Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, made opening remarks at the House Budget Committee hearing on A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Working with Families in Need. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Chairman, I'm glad to have another opportunity to talk about what additional measures we should take to fight poverty.
"Let's begin on two points of agreement. First, for all those who can work, the best anti-poverty measure is a job. And second, if there are better approaches to take in helping people successfully find and hold a job, we should use them. If more intensive case management is shown to be successful, let's fund it.
"Many of us believe that if someone works hard all day, all year around, he or she should be able to earn enough to keep their family out of poverty. That's why the President and Democrats in Congress have proposed to raise the minimum wage, which has less purchasing power today than when Harry Truman was President. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that measure will lift almost a million hard-working Americans out of poverty and raise the low wages of another 15 million working Americans. Here in the House, Speaker Boehner has refused to allow a vote on raising the minimum wage.
"But even with an increase to the minimum wage, huge challenges remain. We must examine the past in order to forge the best way forward. A recent report from the Council of Economic Advisors did just that. It found that about 50 million people remain in poverty -- an unacceptably high number. But it also found that the steps that have been taken over the last 50 years have cut poverty in half from what it otherwise would be.
"That is why, Mr. Chairman, we cannot understand the huge disconnect between these hearings on poverty and the Republican budget that you recently adopted. That budget is full of Trojan-Horse policies that are heavy on sound bites, but actually shred the social safety net and push more Americans into poverty. The Republican plan undermines the existing supports for the most vulnerable, the elderly, disabled, and children. It guts food and nutrition programs. It slashes $700 billion from the base Medicaid program, which primarily serves these vulnerable populations, and it repeals the optional state expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The very case management activities we'll hear about today are funded through these programs as well as others that come under the knife in the Republican budget. All told, about two-thirds of its budget cuts come from initiatives that help middle- and lower-income individuals. Now, by what logic do you reduce poverty levels for the millions of Americans in poverty today by cutting programs that have helped lift 45 million Americans out of poverty?
"It is bad enough that the Republican budget targets these programs for cuts. But it adds insult to injury to do so to protect special interest tax breaks for powerful, wealthy elites, at the expense of middle-class families and those working hard to climb out of poverty into the middle class. The budget Republicans passed this spring calls for a one-third cut in tax rates for millionaires and refuses to close a single special interest tax break to help reduce the deficit -- not one.
"But it doesn't just slash the safety net designed to prevent people from hitting rock bottom, it also chops away at the ladders of opportunity that help our fellow Americans climb out of poverty. If applied proportionately, its reckless cuts to non-defense discretionary investments would savage investments in early education and K-12 by 24 percent over the 2016 through 2024 period and contribute to a cut of over $260 billion to higher education policy, including Pell grants, student loans, and tax credits.
"In the end, the Republican budget will not create jobs, make people more employable, or reduce poverty. It would lower the ladder of opportunity and shred the social safety net as a part of a trickle down ideology obsessed with cutting tax rates for the wealthy at the expense of all other priorities. When you get to the top, you pull the ladder up after you. That is not the American way.
"I hope we can have a serious discussion about next steps forward in the War on Poverty -- but that conversation can't ignore the devastating impact of the Republican budget. I welcome Ms. Gaines-Turner to our committee and thank her for being willing to discuss her personal journey with us. I look forward to hearing her views as well as those of our other panelists."