Van Hollen on Morning Joe: ‘This bipartisan group needs to take a balanced approach’

Nov 7, 2011

Washington, DC – Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee and member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, today appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss the deficit committee’s work. Video of the interview is available here and the transcript is below.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, HOST: All right. Twenty-two past the hour. Joining us now from Washington, Democratic Congressman from Maryland and ranking member of the House Budget Committee and a member of the so-called debt “Supercommittee,” Representative Chris Van Hollen. Good to have you back on the show, Chris.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Good morning to all.

BRZEZINSKI: So y’all close? Got it all done?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Yes. You’re about to get it. I am so excited.

BRZEZINSKI: Good. Right?

VAN HOLLEN: Well ...

SCARBOROUGH: When is this thing – do you think it gets signed by the end of the day?


VAN HOLLEN: Look, you all know, this is a critical week coming up. The clock is ticking, we’ve got just a little over two weeks. And that includes the time it will take to put the final touches on any agreement that we might be able to reach. So I think every member understands that time is running out. This is the moment to get it done if we’re going to get it done.

BRZEZINSKI: All right. So there are obviously things you’re going to say and there are things you’re not going to say, and we’re not going to play that game. But are you guys going have ...

SCARBOROUGH: Let’s play the game.

BRZEZINSKI: No, I – really, it’s boring. Are you guys going to ask for an extension?

VAN HOLLEN: No, I don’t think anyone is going to ask ...

BRZEZINSKI: So you will have something by the deadline?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we’ll know by the deadline whether we’re able to reach an agreement.


VAN HOLLEN: Which is what we’re all working toward. But I don’t ...

BRZEZINSKI: So we don’t know if you’ll have something.

VAN HOLLEN: I don’t think we should be asking for an extension. More time won’t get us there. You know, unless we were really, really close, but, no, we’re not talking about an extension.

SCARBOROUGH: Jeff Greenfield is here, and he’s going to ask a question.


SCARBOROUGH: And he is not going to be interrupted ...

JEFF GREENFIELD, HOST: Is that what you want? No. Chris, it’s a – it’s a really simple question. We saw months and months of what seemed like a system that was very close to total dysfunctionality. Why should any of us who don’t live in Washington, who live in the heartland like here in Manhattan, why should we – why should we have any optimism that the Congress can do this time what it seems to have been incapable of doing time after time?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that’s a good question, Jeff. I think members are motivated by a couple of things. One is the pressure from the country watching and exactly that sentiment that you expressed which is the feeling that Congress can’t get anything done. People would like to try and prove them wrong for the good of the country. So every member of the committee, I think, came to this task recognizing the huge obstacles, but they also go home every weekend and hear people saying they want to get it done. Number two, obviously, if we do not get an agreement, you could have an impact in the markets. And that would only make things worse for the economy. And number three, if we don’t succeed, of course, you have this Sword of Damocles is hanging over everyone’s head, which includes pretty deep and very arbitrary cuts across the board. So an agreement would be, obviously, the best solution, but as you indicated, we’re trying in a very short time to overcome, you know, constraints that the Congress has not been able to overcome in a much longer period of time. But we’re working harder to do that.

BRZEZINSKI: Mark Halperin.

MARK HALPERIN, HOST: Congressman, good morning.

VAN HOLLEN: Good morning.

HALPERIN: We saw some of your colleagues – scores of your colleagues, including a lot of Republicans, write a letter saying, we’re open to new revenue to fix this. Has that letter – as best you can tell – had any impact on the Republican colleagues on the Supercommittee and change their openness to new revenue as a way to deal with this?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Mark, I hope it will. In other words, I hope they’ll get a sense that there are members in the House on the Republican side who understand that you’ve got to take this balanced approach. Like other bipartisan groups have done. Unfortunately, the day after that letter came from a bipartisan group in the House saying you have to have this balanced approach, you had a letter organized by Senator Jim DeMint in the Senate signed by 33 Republican senators saying they don’t want any net tax revenues on the table. And unfortunately that was signed by three members of the “Gang of Six.” So these members are getting very mixed signals. We’re hoping that at the end of the day they recognize that this bipartisan group needs to take the same approach as the other bipartisan group – Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin-Domenici – and take that balanced approach. And also recognizes the...

SCARBOROUGH: But – but – but those – those letters are posing, right? They’re posing for the home district. Their home districts, right? Home states?

