Chris Van HollenU.S. Representative
[D] Maryland, United States

Length: 8 minutes, 24 seconds

« Previous Clip Next Clip »

View Congressional Record
Watch Full Session

Loading text...

Mr. VAN HOLLEN. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, this is no time for this body to be playing dangerous games with the American economy and with American jobs, and yet that's exactly what's going on on the floor of this House today. Our Republican colleagues are taking the position that unless and until we accept their radical budget plan, they will prevent the United States from paying its bills.

And what does their budget plan do? Yes, it is the same old plan to end the Medicare guarantee, to slash Medicaid, to cut education while protecting special interest tax breaks, like subsidies for Big Oil companies.

And here's what they're saying: Unless we do that, unless we take that, they're going to prevent the United States from paying its bills.

Remember, these are bills that are coming due on actions that this Congress has already taken. These are the bills to pay for two wars. These are bills to pay for the prescription drug plan that was never paid for. And one of the primary reasons we don't have enough revenue coming in to pay those bills is because of the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that disproportionately benefited the very wealthy.

It's interesting to hear some of our Republican colleagues who have been here for that entire period of time and voted on all those things saying that it's a sacrifice for them to accept responsibility and pay the bills for the things they voted for. Imagine if the American people took that position.

And what are the consequences of the United States failing to pay its bills? The same thing that would happen to an American family that decided not to pay its bills, whether it's its mortgage, its car payment, whatever it might be. It would undermine the creditworthiness of that American family.

And taking that action will undermine the creditworthiness of the United States. That will lead to a rise in interest rates and a sinking economy. It would hurt every American family. And it would increase--not decrease--the deficit of the United States. That is the result our Republican colleagues are threatening in this bill if their demands are not met.

So let's dig a little deeper into those demands. As I say, what they want to do is impose the same budget plan that they voted on earlier in this House and we debated. It does end the Medicare guarantee, it does slash Medicaid and education, and it does protect corporate tax loopholes. Only this time it's worse, because they want to take that budget plan and implant it in the Constitution of the United States.

Now, nobody in this body should be fooled for one moment. This is not an ordinary balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. We can have that debate, and there are legitimate arguments. This does something very different and very sinister. It manipulates the Constitution of the United States in a way to graft the Republican budget plan into the Constitution. How does it do it? There are two devices, and the gentleman knows them well.

[Time: 14:50] The first is, it says you can cut Medicare, you can cut Social Security, you can cut education, with a majority vote. But if you want to cut a subsidy for a Big Oil company for the purposes of reducing the deficit, if you want to [Page: H5186] cut corporate jet loopholes for the purpose of reducing the deficit, that's not a majority vote. That's a supermajority, two-thirds vote. So it biases the Constitution itself in a manner that prefers cuts to Medicare beneficiaries who have a median income of under $22,000 before asking the very wealthiest in our country to return to the same tax rates that were in place during the Clinton administration.

Secondly, it says, we have to pass a constitutional amendment in the next 2 days that also includes an overall cap on spending. And if you look at the bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee, what that would impose is an 18 percent cap. Maybe 18 percent, maybe 19 percent in the end, we don't know, but you have to have a cap. And the one that's come out so far has an 18 percent cap.

Now, let's put that number into context. Not since 1966, just after we enacted Medicare to protect our senior citizens from health crisis, not since that time has the United States met that level of expenditures. We've been over that level of expenditures. So by putting that cap on, combined with the provision to make it easier to cut Medicare than it is to cut corporate tax subsidies, they are writing into the Constitution itself this bias. They're stacking the constitutional deck in favor of engrafting their budget plan into our founding document.

Now, I heard the gentleman say, and we hear it many times, and I hope we won't hear it again on this floor today, 49 of the 50 States have balanced budget amendments. That's true. But they don't have this kind of balanced budget amendment. They don't have balanced budget amendments with these pernicious features, with some exceptions.

Fourteen States have a supermajority requirement written into their constitution. For a good number of those, it's less than two-thirds, which is what this would require. Sixteen States write into their Constitution spending caps, and only seven States in the country combine the two.

So let's not talk about how every State can balance the budget, an argument which also ignores the reality that the Federal Government is not just any old State. It is the Federal Government of the United States of America. It needs to be able to respond to emergencies and wars and the like.

So let me close with this, Madam Speaker. We do need to, number one, make sure we pay our bills; and, number two, we need to get our deficits under control in a way that helps our economy, not hurts it. And that's why the President of the United States put forward a proposal that is modeled on the framework that was put forward by the Simpson-Bowles commission. It doesn't have every detail in it, but it adopts that framework that says let's cut the deficit by approximately $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Let's do it in a balanced way. In fact, it's tilted toward spending cuts--$3 of spending cuts for every dollar in revenue. He makes it very clear he wants to get the revenue, closing some of these corporate tax loopholes, asking the top 2 percent of income earners in the United States to just go back to the rates they were paying during the Clinton administration, a time we all remember when the economy was booming and we created 20 million jobs.

So let's take a balanced approach to this. Let's not take the position that if our demands are not met, if we can not manipulate the Constitution of the United States to engraft our budget plan into that founding document, then we're going to let the United States fail to pay its bills and suffer the terrible economic consequences. It's not so much Members in this body that will be suffering those; its the American people. Let's not do that to the American people.

I reserve the balance of my time.