Cicilline focuses on economy at RWU Town Hall

Rep. Cicilline speaks with RWU students.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-1) took questions from about 50 students and Twitter participants at a Town Hall session at Roger Williams University (RWU) this afternoon, and for this group of 20-somethings, most of the questions revolved around the economy.

"The issue that keeps me up at night," said Cicilline in response to a question, "Is getting our economy back on track." Budgets represent a nation's priorities, he said, and America should be investing in "Education, innovation, and infrastructure, ways of growing the economy from the middle class out."

He described talking with small businesses in Rhode Island and noted "Nine out of ten say they need more customers." That, he argued, was the problem with focusing on tax breaks for millionaires rather than middle-class consumers. "If we just asked this one question: 'Is it good for the middle class?' We'd always make the right decision."

Longer term, he argued for the importance of investment in education, especially Pell Grants "at a level that actually allows young people to afford to go to college." He argued against a narrow, short-term focus on purely functional skills. We need art, music, and the liberal arts, he said, because they contribute to creativity, entrepreneurship and problem solving. "We need to invest in the kind of economy that's based on ideas and entrepreneurship, because that's the kind that actually creates jobs."

In response to a question about protecting social security, Cicilline asked for a show of hands for how many believed the program would be there when they retired. Few, if any, raised their hands.

Expressing some surprise, Cicilline sought to reassure the students that social security did not contribute to the deficit and talked about simple measures to address long-term stability. The current system, he said, limits the amount of income considered for contribution to the first $110K, and adjusting that cap would be one straightforward way to extend the life of the program. "If you removed the cap completely, it would only impact 6% of Americans, and would extend the life of the program by 75 years."

The event was organized and moderated by RWU political science professor Dr. June Speakman, who estimated that about half the students were attending the event as part of classes in civics or journalism.

You can find the entire Twitter stream here.

Full disclosure: In case it's not obvious, I am a Democrat and supporter of Rep. Cicilline.