For Immediate Release

April 20, 2015

CONTACT:  Bridgett Frey – 202-225-5384

Van Hollen Opening Statement at Budget Conference Committee

Washington, DCToday Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the Budget Committee, made opening remarks at the Budget Conference Committee. Below is a transcript of his remarks:

“Thank you, Chairman Enzi. I want to start where Senator Sanders began, thanking you, Chairman Enzi and Chairman Price for bringing us together. I want to thank Chairman Price for the professional way that he’s conducted the Budget Committee, in a bipartisan tradition.

“That being said, we obviously have very sharp differences when it comes to the budgets. And we now have a House Republican budget and a Senate Republican budget, and neither budget reflects the priorities and values of this country. Both budgets, I believe, are fundamentally wrong for our country and both budgets send a big message to the American people: you’re going to be working even harder, but you’re going to be getting even less. And so any point between two budgets, both of which are wrong for America, is going to be wrong for America.  And I don’t know how we can salvage this, but here’s what I would say.

“Why do I say both budgets say “work harder, get less?” The good news in the country has been we’ve seen more and more people getting back to work. We’ve seen 61 months of sustained job growth. We know we’re not where we want to be, but we’re heading in the right direction. The biggest challenge we face right now is the fact that Americans are working harder than ever, but their pay is flat, their benefits are flat.  Compensation’s frozen. So you have a situation where worker productivity has been rising rapidly for a very long period of time, but that increased productivity has not translated into higher wages and benefits for most working people. The benefits of that increased productivity have gone hugely disproportionately to folks at the very high end of the income scale.

“And yet this Republican budget actually increases the tax burden on working families. It gets rid of the increase in the Child Tax Credit. It gets rid of the bump up in the Earned Income Tax Credit. It eliminates the Affordable Care Act tax credits, which, as Senator Sanders said, means millions of people who now have affordable health care will be thrown off of affordable health care. It eliminates the higher education tax deduction, the college tax deduction – gone.

“So, people who are out there working harder every day are actually going to face a higher tax burden under this Republican budget. I’ll tell you whose taxes do not go up: the folks who are already at the very top. In fact, these budgets green light, they pave the way, for what is known as the Romney-Ryan tax plan. What’s that tax plan? Cut the top tax rate for millionaires by one-third. We tried that – it was called trickle-down economics. It’s a great theory but it failed in the real world. What happened was the incomes of folks at the top went up further, everyone else was running in place or falling behind, and the deficit went up. We tried that in the early 2000s. This is a replay of a failed ideology.

“So, while it green lights those tax cuts for folks at the top, it’s also cutting deeply into investments that have helped power our economy in the past. It cuts deeply into our investment in education, beginning with early education and going through K through 12, including special education. It’s going to cut deeply into our investments in science and research and innovation that have also helped power our economy. Why do I say that? Because it cuts the part of the budget we use to fund those investments by 40 percent below the amount we have spent as a share of the economy at the lowest point. So, we’ve been keeping record since the 1950s on what share of our economy we invest in those areas. These budgets cut that to 40 percent below the lowest level since we’ve been keeping records. So it’s not rhetoric to say that this has devastating implications for those investments. It also assumes, by the way, that the transportation trust fund will essentially go insolvent in a couple months. No solution in this budget for that problem, even though it’s months away.

“So it cuts those things. I’ll tell you what it doesn’t cut. It doesn’t cut a single special interest tax break in order to reduce the deficit.  Not one penny. Not one penny. Not a hedge fund manager loophole, not a corporate jet loophole, not one to reduce the deficit.

“And so after making deep cuts in education and not cutting a single tax break to reduce the deficit, it still doesn’t balance. With all respect, gentlemen, this budget doesn’t balance – neither the Senate budget nor the House budget. Why? Because it depends on the revenue from the Affordable Care Act to claim balance in ten years, when at the same time it claims to be repealing the entire Affordable Care Act. Republican Senators on this panel have made that criticism themselves in the past.

“I’ll tell you what else it doesn’t do: it doesn’t account for all the tax cut bills, business tax cut bills, that are coming to the floor of the House right now, including this past week when we actually provided a tax cut for estates over $10 million, right? The estate tax doesn’t even kick in for estates of couples until you get $10 million. Just last week on the floor of the House, we said we’re going to provide a tax cut for those 5,500 families. Fewer people than you can put on a big cruise ship in the United States. That was the priority on the House floor. So it’s bad enough that that was the priority, but guess what? That $267 billion increase in the deficit is not accounted for in the Republican budget.

“So in addition to the Affordable Care Act revenue that you need to balance and say you’re getting rid of, in the House we’re passing tax cut bills that add to the deficit which aren’t factored in here.  You add to that the games that are being played in the war savings, the “Overseas Contingency Operations account, and you’ve got a whole bunch of financial shenanigans going on here to claim balance.

“I’m just going to close here, Mr. Chairman, by reading from last year’s Republican House budget report on OCO. This isn’t Van Hollen writing this, this was from the House Republicans in their report: “Abuse of the OCO cap adjustment is a backdoor loophole that undermines the integrity of the budget process. The Budget Committee will exercise its  oversight responsibilities with respect to the use of OCO designation in the fiscal year 2015 budget process and it will oppose increases above the levels the Administration and our military commanders say are needed to carry out operations, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that such amounts are war-related.” That was a year ago. Now the same Budget Committee is doing the same end run they complained could happen if we follow that path.

“So, Mr. Chairman, with all respect, despite the fact that this budget cuts deeply into our investments in education while providing tax cuts for folks at the very top, cuts in tax rates, it also doesn’t balance. And we put forth in the House, the House Democrats, an alternative which would actually provide some tax relief for working people and would make the investments that we need to keep the country growing. And by the way, yes, we did close a whole lot of tax breaks that are unproductive and unnecessary for economic growth in order to achieve the goals we set forward.

“So I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to any discussion we may have.”