Van Hollen Discusses Deficit Super Committee
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.
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?
VAN HOLLEN: 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?
VAN HOLLEN: 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?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, certainly when it comes to the drug companies, for example...
SIEGEL: But what about the doctors and the hospitals?
VAN 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...
VAN HOLLEN: 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?
VAN 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.
VAN 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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