August 04, 2022

VIDEO: Van Hollen Delivers Floor Speech Ahead of Senate Consideration of Inflation Reduction Act

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Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate urging passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which will lower Americans’ health care costs, tackle the climate crisis, address inflation, and ensure big corporations and the wealthy invest in the success of everyday Americans by paying their fair share in taxes. He also highlighted the inclusion of provisions from his HOPE for HOMES Act and his and Senator Markey’s Clean Energy Accelerator (National Climate Bank) bill, and pointed to the analysis of leading economists that this legislation will reduce our deficit and help lower costs across the board for Americans. A full transcript of the Senator remarks follows. Video of the Senator’s full remarks can be viewed here and can be downloaded upon request.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): Thank you, Mr. President. I was just listening to the Majority Leader outline some of the disastrous policies that Republicans have proposed to make, including putting Medicare on the chopping block by making it discretionary. 

I want to talk a little bit about the good things that Democrats have done, some on a bipartisan basis, and some which it looks like we're going to have to do alone for the American people. 

Mr. President, in just the last few weeks this United States Senate has made historic progress tackling a number of very real and very urgent challenges that our country faces. We passed the first major gun reform bill in 30 years. We passed historic legislation to boost American manufacturing of essential semiconductor chips – important to our economy and our national security. We passed the PACT Act so that Veterans exposed to toxins will get the care they deserve. And just yesterday, we voted to admit Finland and Sweden as new members of NATO, therefore expanding and strengthening the Atlantic alliance in the face of Putin's brutal war against Ukraine. 

Mr. President, these are major accomplishments. But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Now is not the time to coast. Because we've got to do everything we can to fight back against rising prices, against inflation – which has been driven in recent months by what I call the three P's: Putin's war and its impact on energy and food prices, the pandemic and the supply chain disruptions it has caused, and price gouging by Big Oil companies that are reaping record profits. Those have been big drivers of inflation. 

Now, I've listened to my Republican Senate colleagues here on the floor, week after week, trying to exploit inflation as a campaign issue, as if it were all caused by the policies of President Biden. The American people know much better. They also know that while Republicans are talking up inflation and talking down the economy, we in the Democratic Majority have a plan to do something about rising costs – and it's called the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Mr. President, in coming days we're going to be voting on that, and I hope – I hope our Republican colleagues will have a change of heart, at least some of them. Because here's the bottom line: the Inflation Reduction Act will drive down prices over time. And it will reduce the deficit. And it will do that without raising taxes on anyone making under $400,000 a year – not by one dime. And it does all that while addressing four – four – major issues facing our country. The need to lower health care costs, the need to address the climate crisis, the need to fix parts of our broken tax system – this is a start on that – and reducing the deficit. 

So, Mr. President, first on health care. All of us in this chamber have known that the costs of prescription drugs in the United States are way too high, out of control. Our constituents, Americans, pay twice as much on prescription drugs as people in other advanced economies around the world. And it's not just squeezing people's pocketbooks – that, of course, hurts – it's also jeopardizing their health. If you look at the 2022 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, they found nearly one in three adults reported that they had not taken their medications as prescribed due to cost. They were too expensive, couldn't afford them. That financial pressure is hard on everybody. It's especially so on many of our seniors. Nearly nine in ten older adults take prescription medication, but millions of Americans 65 and older say they struggle to afford their medicine. And here's what adds insult to injury – American taxpayers spend over $40 billion every year to support cutting-edge medical research happening at the National Institutes of Health in my state of Maryland. And that is a great investment for our country. It helps discover, it helps develop, and produce many of the life-changing medications that are available to American families today and to people around the world. But it's just not right for American taxpayers to invest $40 billion a year in developing drugs that are then sold by American pharmaceutical companies here in the United States for two, three, four times as much as they're sold overseas. So, people throughout the world benefit from the great research done at places like NIH, and they pay lower costs on the medicines developed from that research than Americans who helped fund the research in the first place. That's just not right. 

So, Mr. President, that is why the Inflation Reduction Act finally empowers the Medicare program to negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical industry. Private insurance companies negotiate volume discounts every day, all the time to try to get a better deal for their members. And why should we tie the hands of the Medicare program? And I say finally, Mr. President, because you and I and many others in this chamber have worked for not just one or two years, for decades to try to achieve this, and every time the Pharmaceutical Industry has succeeded in blocking it because if you take away the power of Medicare to negotiate drug prices, it means they get to write the bill themselves. So, this is important. It's also accompanied by a cap on Medicare Part D out-of-pocket spending to $2,000 a year. And last but not least, this legislation extends the important work we achieved through the American Rescue Plan to lower the health care costs for people who get their insurance through the Affordable Care exchanges. In my state, Marylanders are saving an average of $80 every month on their health care premiums because of that provision from the American Rescue Plan which this bill will extend for three more years. 

