Gridlock, grandstanding, goals held hostage. Still, Congressman Jim Himes sees room for hope. \u201cI serve in the House of Representatives, which is probably ground zero for partisanship,\u201d he said. The 4th District Democrat ventured a guess that partisan excesses in the House may have something to do with Congress\u2019s low approval rating, which most recent polls find in the teens. But he tempered his judgment. \u201cIt\u2019s actually not as bad as it looks,\u201d he said. Mr. Himes addressed the Ridgefield League of Women Voters, which asked him to discuss the\u00a0 economy and gun safety issues at its annual meeting Friday, June 7, at Bernard\u2019s in Ridgefield. Mr. Himes said he shares the gun safety concerns prompted by the Newtown school shooting in December. \u201cI\u2019m in favor of more and smarter gun safety regulations,\u201d he said. He said he\u2019d been very disappointed by the Senate\u2019s failure to pass a bill expanding federal requirements for background checks for gun sales. But people shouldn\u2019t give up on the gun control, he said. \u201cRemember, back in the 80s it took six years and multiple failures to pass the Brady bill,\u201d he said. And that law limiting hand guns followed an assassination attempt against President Reagan that left his press secretary, James Brady, paralyzed from a shot in the head. Mr. Himes said the recent gun debate had not ended with the Senate\u2019s vote earlier this year. \u201cThe system is working,\u201d he said. \u201cSome of the senators who voted against background checks \u2014 their numbers have tanked.\u201d The congressman also offered some quick thoughts on issues recently making news. On the National Security Agency\u2019s collecting telephone records from communications companies, he said there was a common misunderstanding about what the government had been given access to. \u201cIt\u2019s not conversations you had, but records of who you called, and how long the conversations lasted,\u201d he said. The records are stored, and the government seeks court orders to scan the data for patterns and numbers in connection with investigations. \u201cWe\u2019ve had tremendous success against Al Qaeda,\u201d Mr. Himes added. The terrorist group has lost its \u201cnumber two\u201d leader 12 times in 10 years, he said. But he called for a critical review of the vast investigative powers given to the government by the Patriot Act, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. \u201cI do think it\u2019s time now for us to be narrowing those authorities,\u201d he said. He\u2019d also like to reduce the scope of the war on terror. \u201cJust start narrowing down our footprint abroad,\u201d he said. The Department of Justice \u201cyanked records of reporters\u201d in investigating leaks, stirring concerns among journalists and some in Congress, about government overreach and freedom of the press. \u201cThat made a lot of us nervous,\u201d he said. He also addressed \u201cthe IRS debacle\u201d of recent weeks. In looking for potential violation of rules on \u201csocial welfare groups\u201d making political donations, some IRS investigators had used ideologically colored computer searches, most often against conservative-leaning groups, looking for names with key words like \u2018tea party\u2019 and \u2018patriot\u2019. \u201cThe Cincinnati office of the IRS did some incredibly stupid and bad things,\u201d Mr. Himes said. \u201cAmericans need to know the IRS isn\u2019t coming after them because they\u2019re Republican or Democrat or Tea Party or Jewish,\u201d he said. There have been \u201cfive or six senior-level resignations\u201d at the IRS as a result. What prompted the misguided investigations were so-called 501-(c)4 \u201csocial welfare\u201d groups funneling anonymously donated money into political campaigns. Mr. Himes said the nation still had an underlying problem, which had ballooned since the Supreme Court\u2019s Citizen\u2019s United decision upended laws limiting campaign contributions on free speech grounds. \u201cWe really have got to work overtime to reduce the amount of money in the system,\u201d he said. \u201cTo my mind, Citizens United was not a good thing.\u201d Repair of the nation\u2019s immigration system is likely to get done, despite roadblocks. \u201cI\u2019m actually an optimist on immigration reform,\u201d he said. The nation has had a halting but continuing recovery from the dire economic straits it found itself in back in 2008 \u2014 unemployment at 10%, 750,000 jobs lost just in the month he was sworn in to Congress five years ago. The unemployment rate was down to 7.5% in May. And the annual deficit, $1.5 trillion in 2008, is now projected to be about $500 billion for this year. \u201cOur economy is improving. Our debt and deficit are coming down,\u201d he said. \u201cEvidently, we\u2019re not going to become Greece, like I\u2019ve been hearing.\u201d (The nation\u2019s accumulated \u201cpublicly held debt\u201d is about $12 trillion or 75% of gross domestic product. It had been about $6 trillion at the end of 2008. Counting debt held by government accounts like the Social Security Trust Fund, the debt\u2019s about $17 trillion. But, in the second quarter of 2013 the government will pay down about $35 billion of the debt \u2014 the first actual reduction of U.S. debt since 2007.) A new concern, he said, is that the improving economic situation is eroding the congressional will to make the tough choices needed to address the long-term problems. \u201cI think we\u2019ve lost the urgency,\u201d he said. Among the long-term tasks Congress faces are \u201cfair and equitable reform of Social Security and Medicare,\u201d he said. By \u201cfair and equitable,\u201d Mr. Himes meant that \u201cwe\u2019re not going to ask a widow living on $18,000 a year to live on $16,000.\u201d Getting more people back to work is another task. \u201cGovernment can sort of create jobs,\u201d he said. \u201cWe can hire police officers and teachers, firefighters.\u201d he said. But public hiring should be guided by how many cops and teachers and firefighters are needed, and not turned into a \u201cjobs program.\u201d Infrastructure projects, he said, can have economic effects far beyond the immediate workers hired and paid. They will patronize businesses, and project suppliers will also see more activity. But government needs to do more to set the stage for private investment and long-term economic growth. \u201cIf we\u2019re really serious about jobs, we wouldn\u2019t say the word \u2018jobs\u2019 without the word \u2018education,\u2019\u201d Mr. Himes said. But when taking questions, he admitted that the rising interest rates on students loans were a problem. \u201cThat\u2019s a tough one,\u201d he said, explaining that by law the rates on direct government loans to college students \u2014 \u201cStafford loans\u201d \u2014 would rise from 3.4% to 6.8% in July. \u201cThat\u2019s movement in the wrong direction,\u201d he said, but prospects for improving the situation through congressional action aren\u2019t good. \u201cI fear this is one of the areas we\u2019re locked up enough that it\u2019s going to take a while yet,\u201d he said.