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Van Hollen Opening Statement: Mark Up of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2012

Location: Washington, DC

Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, made opening remarks at the House Budget Committee Mark Up of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2012. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

"We gather to consider a long-term budget plan at an especially consequential moment for our country. As a result of the extraordinary actions taken over the last few years, America avoided a second Great Depression and is slowly emerging from the ravages of a financial meltdown and near economic collapse. While the economy is improving, millions of Americans remain out of work through no fault of their own and thousands more are facing home foreclosures because they have lost their jobs. Our top priority must be to support a robust recovery and put America back to work. At the same time, we must act now to lay the foundation for sustained long-term economic growth. Even before the economic meltdown, real wages for most Americans had been frozen for over a decade as families faced rising costs. Middle class families have been squeezed. We must implement a plan to support small businesses, grow the economy, and ensure shared prosperity. That will require making strategic national investments to out-educate, out-innovate, and out-compete the rest of the world. It will also require developing and implementing a disciplined plan to steadily and predictably reduce our deficits and debt so that we establish a strong foundation for long-term growth.

"We all love America. We all believe America is a unique and special place, and believe in American exceptionalism.

"The question is how do we keep America strong, dynamic, and exceptional? On that we clearly have different views and would make different choices.

"We believe our strength springs not only from the undisputed benefits of a free people pursuing their ambitions and dreams, but also from sometimes harnessing those talents for important national purposes. We believe that America's greatness has resulted not only from a collection of individuals acting alone, but from our capacity to work together for the common good. We do not see the government as the enemy, but as the imperfect instrument by which we can accomplish together as a people what no individual or corporation can do alone.

"We all agree that we must act now to put in place a plan to reduce our deficits in a steady, responsible, and predictable manner. The question is how we do that. As the Bipartisan Fiscal Commission has indicated, any responsible effort to reduce the deficit requires a balanced approach that addresses both spending and revenue. This Republican plan fails that simple test. Yesterday, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the Co-Chairs of the President's Bipartisan Fiscal Commission, stated that the Republican Budget "falls short of the balanced, comprehensive approach needed to achieve the broad bipartisan agreement necessary to enact a responsible plan.'

"Indeed, the Republican Budget is the same tired formula of extending tax breaks to the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of America -- except this time on steroids and dressed up with nice-sounding sweet talk of "reform' that masks the damage it will do. To govern is to choose, and the choices made in the Republican Budget are wrong for America. It is not courageous to protect tax giveaways to big oil companies and other special interests while slashing investments in our kids' education, scientific research, and critical infrastructure. It is not bold to provide tax breaks to millionaires while ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors and sticking seniors with the bill for rising health care costs. It is not visionary to reward corporations that ship American jobs overseas while terminating affordable health care for tens of millions of Americans. It is not brave to give governors a blank check for their pet initiatives and a license to cut support for seniors in nursing homes, individuals with disabilities, and low income kids. And it is not fair to raise taxes on middle-income Americans to pay for big additional tax breaks for Wall Street executives and the very wealthy. Yet those are the choices made in the Republican Budget. Where is the shared sacrifice? We have American men and women putting their lives on line in Iraq and Afghanistan while others hide their income in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland and refuse to pay their fair share to support our nation.

"The Bipartisan Fiscal Commission called upon all Americans to pay their fair share. Its budget blueprint calls for the top 2 percent income earners to pay the same tax rates they paid during the booming economy of the Clinton Administration. Their plan also generates another $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years by closing special interest tax loopholes and limiting tax expenditures.

"The Fiscal Commission also warned that very deep, immediate cuts would threaten the fragile economic recovery and slow job growth. They also recognized that America must make strategic investments to win in the global marketplace. The Republican Budget fails both these tests.

"Make no mistake, significant and sustained spending cuts must be part of any balanced plan to reduce the deficit. But America became an economic powerhouse in part because of targeted strategic national investments made by earlier generations -- including huge investments in science and technology, the interstate highway system, and educational opportunities. Now, at the very moment that our global economic competitors are copying our successful model, this Budget would take America back. It is a recipe for national decline.

