April 29 (Bloomberg) -- Chris Van Hollen, the top U.S. House Democrat on budget issues, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that any deficit-cutting deal must be “balanced” to include higher tax revenue as well as spending reductions.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Great to be with you.
HUNT: There were protests against Republican budgets at town hall meetings when the members went home this past week. Republicans say it was no big deal, it was orchestrated by Democrats, it’s nothing like the 2009 protests against you all.
VAN HOLLEN: Well, what’s happening is the American people are figuring out exactly what is in the Republican House budget. And at its core, they made a decision. They said that we’re going to end the Medicare guarantee, we’re going to force seniors into the private insurance market where they’ll have to eat the rising costs of health care. At the same time, they provide another round of tax breaks to the wealthiest in America. So the fact that the American people are rising up on this issue is a very important part of the process.
HUNT: And how big of a campaign issue will that budget be in 2012?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think all choices that politicians make are going to be issues in the campaign. You know, to govern is to choose, as they say -
HUNT: You think they’ll pay a price?
VAN HOLLEN: I think that they will, because the American people don’t like what they see.
HUNT: Let’s talk about the battle over the budget right now. It seems obvious that a clean debt ceiling extension, whatever the merits, isn’t going to happen. Even Democrats (inaudible). What sort of deficit reduction provision can you envision would be feasible to put on the debt ceiling that might be acceptable to the White House.
VAN HOLLEN: Well, everybody agrees we’ve got to come together sooner rather than later, I mean, this week, to come up with a deficit reduction plan. I hope people won’t say that if they don’t get 100 percent of what they want in that process they’re going to shut down the economy and throw people out of work. I mean, that would be a huge mistake.
But in terms of the outlines of the plan, I think the president’s proposal to create a debt fail-safe is the right approach, or at least one approach that should be looked at. In other words, let’s set a target for deficit reduction. And if the Congress is unable to reach that target through the regular order, through passing laws and appropriations bills, then you would have a trigger take place where you would reach the deficit in a balanced way.
HUNT: So by your likes - it has to be both taxes, as well as spending?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, the bipartisan fiscal commission has said that that’s a balanced approach required of us.
HUNT: There’s a bipartisan group of senators that are proposing ultimately capping federal spending at 20.6 percent of GDP. Is that something that’s worth considering?
VAN HOLLEN: Again, that’s not a balanced approach. If you’re just looking at the spending side and not talking about revenues, not talking about getting rid of some of these huge subsidies the big oil companies are getting, not talking about the Republican plan to provide enough tax breaks to the folks on the very top, then you’ve got a lopsided approach to this issue.
HUNT: So any side deal has to be balanced with both revenues and -
VAN HOLLEN: You’ve got to have a balanced approach.
HUNT: Congressman, do you also agree that any long-term fix, or whatever we call it on the deficit, has to be balanced and that it has to include entitlements, including Social Security, as well as revenues?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, let’s - on Social Security, I think the best way to deal with that - and that was not part of the Republican budget in the House - is the model that Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan used, where you’re focused specifically on making sure you shore up the long-term solvency of Social Security and you don’t get it mixed up in the other deficit reduction politics.
HUNT: So you’d do that separately?
VAN HOLLEN: Yes.
HUNT: With a commission?
VAN HOLLEN: Or the kind of approach that, you know, Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan have just sort of a summit dealing with that issue where everyone understands that the focus is on making sure that, beyond the year 2037, because Social Security is fully covered 100 percent through then, that you make whatever changes are necessary to keep it going beyond that.
HUNT: There’s a lot of talk about record oil industry profits. There may be some money there for the government. John Boehner last week, your speaker, said Congress ought to look at oil subsidies, and they ought to be paying their fair share. Within a day or two, he began to walk back and say, no, no, no, I’m not interested in any kind of taxes on oil companies.
You’re the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. Is oil company profits and taxes a possibility in these budget deliberations? And what will you do on the House floor?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, sure, it should be. And it was part of the alternative Democratic budget that we put forward. Look, at a time when you’ve got huge oil company prices - and nobody can argue that they need these taxpayer subsidies to motivate them to go and to drill for more oil, when you’ve got a big deficit issue, we should ask for some shared sacrifice, and certainly the oil companies that are making these big profits should -
HUNT: Can you get a vote on the House floor on that?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, Speaker Boehner indicated that he wanted to do something about it. As you said, he sort of walked it back. But others on the Republican side have said they’ve got to take a look at this. President Bush, at the end of his term, said there’s no justification for these extra (OFF-MIKE)
HUNT: So in the weeks ahead, this may well be on the table?
VAN HOLLEN: I think it’s very much on the table.
HUNT: Soaring gas prices. Anything that can be done about it? And who’s going to pay the price for it?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, there’s no silver bullet on soaring gas prices. And there are lots of factors that feed into this. The one thing we do need to look into very closely - and the Justice Department is doing it - is to what extent there’s excessive speculation in the market, to what extent people are trying to hit certain positions and manipulate price and if that’s a factor. Now, if that is a factor, then the president should very seriously consider releasing some of the oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
And if there is a bubble out there - and, frankly, the CFTC and the regulators have been trying to look at this, and a lot of the Republican members have been trying to gut their funding so they don’t have the ability to oversee this process - but if they make a determination that that’s what’s going on, then, under those circumstances, I think it’s very justifiable to release some funds from the Strategic - and the American people would get a pretty good price on the market (OFF-MIKE)
HUNT: One question on campaign finance reform. You brought a suit on disclosure against the FEC. The White House is planning to issue an executive order requiring all federal contractors to disclose political spending. Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce say this will have a chilling effect, and this is just trying to do through the backdoor what you can’t do legislatively.
VAN HOLLEN: Well, that’s totally wrong. All this requires is disclosure. The Republicans are trying to put out this story that this is about trying to chill freedom of speech. This doesn’t prevent anybody from running any ad or saying whatever they want. It simply says, if you’re going to run that ad, tell the American people who’s funding it. People have a right to know what interests are in play. It should not be a secret process. It should be a transparent process.
HUNT: And when do you expect the White House to put out the executive order?
VAN HOLLEN: I don’t know exactly when they’re going to do that.
HUNT: But you do expect the White House to do it?
VAN HOLLEN: By all accounts, they’re planning to do that, because what’s the issue here? If you’re a Federal contractor - let’s say you’re a big (inaudible) contractor. And there’s a big vote on the floor of the House on a big weapons system. Why should you be able to secretly fund the campaigns of people who voted in your favor and secretly fund opponents to people who might have voted against you? That has a terrible impact on the political process.
And what we’re saying is, if you’re getting lots of federal taxpayer dollars, at least tell people - it doesn’t say you can’t spend the money on campaigns. It doesn’t say you - it doesn’t limit what you can say. It just says, tell us who you are. Tell the American people who you are.
HUNT: Chris Van Hollen, thank you so much for being with us today.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.
HUNT: And when we come back, born in the USA. The president provides proof again. And continuing unrest in the Arab world, we talk to Bloomberg reporters.
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