The Race for Congress in the 4th: Himes vs. Obsitnik

Published Oct 24, 2012. By Meg Learson Grosso.

Fourth District Congressman Jim Himes, a Democrat, met his challenger Republican Steve Obsitnik at the Norwalk Inn and Conference Center last week. They debated the budget, the stimulus, the fiscal cliff, Medicare and Social Security, Iran, Afghanistan, defense spending, and revitalization of cities.Questions: How to improve the real estate market for those whose homes are underwater.Himes said, “Look, the U.S. bailed out the banks. To my way of thinking that gives us a lever to say, ‘When you were flat on your back, when you were going to go bankrupt, the U.S. taxpayers bailed you out. Now, you stretch; you stretch to modify, not two million or three million mortgages, but eight million mortgages,’ and work with the banks to make that happen.”“The answer is jobs,” said Obsitnik, saying he located his company, Quintel, and its 250 jobs in Rochester, New York and “That’s how you help the housing market ... Specifically, government has to create an environment where entrepreneurs and small businesses can survive and thrive.”Government has to give an entrepreneur four things, Obsitnik said.Make sure the cost of doing business doesn’t prevent entrepreneurs from starting businesses ... “Dodd-Frank and Obamacare keep people stationary,” Obsitnik said.“We need to reform our corporate individual tax code so that small business owners aren’t penalized anymore,” he said, adding, “We need skilled workers.”He chose Rochester because “Kodak’s imploding” and “They’ve got trained people up there.” Access to capital was the fourth need and he said the Small Business Administration had become the large business administration, giving loans to 500-person organizations, rather than to those who have “$1 Million, $2 million, $5 million.”Questions: The fiscal cliffBoth men agreed that the answer would have to be a version of Simpson-Bowles, the bi-partisan plan that would put cuts for everything on the table.Himes said he was presented with the Economic Patriot Award by the Concord Coalition, an organization run by Warren Rudman and Sam Nunn (a former Republican and Democratic Senator, respectively) because he voted against his parties’ budget and for Simpson-Bowles.Obsitnik said patriots were the young men and women who fought in Afghanistan. Himes thanked Obsitnik for the nine years he served his country in the Navy, and said that when Obsitnik was asked 12 questions by Hearst newspapers, “He refused to answer three of them. “The Post said, Quote, ‘Mr. Obsitnik is running on platitudes.’”Obsitnik said, he had no problem making decisions, but “They asked questions and I said, you know what ... it’s too broad. I’m an engineer ... I like to go into detail.”Questions: The Republican use of the word “robbery” in conjunction with $716 billion in savings in Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.Himes said, “I’m glad you brought up the $716 billion robbery from health care reform, because it’s frankly up there with death panels in terms of lies that get told to scare seniors.”“This has been debunked ... look at the New York Times ... Look at PolitiFact, look at any source you want and what you will learn is that charge is dead wrong. The $716 billion over 10 years are taxpayer subsidies to help insurance companies to run Medicare Advantage programs. That’s what that is,” said Himes, adding that the AARP endorsed this.Himes had strong words on another Republican complaint.“We Presbyterians have an ethnic term called chutzpah,” Himes said to laughter, adding, “Chutzpah is pointing out the President and the Democratic Congress and handing them a economy spiraling into depression and then doing everything over four years to make sure that nothing, not even the tax cuts that are religiously important to you get passed in the Congress. Saying no to absolutely everything and then four years later saying, ‘You didn’t do enough.’ Oh, and by the way, the crowning chutzpah: We got to go back to what got us in this in the first place, because the answer clearly is widespread deregulation and more tax cuts. Again, to me, that’s a pretty clear definition of chutzpah.”Questions: On Medicare“And we’ve just agreed that Medicare needs to be fixed. And when we both agree is the most important fiscal thing we need to do, which is to make this program more efficient,” Himes said.Himes said that Medicare, and Social Security, as big as their fiscal challenges are, were “models for how you can take a senior population and really improve and make life better for that population.”Obsitnik added, “I want to get specific on Medicare. First of all, this is a bi-partisan problem that requires a bi-partisan solution. For those 55 and over, we have to preserve it ... And then, we have to go after waste, fraud and abuse. Instead of arguing about tax and spend, why don’t we have a Congressman who says, why isn’t a Medicare card like a credit card ... We can use that to root out fraud.”Himes said that, as far as being non-partisan, he received the Problem Solver Seal from the non-partisan group, No Labels. “I got their award as a problem solver, as a guy who steps away from partisanship.Questions: On AfghanistanObsitnik said, “We just doubled the number of kids from Connecticut in Afghanistan to 550 kids. And these overseas wars are costing $150 billion a year. So that will help economically. But more importantly, the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life is to deliver a casket to a mother and you deliver a flag in her hands, for her son, who died under my command. ...I don’t want to have to deliver a flag to a mother in Connecticut, not knowing the mission.“Our mission in Afghanistan is very clear,” said Himes.” Our mission has been to build up the security forces there and to provide the security that the nation of Afghanistan needs and to build the civil society there ... and to destroy the terrorists, the Taliban. The problem is that that mission is evidently not achievable ... I will get out of there faster than the President wants. I was endorsed today by the Greenwich Post which celebrated my leadership in pushing for a withdrawal of our mission from Afghanistan.”Questions: On Iran“Recently, the prime minister of Israel called for a red line being secured on a bomb. Do you expect to endorse the red line if elected?