"Now let me turn to the question of health care. Every member of this Committee knows that rising health care costs represent a huge challenge for the federal budget. But every member of this Committee should also know what every expert has told us -- that those rising costs are not unique to Medicare or Medicaid. Those costs are endemic to the entire health care system. In fact, for 30 years, the per-beneficiary spending in Medicare and Medicaid has grown at virtually the same rate as those for the overall health system. And over the last decade, the per-beneficiary costs in Medicaid grew much more slowly that the rest of the health care system. By contrast, in the private market for individual coverage, premiums more than doubled between the years 2000 and 2008, as insurance industry profits quadrupled.

"Those facts make one thing clear -- if we are going to slow the rising costs in Medicare and Medicaid without rationing care, we must slow the rising costs of health care throughout the health care system. That is exactly what the Affordable Health Care reform bill signed by President Obama about a year ago will do when fully implemented.

"The Affordable Care Act will begin to bring down the per capita costs of health care throughout the system -- including Medicare. It includes virtually every cost containment provision recommended by health care experts. In her testimony before this Committee, Dr. Rivlin has said the Affordable Care Act would bend the health care cost curve and that repeal would set back efforts to create a more disciplined and effective health care system. Yet this Republican Budget will kill many of those system-wide reforms that will reduce costs throughout the system, including in Medicare.

"Now interestingly, this Republican Budget does preserve many of the specific Medicare reforms made in the Affordable Care Act, including some of the mechanisms to slow the growth of system costs and eliminate excessive taxpayer subsidies to managed care insurance companies. In fact, the bulk of the Medicare savings in this 10 year budget come from the reasonable reforms made in the Affordable Care Act. This is especially startling because during the last campaign, Democrats faced a barrage of campaign attack ads telling seniors that we had slashed Medicare.

"What is new in the Republican Budget Plan is the termination of the Medicare guarantee for seniors. It doesn't reform Medicare; it deforms and dismantles it. It forces seniors off of Medicare and into the private insurance market. It does nothing to rein in the rising costs of health care, but transfers the bill for those rising costs to seniors. Seniors will pay more while insurances companies stand to reap a bonanza by getting all the Medicare payroll taxes and premiums. If your voucher amount is not sufficient to pay for the benefits you need, tough luck. If your doctor is not on the private plan, too bad. This Republican Plan simply rations health care and choice of doctor by income. It is very different from the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan, which equally shares the risk of rising medical costs with beneficiaries.

"This Republican Budget also rips apart the safety net for seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as low-income kids and individuals with disabilities who rely on Medicaid. There is nothing courageous about targeting the most vulnerable in our society. Yet that is the biggest area of Republican cuts. "Block granting' Medicaid is simply code for deep, arbitrary cuts in support to the most vulnerable seniors, individuals with disabilities, and low income kids. Giving governors so-called "flexibility' is just a nice sounding way of giving them license to use federal taxpayer dollars to use to pay for their pet initiatives without oversight and accountability. That's not reform. Medicaid is already underfunded. Block granting it and cutting it further in the name of reform is like saving a drowning person by throwing them an anchor.

"The claim that dismantling the Medicare guarantee and block granting Medicaid is necessary to save them is simply Orwellian. It reminds me of the twisted statement that "you have to destroy the village in order to save it.'

"Democrats welcome an honest debate about how we can build upon the reforms in the Affordable Care Act to strengthen and sustain Medicare and Medicaid. But we will vigorously oppose any effort to undermine the integrity of these essential supports for seniors and vulnerable individuals. You don't have to be a history buff to know that Republicans in earlier Congresses fought the establishment of Medicare and Social Security as ferociously as they are fighting the Affordable Care Act today.

"Mr. Chairman, this Republican Budget is the wrong choice for America because it does not reflect our values and priorities, which is why Democrats intend to offer our own budget next week that will stand in stark contrast to this budget's principles. Our budget will reduce the deficit and remain true to our values. The Republican Budget does not reflect the best of the American experience. It recognizes the importance of individual self-reliance that is part of the American character, but it fails to recognize the truth emblazoned on the Great Seal of the United States -- that out of many, we unite as one behind shared values and principles to advance the common good and make America strong and exceptional."

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