We are joined in this effort by a vast coalition of Americans who have been pushing for years to address the prescription drug crisis, including AARP and its 38 million members who support this bill. Meanwhile, we've seen some billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies pouring their profits into negative ads to try to defeat this bill. In fact, just last night I saw two or three of them within the space of about an hour as I was flipping channels at home. But I think the country is pretty clear on what's at stake here. On the one hand you have tens and tens of millions of Americans who seek to – who will benefit from lowering the cost of prescription drugs – and yet you've got Big Pharma trying to maintain this privileged position where we don't have to negotiate with them in order to boost their profits.

So, Mr. President, let's be clear on what we're going to do. We're going to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and that will lower the cost for seniors. We're capping out-of-pocket spending for seniors, and we're making it more affordable to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. And yet right now, as of today, we have every one of our Republicans voting “no.” 

When I go around Maryland, this is not a party – or partisan issue. All of my constituents want us to take this action. And the same is true of climate change. Most Americans, regardless of party, recognize the very real harm caused by climate change. They just have to look around them or turn on the news. But apparently when you enter the Senate Republican Cloakroom, you go into a science-free and fact-free zone. Many of our colleagues still doubt the fact of human-caused climate change. But that's out of touch with the American people who see the harm every day and also see the promise of developing a clean energy industry.  

That's why our legislation makes this big investment in more rapidly deploying clean energy technology, and in doing so, we're projected to cut U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030. We should move even faster, but at least this gets us in the game to hitting the targets that we have to, and we will do that while supercharging the development, the manufacturing, and deployment of wind, solar, and battery power.

Mr. President, I want to talk about a couple provisions in this bill – there are many, but a couple that I’ve worked on over the years. First, this bill includes what's called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund – $27 billion – some of which could support a National Climate Bank, which is an initiative I've been working on since my time in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate with my colleague Ed Markey and in the House today with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. A National Climate Bank would be a magnet for private investment in new, sustainable technology, channeling more capital into the clean energy space and lowering the risk to investors. For every one dollar of public financing through a national climate bank, we project it will draw in $7 to $10 of private investment to turbocharge investments and jobs in clean energy. In addition, it targets a large share of investments to low-income and disadvantaged communities that often lack access to financing for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. 

Mr. President, this bill also includes another provision I've worked on a long time, a bill I introduced called HOPE for HOMES. I've worked on it with a bipartisan group of colleagues in both the House and the Senate. In the House, that includes Congressman Peter Welch and Congressman Dave McKinley. And here in the Senate, Senator Coons and Senator Shaheen. The HOPE for HOMES legislation that's been incorporated in this bill will provide Americans with sizable rebates and with tax credits to retrofit their homes with clean energy and energy efficiency technology. So, it will not only help us meet our climate goals and our pollution reduction goals, it's also going to save consumers up to $750 every year on their heating and cooling bills. So, we're going to give people a rebate to make their homes more energy efficient and they will save money as a result. And it also invests in clean energy jobs training so that we have the people-power to help folks in every neighborhood around the country access the help and the workers they need. It's estimated to help generate 80,000 jobs over the next couple years in this important area. 

Mr. President, the Inflation Reduction Act also includes major investments to develop clean energy manufacturing base, to reduce our reliance on foreign imports of clean energy products, including $30 billion in tax credits designed to accelerate manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and critical minerals right here in the United States. China has made it one of its goals – and they've been very open about it – to dominate the clean energy technology space for years to come. We need to make sure that we manufacture critical technologies and products right here in the United States. 

I want to give you a great example from my state of Maryland, which is at the vanguard of a budding offshore wind industry. Right now, we have two companies in Maryland – Ørsted and U.S. Wind – that are building new wind turbine fabrication centers in our state to support their offshore wind farms coming to the Mid-Atlantic, two major projects off Maryland's Atlantic Coast. The Deputy Secretary of Commerce was just in Baltimore yesterday talking about apprenticeship programs that will help support 10,000 jobs – 10,000 Maryland jobs – as part of this offshore wind manufacturing. That's just in the state of Maryland. And we can do that across the country in terms of offshore wind in coastal states and of course interior wind for others. 