“Iran is the single biggest strategic security threat that we face today,” Himes said, adding, “And I have been a loud and persistent voice in the United States Congress in saying tighten the sanctions, tighten the sanctions. I actually tightened faster that the White House wanted to tighten ... We must bring this regime to its knees ... But if those sanctions fail and if Iran is close to developing a nuclear device, we’d need all options on the table, including military intervention. Now, I think everybody in this room, wants to avoid that at all costs. Which is why we need to be very careful about red lines.”“Why?” he asked.“Ahmadinejad is about to lose power, which by the way, may happen anyway, and he sees that the only mechanism for staying in power is by falsely telling that he’s crossed that red line. Why? Because this is the only way to unite that population. I think this is an area we need to make it clear to them where that red line is, but probably not publicly,” Himes said.Obsitnik asked, “So, there’s a private red line?“I think that’s right,” said Himes.Obsitnik said, “I served in the Mediterranean ... and the most important thing is you have intelligence and you have to keep that intelligence flowing ... I don’t have all the information.Questions: The Stimulus and the American Resource and Recovery ActObsitnik said, “The stimulus didn’t work ... If you’re a casino, you don’t make money on the thousand dollar bets, you make money off the $2 bets.He said, “Small businesses should have been empowered by reforming the tax code, by getting skilled workers out there, by getting access to capital in a more fair way through the SBA.”Himes said, ”Saying the stimulus was a failure is a political thing to say. Talk to any economist. He’ll tell you the stimulus saved some 3 to 4 million jobs, which was pretty important to 3 to 4 million households in this country.”In Fairfield County, $12 million went to Steel Point project in Bridgeport, Himes said, adding that “We will now have a Bass Pro store with lots of employees there, because of the stimulus.”“The town of Westport got something that the fire chief was desperate for, a generator,” and the recovery act put $2,500 of tax cuts into the pockets of the average American middle class family, Himes said.“I agree completely that we need a tax code overhaul. Worker training programs are absolutely essential, but when the economy is circling the drain you take some measure that you hope you don’t have to take very often,” said Himes.Obsitnik said paving the Merritt Parkway cost $70 million, providing 70 temporary jobs at a million dollars a job. In Rochester, I created jobs at $68,000 a job versus a million,” said Obsitnik.Questions: On decreasing the cost of doing business for small businesses:“This is a challenge in Connecticut because our labor costs, our utility and our taxes are higher ... are higher than they are in the rest of this country,” said Himes, mentioning Jackson Labs, which will hire hundreds of people in the bio-tech field after it is built next year.Himes then asked: “What are the most economically vibrant parts of this country? I would say probably Silicon Valley, and Route 128 corridor of Boston Massachusetts. I’ve just named two jurisdictions that have the highest costs of doing business in this country, but what’s their secret? Their secret is that they have the smartest and best people in the world starting companies each and every day.“And so investment in our community colleges, making sure that every kid who grows up here is educated, to start a new company, to be a fabulous employee of GE or Pitney Bowes. If our focus is there, our jobs will grow,” said Himes.Obsitnik said, “I’ve been fortunate for the past 16 years, I’ve been CEO of small high-tech companies. And I travel all over the world and I’ve seen what India and China are doing...So I got a call one day from the governor of Quondung, China. ‘Move your manufacturing facility to China.’ I got the same call from Singapore. ‘Come to Singapore, we have low taxes.’ ”“So what we need (for entrepreneurs like myself) is a tax code where we can make money and keep a lot of jobs in Connecticut. We have skilled workers here. Let’s get access to capital,” said Obsitnik.Himes said, “I’m stunned by the irony ... Mr. Obsitnik’s company: the core technology of his wireless antenna was developed by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense.Closing statementsObsitnick said, “I’ve spent over 9 years serving you in the U.S. Navy and 16 years creating jobs. High tech manufacturing jobs, in the United States. The same jobs that we need now more than ever. The U.S. Navy taught me one thing. You lead by example...I will limit myself to 4 terms because that’s how we get the cholesterol out of Washington. I’m going to solve our problems: anemic growth, staggering debt.”Himes said he was proud that “And If you’re gay, you can serve in our armed forces. I’m very proud that we took $16 billion out of banks that weren’t taking risks and gave it to kids for student loans. I’m very proud that for the first time in this country we have a very good first step to covering every American on health care.” “I like Mr. Obsitnik, I’ve come to know him. I respect his service immeasurably but you’re not hearing clarity. You’re not hearing clear answers to questions. You’re hearing him attack me for being on yachts and limos, which never happened. You’re hearing partisanship.”Himes said Obsitnik moved his family here in 2005 and he registered to vote, but he did not vote in 2005, in 2006, in 2007, nor in 2008, when “when he could have kept me from having this job.”The debate was sponsored by the Business Council of Fairfield County, the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, and the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. Their next debate will be on Oct. 28 in Wilton, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.