WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- It appears Democrats and Republicans have come up with plans to head off $85 billion in sequestration cuts. But with time ticking and 750,000 jobs at stake why can't both sides reach an agreement?
On Thursday morning, we talked to Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a ranking member of the House Budget Committee, about our petition asking whether or not lawmakers should take furloughs if an agreement isn't reached. We showed the congressman that 96 percent of the people from his district who responded to that question at WUSA 9 support furloughs for lawmakers. We asked Rep. Van Hollen what he thought.
Rep. Van Hollen replied, "I understand the sentiment. People should understand that congressional offices are subject to the across the board sequester. We will also be taking a 5 percent across the board cuts and like federal agencies we will have to make decisions on how to allocate those cuts.
I have been working to make sure I don't have to furlough any of my staff, and other federal agencies are working to try to accomplish that as well. So, we will apply the same rules to ourselves..."
"So you will be taking a furlough?" asked WUSA 9's Andrea Roane.
"No...let me be clear. We're working to try to make sure that nobody in our office gets furloughed. If I furlough other staff members, I'm happy to furlough myself as well. But I'm working hard to try to avoid that. So yes, I think within offices, members should be treated similar to how they are treating their staff, I think that's an important principle," answered Rep. Van Hollen.
Two competing bills are being offered today. One of the bills -- the Senate Democratic bill -- is similar to one Van Hollen proposed in the House.
Rep. Van Hollen explained, "I proposed, some Senate Democrats proposed, a bill that would replace the sequester with an alternative mix of targeted cuts.
So, for example, we eliminate what are called 'direct payments to agribusinesses,' subsidies that both sides agree are no longer necessary.
We would eliminate taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies and then we would ask folks making more than $2 million a year to pay the same effective tax rate as most of their employees do -- 30% effective tax rate. So they can still take advantage of some of the deductions but they can't take advantage of all the deductions. If you do that, you get the same deficit reduction over time without losing 750,000 jobs and all the other disruption."
Closing most loopholes will make a difference. Former Senator Alan Simpson of the Fiscal Commission and Moment of Truth project wrote an op-ed for US News which included this statement: "This country needs to act-and soon-to put in place a plan which will truly deal with our destructive debt problem and put that debt on a clear downward path relative to the economy. And we shouldn't do that with stupid, mindless, across-the-board cuts (sequester) to important investments; we should replace these cuts with targeted spending cuts, structural entitlement reforms, and comprehensive tax reform." (http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/is-the-new-bowles-simpson-plan-a-good-deficit-reduction-proposal/alan-simpson-the-country-must-act-to-address-the-debt)
Why can't we make some significant changes, not just nibbling at the edges with agriculture, agribusinesses and with these taxes on the wealthy, when Republicans say they've already made some tax increases?
Rep. Van Hollen replied, "Well, first of all, the Republicans themselves had proposed more revenue from taxes than we did in January. I mean, Speaker Boehner said we could get ($) 800 billion from closing tax loopholes. In respect to Medicare, for example, I support Medicare reform. In fact, we put forward a budget that would achieve Medicare savings.
We don't do it the way Republicans want to do it. Republicans simply want to transfer rising health care costs onto the backs of seniors. Our approach has been to change the incentive structure within Medicare so we move away from fee for service toward a system that rewards doctors and hospitals based on the quality of care. And that will continue to reduce costs, and in fact our budget, last year, had more Medicare savings than the Republican budget but we didn't do it the way they wanted. So there's a lot of misinformation out there. We're prepared to continue to do that with respect to Medicare."
We asked him whether a deal would be reached Friday and he told us:
"Well, here's the problem: yesterday was the third time I simply asked for a vote in the House of Representatives on our plan. I didn't ask Speaker Boehner to vote for it, just to allow the people's House to vote. I think it would pass. They denied us now three times a vote on the plan that would replace the sequester. My view is democracy requires an opportunity at least to put people on record, and a little accountability."