So, these are really important provisions that I've talked about – fighting the climate crisis, lowering the cost of prescription drugs. So, let's talk about how they're paid for. Unlike the Republican tax bill in 2017, which provided huge tax giveaways to big corporations and very wealthy individuals, this legislation actually will both pay for itself through the cuts made and recycled and through fixing parts of our broken tax system. We got a lot to work – we got a lot of work to do to fix our tax system, but this is a down-payment in terms of the policy changes in this bill. 

First, Mr. President, we're going to beef up IRS enforcement to go after wealthy tax cheats, and this is an important issue. I chair the subcommittee that oversees the IRS, and we've been pushing for years to make sure that the IRS has the resources and the expertise to track down taxes that are already due and owing from very wealthy people who come up with elaborate tax dodges. Right now, we estimate there's anywhere from $500 billion to $1 trillion in taxes each year that are owed but not paid. Think about that. Up to a trillion dollars every year, taxes that are owed but not paid. And the people who are suckered are all the people who pay when you have these very wealthy tax cheats skirting their responsibilities. So, this bill will address that issue. 

Second, we make sure that big corporations invest in the success of everyday Americans. In 2020, 55 huge American corporations paid zero – zero in taxes – despite a combined $40.5 billion in profits. $40.5 billion in profits from these 55 companies – zero taxes paid. Small businesses across the country are paying their taxes while some of these big corporations are not. That's not fair. It needs to change. That's why the Inflation Reduction Act includes the 15% minimum tax on profits of corporations that have over $1 billion in annual profits. And I want to thank the presiding officer for his leadership on this issue. Third, our legislation would tighten the rules on what's known as carried interest, which allows hedge fund managers to pay a lower rate on their income than the rate their employees pay on theirs. The classic example is how a big hedge fund CEO can pay a lower tax rate than their receptionist. This is a fact under our current tax code, and I hope we'll keep this provision in this bill. Because this loophole, the carried interest loophole, is Exhibit A of some of the biggest unfairnesses in our tax code. 

So, Mr. President, taken together, the measures to lower the cost of prescription drugs, lower the cost of energy to American households and consumers, reduce the deficit – these measures will reduce inflationary pressures that are bearing down on working families. Don't have to take my word for it. In just the last few days, economists from all over the country have spoken out in favor of this approach and supporting this legislation. One hundred and twenty-six leading economists recently wrote to the congressional leadership: “This proposal addresses some of the country's biggest challenges at a significant scale, and because it is deficit reducing it does so while putting downward pressure on inflation.” And that's key. Unlike that Republican tax giveaway in 2017 that added $2 trillion to our national debt, we're actually reducing our deficit, and by reducing the deficit you also put downward pressure on inflation.

In recent months I've heard the Republican Leader, Senator McConnell, often citing former Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers about Larry Summers' views on the economy and inflation. Well, here's what Larry Summers had to say recently about the bill we'll be voting on: “The prescription drug provisions, energy incentives, and the increased Medicare benefits will all contribute over time to much-needed inflation reduction.” And just yesterday, Former Secretary Summers was joined by former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, who of course served under former President George W. Bush, who with other secretaries wrote: “We support the Inflation Reduction Act, which is financed by prudent tax policy that will collect more from top earners and large corporations.” And again, by using those revenues to reduce the deficit, we put downward pressure on inflation. 

I just, as we close here, just want to contrast that to the approach that Republicans took in 2017 with their tax giveaway. As I said, that ballooned the deficit by $2 trillion. It also handed the top 1% income earners an average tax cut of $69,000 each in 2018 alone. So just in one year, about a $70,000 tax cut to the top 1%. And the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 43% of the growth in economic output from the 2017 tax law flowed to foreign investors in that space. So, foreign investors have holdings in U.S. corporations. That tax cut to American corporations, yes, it flowed to some very wealthy Americans, but a lot of it flowed offshore to foreign investors. 

So, what we've seen from our colleagues across the aisle is big tax cuts to corporations and the very wealthy, not just here at home, but benefiting others around the world. In contrast to this, which does ask big corporations to pay their fair share – minimum 15% – and reduces the deficit as we invest in job creation and reduce prices here at home. So, this is a win for families. It's a win for seniors. It's a win for our planet, our economy. It's a win for the country.

So, Mr. President, I hope, as this debate goes forward, that we will focus on the facts, listen to what it does – because this is a comprehensive piece of legislation that does help us tackle some of the key priorities in front of our country and we're hearing that from our constituents every day. So, I'm proud to support this legislation. Let's get it done.