Policymakers and business leaders discussed a range of issues at today's Business & Politics Forum at the Norwalk Inn and Conference Center. News 12 Connecticut's Tom Appleby moderated the forum, which was sponsored by CBIA and the CEO Roundtable.

Here's a sampling from the 90-minute discussion:

"The fundamental problem facing our economy is one of aggregate demand and that's fuelled by the ongoing weakness in the housing market. Millions of Americans are underwater on their mortgages or facing foreclosure. They're not even thinking about buying a refrigerator or buying a car." -- Congressman Jim Himes, (D-CT 4)

"The fact of the matter is we [state government] spend more money than we take in. You can't spend more than you make, but that's what we do." -- House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero, Jr. (R-Norwalk)

"We have reason to be optimistic [about the economy] because in every four-year [election] cycle there are always changes affecting people in offices at all levels. Change is what we're looking at this year and when that happens, business will be more confident about investing and making hiring decisions." -- State Senator L. Scott Frantz (R-Greenwich)

"While we've seen some progress, it still feels like we're on a rollercoaster. It doesn't feel like we're standing on cement, it still feels like we're standing on sand." -- David Lewis, president/CEO OperationsInc

"That Connecticut has the fifth worst business climate in the country should cause outrage. We need a greater sense of urgency; we need to look beyond saying 'let's get out of the bottom five.' We should be aiming to be in the top five, and set higher goals. We have the ability to do that." -- Joe Brennan, senior vice president, public policy, CBIA

"The word 'business' has become a four-letter word in Hartford." -- Cafero

"There must be reforms made at the federal level with Medicare, Social Security, and other social spending programs. We need to scale back on the $800 billion we spend annually on defense. We've got some choices to make: either the U.S. is going to continue to be the world's policeman or we're going to scale back on our [global] ambitions and make the investments we need to make in education and transportation and energy." -- Himes

"We must push education reform harder than anything -- we cannot compete in the global economy without doing that. Our education system has become average and that's just not acceptable." -- Brennan

"Connecticut is a high cost structure state and it has a high cost state government. What businesses want most is certainty, to know they can invest confidently and make decisions, and until we get things like the state's huge unfunded liabilities under control, we're not going to have as much success as we should." -- Frantz

"The rest of the world is moving at warp speed and Connecticut's state government is doing 45 in the breakdown lane." -- Brennan

"I'm not optimisitic, I'm not really pessimisitic, I'm realistic. Businesses have adapted, they've become adept at surviving, rather than thriving. There's so many issues, so many challenges...there's some reason for hope because a lot of things are being done, but there's a long road ahead." -- Lewis

"We need to start making smart choices if we're going to continue the momentum from last fall's special jobs session through the 2012 legislative session." -- Brennan

"We have a long way to go, but we've got the innovation, we've got the financial capital, we've got the creativity, and we've got the human capital." -- Himes

"The jobs session was a substantial improvement. At a time of congressional gridlock, we were able to come together. When you reject ego and partisanship, you can get something done." -- Cafero

[VIDEO: Watch the full 90-minute panel discussion.]