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Interview with Representative Chris Van Hollen

Interview with Representative Chris Van Hollen

By The Situation Room - August 17, 2012

KEILAR: And Maryland representative Chris Van Hollen is with us now. Thank you so much for being with us, congressman. You know Paul Ryan pretty well.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Yes.

KEILAR: You've worked with him for many years. So how are you prepping? And what do you see as his biggest weakness?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look. Paul and I get along very well personally. We resolved quite some time ago because of our deep differences, we would try to make sure we express them in a civil manner. So, we have had very sharp debates. So, my main responsibility was to make sure I fully inform all the members of the president's team, vice president's team about exactly what that budget does, but more importantly how it is presented by Paul Ryan because the vice president's very familiar with that budget. After all, we had the Biden group. I was privileged to serve on that. So, that will be the main function.

JOHNS: And you're on the budget committee, he's the chairman of the budget committee that certainly suggests to everybody that you believe the Ryan plan is going to be a big part of the debate. VAN HOLLEN: Absolutely I do. Because I think by choosing Paul Ryan to be on the ticket, Mitt Romney really sharpened the issues here because the fundamental choice they make in the Ryan budget, the Ryan/Romney budget is to provide another round of tax breaks for people at the expense of everybody else, seniors, on Medicare, investment on kids' education and middle income taxpayers. So, this will really sharpen the issues. I think the debate's going to be good for the country.

KEILAR: You said Congressman that Paul Ryan is civil but he doesn't compromise. So, I want to ask you about something because actually we pulled from your Web site, the committee Web site for the minority, for the Democrats. And this is something you worked on with Paul Ryan co-authoring this bill giving the president line item veto authority to stop unnecessary government spending. I mean that kind of looks like bipartisanship there.

VAN HOLLEN: Actually, this was an important measure. It was not a huge measure, it was an important measure. I was glad we were able to do it. This is not an example of compromise, however, for this reason. Paul Ryan had a bill introduced like this, doing what this did. I had a bill doing what this did. We agreed on this policy, we were able to --

KEILAR: And there were problems with his.

VAN HOLLEN: We were able to collaborate and come together on this particular bill. But it wasn't a question of, you know, either of us having to agree and compromise on something we disagreed with. We agreed on this. I'm glad -- there are some Republicans against it, some for it. There are more Republicans for it than Democrats for it. But we were able to work together on it. That was a good thing, I believe.

But compromise, of course, requires give and take with respect to differences you have. And if you look at the Ryan budget and the Ryan/Romney plan, this is an uncompromising plan. I mean, this has become the tea party manifesto in the House of Representatives. And it's not because it's a document that has compromise, it's because it's a hard-edged right-wing approach to the economy.

JOHNS: The story today, of course, has been Romney's tax returns and he hasn't --

KEILAR: Paul Ryan's tax returns.

JOHNS: Well, no. Now I'm talking about Romney's tax returns. We don't want to get confused.

KEILAR: Lots of them.

JOHNS: Ryan's tax returns came out early, but the big issue has been whether Romney would release more of his tax returns. And as you know, the -- the administration has put a lot of pressure on for him to put some more out. The campaign of Romney put this out. We have a little graphic. It's clear the president wants nothing more than to talk about governor Romney's tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy, and reining in spending. So do you think this issue of Romney's tax returns whether he should release more, is that the kind of issue that breaks through? Do people really care about it that much?

VAN HOLLEN: I think they do for this reason, tax policy and tax reform is a fundamental issue in this election. Just the other night on "60 minutes, " you had Paul Ryan sitting next to Mitt Romney and he talked about how wealthy people use tax shelters to avoid having to pay more income tax than they should. You have a Romney tax plan that would drop the top rate from 35 percent to 27 percent. How does that affect people like Mitt Romney?

In other words, according to the tax policy center, that proposal would actually reduce the tax burden on the very wealthy and require middle income taxpayers to pick up the bill. Now, Mitt Romney has bank accounts in Switzerland, he has corporate investments in the Cayman Islands, various things going on in Bermuda. Let's figure out how his tax plan would affect him and how it would affect middle income taxpayers.

KEILAR: And that, we want to get your reaction to something that Paul Ryan said just a couple of hours ago and we'll talk on the other side of it. Here's what he said in Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Heard the president talking about Medicare the other day. We want this debate on Medicare. We want this debate, we need this debate and we're going to win this debate on Medicare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And so on this, you've got the Romney/Ryan campaign and they're embracing this Medicare argument head on. He says we want this. They think they can tie President Obama when it comes to Obama care to Medicare. What do you think?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, here's the problem, we should have this debate. I don't think they're going to welcome the debate for two reasons. One is the Romney/Ryan plan on Medicare saves costs, not by reducing costs overall in the system, but by transferring the costs to seniors. You would get a voucher, but the value of your voucher would decline over time compared to rising health care costs. And you, the senior, are left on your own. The other thing is Paul Ryan's budget included all $700 billion in Medicare savings that they're now complaining about.

KEILAR: And the Romney plan does not, we should point that out.

But let me ask you lastly, as well, I talked to a Democrat who said that they're actually warning some Democrats from overreaching as this person put it on the Medicare argument, that if, the Romney/Ryan ticket is able to kind of frame themselves as these -- as I've said it grown-ups in the room who are trying to preserve Medicare that Democrats may be in danger. What do you think the chances of that happening?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think it's very important for people to focus on the facts. Now, when Mitt Romney says that he wants to no longer keep those savings, he's going to accelerate the insolvency of Medicare by eight years. That's according to the Medicare trustees. What he's doing now, is saying seniors are going to have to pay higher premiums so he can reinstate overpayments to private insurance companies and Medicare.

This doesn't just affect seniors ten years from now. For seniors with high prescription drug costs, they'll pay more now under that plan. For seniors who use preventive Medicare services, they will pay more and all seniors will pay higher premiums because Mitt Romney wants to reinstate these overpayments to some of the private insurance companies. So this is a debate that is fundamental, they're proposing a plan that would be much worse for seniors on Medicare than for members of congress.

KEILAR: We'll be hearing a lot more from you, I'm sure. Tell us how --

VAN HOLLEN: The debate.

KEILAR: Tell us how that debate prep goes, of course. I'm sure you'll keep us informed on that.

Chris Van Hollen, thank you very much.

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks for having me.

JOHNS: Thanks for that.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. 

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