VAN HOLLEN: Absolutely. But they do have, I believe, you know an impact on what members of the committee think the political traffic will bear in the Congress.


VAN HOLLEN: But look, everybody is very focused right now on trying to get the job done. But we’re hoping that we can accomplish two things, one is a piece of this to help get the economy moving again. Because the Congressional Budget Office has pointed out that over a third of the current deficit is because the economy is stagnant.

SCARBOROUGH: Right. Hey ...

VAN HOLLEN: And second, take a balanced approach over the 10 years and beyond. Again, along the lines of the framework of these bipartisan groups. That makes the most sense as you indicated.


VAN HOLLEN: A major obstacle is the willingness of some of our colleagues to close down some of the loopholes, ask some of the – you know folks at the very top, maybe ...



SCARBOROUGH: Let’s move on, Congressman, we’ve got – we’ve got 87 people at the desk and they all want to ask a question. Jon – Jon Meacham, perfect backdrop, though, politically, to provide some cover. Greece.


JON MEACHAM, HOST: That’s right.

SCARBOROUGH: We’re seeing a meltdown in Europe because of debt.


SCARBOROUGH: I think – I think that – that actually gives them some cover.

MEACHAM: Was the question of – and I was going to ask the congressman, to what extent does the international situation play into these conversations? Do you all say, oh, my god, we can’t become Greece? And we need to – if we’re going to come out of this thing, we have to be fearful to – on a human political level we have to be fearful not just of next cycle, but of four years, six years out?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think this situation in Europe with the banking crisis and the debt crisis there are feeds in two ways. One is that what happens there obviously could help weaken our economy today, right now, which makes it all the more important that we – number one, do something on the jobs front and the economy. And number two, getting back to the earlier question, it would obviously help provide some boost in confidence if we were able to show on a bipartisan basis the ability to get things done. And second, the point you’re making which is, yes, on the long-term, we need to act now to get our fiscal house in order, otherwise you will begin to see the kind of problems that you’re seeing creeping in Greece and throughout – throughout Europe.



BRZEZINSKI: Well, he talks about – yes. Acting now. I just want to do a little retrospect. Bill Clinton has a book out. It’s in a new book and he talks about criticizing the current President Obama saying that he should’ve increased the debt limit while Democrats controlled Congress.

SCARBOROUGH: Should’ve tackled the debt limit issue when Democrats controlled Congress.

BRZEZINSKI: Do you think he should’ve?

VAN HOLLEN: Look, we can all look back and engage in Monday-morning quarterbacking, but I’m not sure at that point in time you could have gotten agreement on that. What I’ve heard is in the lame-duck session that we should’ve dealt with this right after the elections. But I’m not sure that our Republican colleagues would have been in any bigger mood to do it at that point in time than before. After all that came right after the midterm elections, you had a lot of these Tea Party candidates that had just been elected. But, look, rather than looking back, I do think that if we can do something to get the economy moving again and do something to try and tackle the long-term debt, at least a down payment on that, that would help restore confidence and help all around. And, you know, what you’re asking about today in terms of – you know, that letter, the two letters, the dueling letters, really is – is the issue we’re struggling with between those who say look, we’re prepared to take a balanced deal and those who say they’re not.


BRZEZINSKI: Hope you get it done.

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Jeff, Jeff, Jeff Greenfield. I’m optimistic and I don’t usually get optimistic, I think this committee is going to do something.

GREENFIELD: I hope you’re right.

SCARBOROUGH: What do you think?

GREENFIELD: My optimism level is at historic lows right now.


GREENFIELD: With the process.


VAN HOLLEN: Joe, we’re hoping to do a little better than Alabama. Sorry about Alabama.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh my god. Seriously? From a football team that has a turtle as a mascot? Come on. We only fell to number three, Chris. We’re going to be in the national championship game.

VAN HOLLEN: You’re right. Hey, my Redskins lost too, yesterday. It was a bad day on the football field.


BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH: It’s a shame. I ...

BRZEZINSKI: Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

SCARBOROUGH: What do you think about Shanahan? Isn’t that a surprise?

BRZEZINSKI: We’ve got to go now.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes. That’s quite a picture of them in the front page of the Washington Post today.


BRZEZINSKI: Thanks, Congressman.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you.