Interview with Representative Chris Van Hollen

Interview with Representative Chris Van Hollen

By The Situation Room - October 23, 2012

BLITZER: One of the many points -- pointed remarks in last night's presidential debate came after Mitt Romney said he wants to boost the size of the United States Navy.

President Obama answered with one of his sharpest barbs.

But could that end up sting himself?

Watch this.


OBAMA: You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships.


BLITZER: All right, joining us now, Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: It's great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Shipbuilding very, very important, especially in Virginia, your neighboring state, Norfolk.

Is this kind of comment going to hurt the president in Virginia?

VAN HOLLEN: No, it's not going to hurt the president, Wolf, because whether you live in Virginia or anywhere else in the United States, you want a military strategy that's based on the current needs and requirements that we face overseas. And the president's budget for the military is actually grown substantially every year. It does continue to grow.

It is the budget that was put together in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It has a very strong navy, a very strong army and are very strong air force. In fact, as the president's pointed out, our military budget is larger than the next ten countries around the world combined. So, there's no question that the president's budget for defense is fit and measure to fit our strategic needs around the world.

BLITZER: But as Romney repeatedly points out, he's already cut half a trillion dollars in projected growth in defense spending over the next ten years. And if the sequestration, the forced cuts go into effect, that would be another half a trillion dollars.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes. And Republicans continue to protect special interest tax breaks rather than to protect defense spending. They've been given lots of opportunities to say let's avoid that sequester, let's eliminate some special interest tax breaks, let's do some other cuts and prevent that. And the president's been very clear. The president has on the table a proposal to prevent those sequesters from taking place.

Mitt Romney and his allies have opposed the idea of one additional penny going to help reduce our deficit or help pay for our national defense if it means asking people like Mitt Romney to contribute a little bit more.

BLITZER: To pay higher taxes?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's right. I mean, he has taken this pledge that says he won't raise one more penny either to reduce the deficit or to increase the funding for the defense department.

BLITZER: Here's something that the president said last night that's created a lot of buzz especially up on Capitol Hill where you work. Watch this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, the sequester is not something that I proposed, it's something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.


BLITZER: You know what happened. Did the president propose the sequester?

VAN HOLLEN: No, what the president proposed was a balanced approach to reducing the deficit. He said let's not have these across the board cuts. We need a combination of targeted spending cuts.

BLITZER: But when that didn't happen, who came up with the idea of the sequester?

VAN HOLLEN: I do not know. The sequester idea is one that began in the 1990s. Paul Ryan, in his budget, has had across the board sequesters if different targets did not meet. So, for Republicans who all voted for this to suggest that this was somehow all the president's idea, it's non-sense.

I just remember Speaker Boehner was quoted after we passed the deficit control act, the Budget Control Act, saying he got 97 percent of what he wanted. This is the republican speaker of the House.

BLITZER: So, when the president says it will not happen, how does he know it will not happen?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, because there's a bipartisan agreement and determination to avoid the sequester by coming up with alternative cuts.

BLITZER: You just pointed out that the Republicans don't want to increase taxes. That's part of the deal, right?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think what the president has said was he's confident that we will find a way to replace the sequester because everybody agrees that these acts across the board indiscriminate cuts to defense and non-defense would be bad for the country.

BLITZER: Because he said flatly it will not happen. And I wonder how he can be so sure. It's one thing he's confident, might not happen. But when he says it will not happen, how does he know it will not happen? A lot of people are worried about that fiscal cliff as you well know.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there are two parts of the fiscal cliff, right? One is the sequester we're talking about and the other part is the tax piece. And what the president has said on that is very clear. That we should immediately extend tax relief to 98 percent of the American people, in fact, 100 percent based on their first $250,000 income.

Republicans have said we're going to hold middle class taxpayers hostage. We're not going to give tax relief to 98 percent of the American people, unless, very high incomers, people like Mitt Romney, get a bonus tax break. I don't think that that's a sustainable position come January 1st.

BLITZER: How worried are you right now about your constituents, for example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, some other counties in Maryland? There's a lot of defense contractors, a lot of people have their jobs in defense-related industries in your district.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I'm worried, Wolf, both on defense and on defense. I know people focus on defense, and that's an important part, but there are also other very important investments we make, an NIH, in trying to find cures and treatments to cancer and other diseases, the FDA that helps provides safety for our food supply. I mean, these are other cuts we would also face.

BLITZER: -- the slashing of government spending, a lot of government workers in Montgomery County, Maryland.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it would be bad for them and it would also be bad for the country and the national economy. And that's a number of economists have made that point.

BLITZER: You agree you've got to cut pending in order to deal with the deficit.

VAN HOLLEN: But that's right. You can cut the spending over a more gradual period of time where it's certain that you're going to cut it but over a longer period of time. For example, I put forward a very specific plan to avoid the sequester for an entire year includes cuts to direct payments and farm subsidies, but it also says we should end subsidies for big oil companies and some other revenues. The House of Representatives didn't even allow us a vote, Wolf, on that very sensible proposal, had a mix of cuts and revenue. So, what the president is saying is he's confident that at the end of the day, we will find a bipartisan way forward, and we should.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks for coming in.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. 

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