Van Hollen Discusses Deficit Super Committee

Robert Siegel talks with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). He's one of 12 members on the new congressional super committee charged with cutting the budget deficit by more than a trillion dollars over 10 years.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Joining us now is a Democrat who's on the 12 member supercommittee. Chris Van Hollen is congressman from Maryland and he's the top minority member of the House budget committee. Representative Van Hollen, welcome to the program.

Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Very good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you this. President Obama and Speaker Boehner couldn't agree on a big deficit cutting package. The ideas of the Bowles-Simpson Commission and the Senate's Gang of Six have failed to attract bipartisan majorities. Why should this supercommittee be any different?

HOLLEN: Well, I certainly hope that it will be different and I hope everyone will come together in that spirit. I think there are three reasons for some optimism. One is that the American people are clearly sending a message to the Congress that they want us to work together for the good of the people. Secondly, you've got the credit markets and the economy that are sending very strong signals that it's important that we show some progress, both on the economy as well as deficit reduction.

And third, we have this sword of Damocles hanging over our heads that if we're unable to reach some kind of agreement, very significant cuts will go into place, both on defense and non-defense. So I hope those three elements will help focus the minds of all of us on that committee so that we can cut this Gordian knot.

SIEGEL: We expect the Republican members on the supercommittee to be very resistant to tax increases or anything that can't be described as something other than a tax increase. We expect you and the other Democrats to be very resistant to any decrease in Medicare or Medicaid spending. So let me ask you, how can you achieve meaningful spending cuts without spending less on health care?

HOLLEN: Well, first, our priority has to be on getting the economy going again and jobs. That's the fastest and most effective way to begin to reduce the deficit. Second, when it comes to a long term plan, it needs to be done in a balanced way. We need to close the corporate tax loopholes and address the revenue side. We also have to address the spending side. We have been very clear that while we will not accept anything like the House Republican plan that ends the Medicare guarantee, that privatizes Medicare, that slashes Medicare.

We have been very open to ideas to modernize the Medicare system, to change the incentive structure to put a greater focus on the quality of care and the value of care rather than the volume of care.

SIEGEL: But don't words like modernize and change the incentives, don't those really mean that you should reduce what hospitals and doctors and laboratories and drug companies are getting from those programs?

HOLLEN: Well, certainly when it comes to the drug companies, for example...

SIEGEL: But what about the doctors and the hospitals?

HOLLEN: Well, I don't think that we should be cutting into doctor payments and hospital payments just across the board willy-nilly. But what we should be doing is changing their incentives so there's not a financial incentive to have what's known as overutilization of the system.

SIEGEL: But isn't it fair to say that if the incentives work, it means the hospital gets less money out of Medicare or Medicaid, whichever...

HOLLEN: Not necessarily the case. I mean, it would mean that the hospitals that are more efficient in providing value of care and quality of care do better compared to hospitals that are simply, you know, running up the bill because the patient keeps coming into the hospital for the same illness or for things related to the same illness. But that's, you know, what we want to do. We want to create a more efficient, modernized system.

I mean, to the extent that a hospital, for example, is running up the bills on a Medicare patient because they're not properly managing care, yes, that hospital should be getting less.

SIEGEL: One last point. How do you anticipate this process to work - it would be private, informal over drinks, three foursomes of golf? How do you make this thing happen differently?

HOLLEN: Well, I envision most of this process will take place as part of public conversation, including hearings that will, I think, clarify both for members of Congress as well as the American public what the fundamental choices are when it comes to getting the economy going again, helping getting people back to work as well as coming up with a long-term credible plan to reduce our deficit.

SIEGEL: Well, Chris Van Hollen, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

HOLLEN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic congressman from Maryland is one of the Democratic members of the supercommittee that's charged with arriving at a big deficit reduction plan.

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