked what fueled his recent decision to break party lines and step out against deficit spending, Congressman Jim Himes insists it was all about economics and nothing about politics.
"It takes two weeks of college economics to know that when you're spiraling into a depression, the smart economics say you stimulate," Himes said via telephone Tuesday afternoon. "And that's why when I first got to Congress, and we were losing 700,000 jobs a month, I supported the stimulus. But when you're recovering, when growth has returned, you change tactics. You get restrictive."
Himes stressed the importance of letting the rest of the world know that the U.S. has "the political will to get our fiscal house in order," and said one of the best ways to do that is to cut frivolous spending and rein in programs run amok, even (or especially) if it means reaching across the aisle to do so.
Himes' camp announced his intentions to do just that on Tuesday, as he and fellow Reps. Gary Peters, John Adler (D-N.J.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are forming a working group aiming to cut $70 billion of expenditures from areas like agriculture, housing, energy and defense.
"It's pretty damn easy to say I want to cut the budget. It's the follow up question that's hard," Himes said. "That's why today the announcement was about how...we put $70 billion worth of cuts on the table that we're willing to stand behind. And while $70 billion doesn't entirely do the trick, it's a start. It's a down payment."
Some have already criticized the announcement as a ploy for votes in the upcoming 4th District election, where displaying fiscal conservativism to a generally conservative constituency would stand to benefit Himes' reelection chances. Himes unseated Republican Chris Shays in the 2008 election after Shays had held the seat for the previous 22 years.
"I didn't accumulate the most independent voting record in New England overnight," Himes responded, also referencing a variety of votes he has made against spending plans over the last seven months. "The first question I ask myself when I vote is what is right for my constituents...so no, this isn't about politics. This is the right thing to do economically."
Himes said the next step is to garner more support for the initiative, to get a "good bipartisan group of people," which will start by passing a "dear colleague" letter around the House. Such letters are typically drafted and sent to all members of a legislative body in attempt to garner support and votes for particular issues.
"We have a tendency to want guns and butter and it's the instinct to want it all that leads us down an irresponsible fiscal path," Himes said. "And an honest conversation about spending is not a fun conversation...but it's a conversation that we have to have over the next ten years and it is going to require that we're all willing to bring ideas to the table and reconsider our pet projects."