Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who becomes the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee in January, said in an interview on “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television that his party will Republican budget-cutting plans if programs such as education and health research are targeted.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland congressman. Thank you for being with us.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you, Al.
HUNT: The House passed the tax bill, signed by President Obama, but a lot of residual resentment in your caucus. I think 112 members voted against it. Nancy Pelosi found out about it I think from you, not directly from the White House. What does the president have to do to restore his standing with House Democrats?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think the bigger issue here was some differences over the actual policy. There were questions about the process, but at the end of the day, the members that had the most problems with the bill were able to point to specific things.
Having said that, I think we do understand the predicament the president found himself in. After all, the House had passed a tax relief for middle-class Americans, and the Republicans in the Senate, as we all know, said, hey, you know, we’re not going to pass that unless you give breaks to the folks at the very top, and that’s what sent people to the negotiating table.
HUNT: So how - how much has he been hurt among House Democrats?
VAN HOLLEN: I don’t think the president’s been hurt. I think we’re all on the - on the same page. Our goals are the same. We want to get the economy moving again. We want to get people back to work. Obviously, people have differences of opinion as to the best way to do that. And even the president would agree that this package is not the best way, but he was arguing that this is the best way under the current political circumstances.
HUNT: But you told me months ago that the White House should bring this up when - back in September. They really - they really botched it, didn’t they?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I - I do believe that the Congress working with the White House should have brought this up. And as you know - in one of your earlier shows - I floated a proposal, which would say that everybody gets a tax break for one year. It would recognize the Republicans’ argument that you don’t raise taxes in a down economy.
I don’t think that was a strong argument with respect to the folks at the very top, but needless to say, it would have taken that issue off the table, and then, at the same time, raise - provide permanent relief for middle-class Americans. We would have decoupled the two. That was our strong - that was certainly my strong advice to the White House at the time.
HUNT: And they rejected it.
VAN HOLLEN: People decided to take a different route.
HUNT: Do you - as you look ahead to next year, do you anticipate similar deals to this one or more likely gridlock?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, that’s a very good question. I mean, I hope that we will be able to work together.
HUNT: What Republicans say is the debt ceiling is coming up in the spring, and they say it only can be raised if first - if first the Congress cuts $100 billion in domestic spending. As the ranking Democrat on that committee, are they right? Or is there a prospect of Treasury default?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, let me - let me say this first, Al, that the budget that we passed out of the House this year, the continuing resolution that we sent over to the - the Senate, actually cut the president’s budget by $45 billion and was totally consistent with the budget levels recommended by the president’s bipartisan commission.
Now, what the Republicans are saying is, well, now you’ve got to come back and cut another $100 billion. Even the bipartisan commissions have argued that you don’t cut that dramatically when the economy is down, the same reason that you don’t want to dramatically increase middle-class tax cuts when the economy is down.
HUNT: So that’s not - that’s not doable, in your view then?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think that we always should look for places where we can make government more efficient, and we will continue to work with our colleagues to do that. But if they’re talking about just slashing our investments in things like education, or our national investments in trying to find cures to cancer, which benefit every American family, then I think we’re going to have a real battle over priorities, especially since, you know, they pushed for this recent legislation that was passed in the Congress on the tax bill that provided a $23 billion tax break to 6,600 of the wealthiest estates of the year.
You cannot be serious about deficit reduction and make that kind of decision. It just doesn’t equate.
HUNT: Let me ask you about tax reform, because you’ve said you’d like to see it on the congressional agenda in 2011. Should it be a revenue raiser?
VAN HOLLEN: Number one, we do need tax reform. And, number two, I do believe that if you look, you know, forward, we’re going to have to figure out how to, you know, balance the - the revenue measures with the spending cuts. And you’re going to have to see, I believe, some kind of mix.
This latest debate that we’ve had over the tax issue illustrates the point. It’s why many of us argued you cannot permanently extend tax breaks for the folks at the very top. I mean, remember, what we’ve proposed is simply taking those top rates back to the rates under President Clinton. The economy was roaring during those years.
So this notion that you’ve got to provide big tax breaks for the folks at the top in order to have a roaring economy has been disproved by the results of the - the last eight years.
HUNT: So overall, do you think tax reform will be a revenue raiser, as you try to address the deficit?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think, for example, the revenue that should be coming in at the top rates, yes. I mean, what the president has said that he - he’s going to make a fight about that going forward, that we’re in a tough economic time. He was jammed by the Republicans because of the expiring, you know, tax breaks, but he’s going to make a big issue out of that.
HUNT: One of the important functions of Congress is oversight. What is your sense of the role the chairman-to-be Darrell Issa will play in this category?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, there’s the legitimate oversight role of a chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, and then there’s the question of whether that post is simply used to try and gum up the works of government, to try and do finger-pointing stuff, even when there’s nothing to be pointed at.
HUNT: And what are the early indicators?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I don’t - I don’t know yet. I really think that the jury is still out. Whether the chairman is a Democrat or a Republican, the obligation of that chairman is to do oversight over the federal government and hold the federal government accountable, the executive branch, and look for - for issues.
What I think would be a big mistake is if they went on this sort of big fishing expedition, and I don’t think that - I don’t think the American taxpayer wants that.
HUNT: You’ve supported the administration’s Afghanistan policy in general. Most indications are this war is not going well. Karzai, the Karzai government is corrupt, they’re not taking over responsibilities very well. Is any of this causing you to rethink your support?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, a lot of the recent reports raise concerns. I mean, every American has to be concerned that we don’t seem to be making more progress. Now, of course, the president’s most recent report indicates that General Petraeus and others think we are gaining ground. We’re going to take a very close look at this.
HUNT: Do you think we are?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, it’s not clear to me. And I think that this report has just come out.
VAN HOLLEN: I think now is an opportunity to scrutinize it and really put it to the test. I do agree, one of the weaknesses in the overall approach has been the fact that the Pakistani government has refused to take the kind of action they need to take against the Afghan Taliban.
What the administration is saying is that, if they don’t do more, the Pakistanis don’t do more, we’re going to step up our efforts there.
HUNT: The troop withdrawal schedule for next July -
VAN HOLLEN: Yes.
HUNT: - should it be postponed if conditions are bad? Or should it be accelerated?
VAN HOLLEN: No, I think it should remain on track. And I think this most recent report indicates that they will be able to start reducing U.S. forces there. The big question, of course, is, on what - on what timetable? And, you know, that’s why it’s going to be important that we scrutinize this report carefully to determine what the situation is.
HUNT: OK. Congressman Chris Van Hollen, thank you so much for being with us.
VAN HOLLEN: It’s great to be with you.
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