Van Hollen on MSNBC: ‘Democrats Will Not Support Cuts for Medicare Beneficiaries’

Jul 7, 2011 Issues:

 Washington, DC – Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, today appeared on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations. You can watch the interview here and the transcript is below.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: One of the big players in the Biden budget talks that laid the groundwork for everything discussed at today's White House summit is now joining us. Maryland Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee. Thanks so much. The Speaker said earlier he thought there was a 50/50 chance of actually getting a big deal, not just a short-term deal, and avoiding this crisis. How would you rank the possibilities right now? 

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Andrea, that's very hard to say. I don't know how Speaker Boehner did that particular calculation. You just heard the President say that they're planning to reconvene at the White House on Sunday so let's take it one step at a time. Obviously, we're all anxious to try and resolve this issue but every time we think we're making progress, we find that our Republican colleagues, as Chuck Schumer said, resist the idea of closing corporate loopholes for special interests and refuse to entertain the idea of asking the income earners at the very high end to go back to the rates they were at during the Clinton administration, which by the way, was a time when the economy was booming. 

MITCHELL: Would you agree to some changes in Medicare and Social Security despite what the AARP said today, if you had enough of a tax offer from the other side to make a deal? 

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Let me just echo what Senator Schumer said, which is that the Democrats in Congress will not balance the budget on the backs of social security beneficiaries and will not support these cuts for Medicare beneficiaries. We do believe, and Senator Schumer alluded to this, that there are ways to save additional funds, for example, in Medicare. One way to do that is to get a better deal for the Medicare program from the prescription drug industry. When the prescription drug program was passed as part of Medicare back in 2005, they got a very special deal. So there are ways to generate additional revenues to help improve the Medicare solvency issue without slashing benefits to Medicare beneficiaries. 

MITCHELL: It sounds to me like this was something discussed by all of you during the Biden talks. 

REP. VAN HOLLEN: During the Biden talks, a number of proposals were put forward and you just got a flavor of the kind of things that we talked about. Again, when it comes to prescription drugs, we simply said that the Medicare program should be given the same rights as the Veterans Administration, which gets a very good price for drugs for veterans. Why shouldn't we be able to do that for the Medicare program? Why shouldn't we go back to the same payment rates for pharmaceuticals that were in place for Medicaid and now Medicaid/Medicare beneficiaries prior to 2005? So, those are some examples of things we can do that would strengthen the Medicare program, but without taking the approach that the Republicans did in their budget in the House, also voted on in the Senate, which would say that Medicare beneficiaries who, by the way, have a median income of $22,000, that they should take the big hit, that they should be asked to either pay a lot more or sacrifice benefits. That’s absolutely wrong, especially when Republicans are refusing to deal on things like corporate jet loopholes and getting rid of subsidies for the oil and gas industry. 

MITCHELL: The next 48 hours are basically counting heads, doing whip counts, seeing what people would go for on both sides. Is that what the staff meetings are going to be that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are holding, going up to the Sunday meeting at the White House?  

REP. VAN HOLLEN: My sense, Andrea, is the first step is to actually get some kind of agreement among the eight people around the table at the White House, and then it will be their responsibility, assuming you can reach that kind of agreement, to begin to shop it around to members of the different caucuses. I think we're still in that earlier stage. There’s no agreement, obviously there's hope, but we're certainly, I think, a long way from a final deal. And again, it is irresponsible and reckless to be holding the whole American economy hostage to these one-way demands. If the United States was to default on its full faith and credit that would put a whole lot more Americans out of work at a very bad time. So we should not be playing Russian roulette with the American economy and not saying that we're going to hold that economy hostage to getting the budget the way the Republicans would like it which is, again, calling for deep cuts for Medicare beneficiaries but protecting special interest tax breaks. That's just wrong. It’s the wrong priorities and I think it will be rejected by the American people and hopefully, that message is getting through to our colleagues in the Republican caucus. 

MITCHELL: Congressman, thanks very much.