The Local Delegation: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
Friday, May 23, 2008; 1:30 PM
U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland's 8th District was online Friday, May 23 at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss his work and goals during this session of Congress, and the recent successes and general election prospects of the Democratic National Campaign Committee.
The transcript follows.
Rep. Van Hollen has been a U.S. congressman serving Southern Maryland since 2002. He is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Before his election to the U.S. Congress, Rep. Van Hollen served 12 years in the Maryland General Assembly.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I'm very pleased to join you today. I look forward to trying to answer as many questions as I can.
Lyme, Conn.: Is there anything the Ways and Means Committee can do that would make the administration more accountable on its spending on the war?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: The committees are working on a number of fronts to hold the administration accountable. The oversight committee had hearings yesterday on the misexpenditures of funds on the war. The Ways and Means committee has looked at ways to try to pay for the GI Bill of Rights for veterans returning from the war, and we identified ways to do that. In fact last week on the House floor we past legislation to provide for that bill of rights and asked the Americans who are doing the best to help share in the sacrifice by levying a tax of one half of one percent on couples with incomes over $1 million. We also are conduction hearings in other committees to hold the administration responsible, and the House passed legislation in the past two weeks to attach conditions to the Iraq funds. I'd be happy to go into those later, but the Senate unfortunately stripped them from the bill.
Wheaton, Md.: When you ran against Morella, you said in a debate that you'd get federal funds for the Purple Line. It has been four years. Where are the funds?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: We have succeeded in getting the Congress to pass legislation that places the Purple Line on what is known as the "new start" list. That makes it eligible for federal funding once the state of Maryland makes a determination on how they're going to proceed. The state of Maryland currently is conducting hearings on an environmental impact statement that was performed to assess various options for the Purple Line. We are awaiting their conclusions; whatever they are, it is important that we also protect the hiker-biker trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring. I look forward to continuing to work with the State of Maryland and Montgomery County to build a purple line that also protects that trail, and will continue to pursue federal funds once the state completes its process.
Chevy Chase, Md.: I was wondering if you ever would consider running for Senator? I someday would like to run for your seat and was hoping you might be able to give me a timetable on when you might be giving it up (hopefully to move to the Senate but maybe governor?)?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Well, right now I am focused 100 percent on my current responsibilities as the representative for Maryland's 8th District. I would consider other opportunities, if they were to arrive in the future.
Bethesda, Md.: How many hours have you spent working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee since you have taken that post? Why didn't you mention you were seeking that post before the last election? How much more Metro money would we have gotten if you had spent all your time trying to get funding for us instead of working for the campaigns of other would-be congressmen?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Well, I wasn't seeking the post of DCCC chairman -- I didn't ask or campaign for it. The speaker asked if I would take on those responsibilities, and I thought it would be important toward advancing our efforts to move the country in a new direction by passing important legislation.
Germantown, Md.: With all due respect, please don't let the position as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee turn you into just another salesman for the Democrats. We need people downtown who can work together and be able to admit that "their side" does not have all he right answers.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I agree with you -- it is important that we make every effort to work together to get things done. We have been able to pass important legislation in the first 18 months of the new Congress, including lobbying and ethics reform, legislation to reduce the cost of college by halving the interest rates on federally backed student loans, increasing the minimum wage, passing a bill to finally boost CAFE standards, and most recently a bipartisan effort to enact an economic stimulus package. All of these examples are bipartisan success stories. I hope we'll be able to achieve similar successes in the days ahead. Unfortunately, on many important issues, the Senate Republicans have blocked important legislation -- for example, our efforts to eliminate subsidies for the oil and gas industries to invest in renewable energy, as well as legislation to try to stabilize the housing market in the current crisis.
Takoma Park, Md.: As a constituent, I want to urge you to declare your preference as a superdelegate on June 4 if not sooner. As an Obama supporter I like Speaker Pelosi's formulation, but it's your conscience and your vote, of course.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Because of my responsibilities with the DCCC I have not made an endorsement in the presidential contest to date. That is because I have worked with both campaigns to try to expand the Democratic majority in the Congress. However, once all the caucuses and primaries are completed on June 3 I do intend to take a position shortly thereafter. For months I have shared the view of Speaker Pelosi and publicly stated that it would be a big mistake for the superdelegates to veto or overturn the judgment of the elected delegates. I think such a veto would cause a huge rupture in the party and make it hard for us to elect a Democratic president in November.
Helena, Mont.: I know that Maryland is your constituency, but as a Democrat, let me thank you for your work on the DCCC. How many open Republican seats do you think the Democrats have a good chance of taking this year? How many from Republican incumbents?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: There are 31 open Republican seats. Of those, Democrats have a good chance in at least half. In addition to the open seats, we have strong Democratic challengers in about 35 seats across the country.
Mount Rainier, Md.: Rep. Van Hollen, as DCCC chair, how do you see the farm bill playing in the general election this fall? In a time when families are facing the triple whammy of falling home prices, rising gas prices and rising food prices, how does one reconcile this huge spending push by Congress?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: This question requires a fairly lengthy answer, so I apologize in advance.
The farm bill is a mixed bag. It has some very good elements and some provisions I disagree with. On the positive side, it greatly expands nutrition programs to help provide for healthier diets and lifestyles, including more fresh food as part of student lunch programs. It also expands food stamp programs and eligibility for food stamp programs at a time when many Americans are being squeezed by higher food prices. Another positive element is the expansion of land conservation efforts and programs to protect water quality. A prime example are the funds we have dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay watershed cleanup effort. The bill doubles the amount of federal funds to the cleanup effort, which is a much-need boost given that we are falling short of our bay cleanup goals.
On the other side of the ledger, the farm bill still includes too many subsidies for farming interests that don't need them. I opposed the size of those subsidies, however -- and this is an important point -- the subsidies in the bill are significantly reduced from the status quo, much lower than the existing subsidies. If this bill hadn't passed, we would be facing the much higher subsidies put into farm bills many years ago. So while I'm not satisfied with the extent of the reform in this bill, it does move us in a better direction.
Gaithersburg, Md.: What do you intend to do to change Maryland's policy to issue driver's licenses to people who are in this country illegally? What do you intend to do to support a crackdown on illegal aliens with regard to voter registration?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Well, I support the governor's decision with respect to driving licenses. As for the latter part of the question, obviously we want to protect the integrity of the voting process and ensure that those who are voting are entitled to. There has been no evidence of voter fraud in Maryland, and as we take steps in this area, we must ensure that we don't disenfranchise citizens who are entitled to vote by erecting unnecessary obstacles. We must strike the right balance here.
Philadelphia: Do you believe the Christian Coalition and similar type religious organizations that almost always support Republicans will make the gay marriage ruling in California an issue to frighten people into voting Republican -- because obviously allowing their gay neighbors to marry threatens the stability of their own marriages? How will Democrats counteract this Republican strategy?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I'm not sure what strategy the Republicans will deploy this November regarding some of the hot-button social issues. What I do know is that the American people are much more focused on the economic squeeze millions of them are facing. The American people are focused on the high cost of gasoline, the housing crisis, the high cost of health insurance and many other bread-and-butter issues. Therefore I believe the Republicans will be unsuccessful if they embark on a polarizing strategy that seeks to divide Americans on hot-button social issues.
Germantown, Md.: Are we any closer on a permanent dedicated source of funding for Metro? Given transportation costs, many commuters are looking toward Metro and adding to the burden of an already-struggling system.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: That's an excellent point. The House has passed legislation to establish dedicated funds to WMATA. The federal funds are contingent on the states of Maryland and Virginia and the District of Columbia providing dedicated sources of funds as well. Those jurisdictions have established such funds. This important legislation is being blocked in the Senate by Republicans who have placed what's known as a hold on the bill, and who have threatened to filibuster if it is brought up for consideration.
We'll continue to push for its enactment, and if unsuccessful this year we hope that following the November elections we'll have the votes needed to get it done.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Where does Rep. Van Hollen see House climate legislation going for the remainder of this session? Specifically, does he support legislation addressing the Waxman-Markey-Inslee principles or passing companion legislation to the Boxer-Warner-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill, etc.? Is he working to make climate and energy policy a major focus of November's House elections?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Yes on all counts. I am a signatory to the so-called Waxman-Inslee principles, and I'm also a co-sponsor of Waxman's Safe Climate Act and also support Sen. Boxer's legislation. We must take swift action on this urgent matter by enacting comprehensive cap-and-trade legislation. The time is way overdue for moving on this matter and it should become a key issue in the presidential elections. We are very focused on this issue in the congressional elections.
Arlington, Va.: What are your plans to gut the Second Amendment in the upcoming term?
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: In response to the Virginia Tech shootings, and other similar incidents around the country, Congress adopted -- on a bipartisan basis -- legislation to require that information regarding a doctor's finding that an individual has mental illness must be included as part of the background check database to ensure that such individuals do not get their hands on guns. I'm sorry if you think actions like that constitute gutting the Second Amendment.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I appreciate the opportunity to take questions online and I look forward to joining you again at a future date. It is a great privilege to represent the people of Maryland's 8th District.
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