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Transcript: Rep. Chris Van Hollen on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the December 27, 2009, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Health care reform passed a major hurdle this week with Senate passage of a bill. Now comes the new challenge, how to hammer out the big differences between the House and Senate versions.

For answers, we turn to Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a House Democratic leader and head of the party's Congressional Campaign Committee.

And, Congressman, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-MD.: It's good to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: You say — you went on record this week as saying the House is not going to rubber-stamp the Senate version, but you also just heard Senator Menendez say, "Hey, look, we passed this thing by the skin of our teeth, just the 60-vote majority that we had," and that whatever ends up coming through and becoming law is going to look a lot more like the Senate version than the House version. Do you agree?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, let me say again, we're not going to rubber- stamp the Senate bill. On the other hand, we recognize the realities in the Senate.

Look, first let me stress the fact that there are great commonalities between these bills. I mean, about 90 percent of these bills are the same in terms of prohibiting people from being excluded from insurance coverage based on preexisting conditions. Both of them reduce the deficit. Both of them cover another 30 million Americans. Both of them will reduce premiums because right now you and I and everyone else with private insurance is paying for the people who don't have it but still show up for care.

So those bills will do those things. There are some differences in the bills, of course.

WALLACE: Right. Let's explore...

VAN HOLLEN: Sure.

WALLACE: Let's explore the three...

VAN HOLLEN: Sure.

WALLACE: ... big differences. Is the public option dead?

VAN HOLLEN: It's not dead, but we also recognize that the Senate was able to just muster the 60 votes. So before the House was to give up the public option, we would want to be persuaded that there are other mechanisms in whatever bill comes out that will keep down premiums.

We've got to make sure that the final product is affordable. We're asking everybody to have health insurance. It's got to be affordable.

WALLACE: Won't the House have to accept the Senate provision for an excise tax on so-called Cadillac high-premium insurance plans?

VAN HOLLEN: No, there's a common thread between the two bills in terms of how it's paid for. The House bill has a surcharge on people who did very well under the Bush administration with tax breaks. We raise — have a surcharge on people over half a million dollars for individuals and over a million for couples.

The Senate bill, in addition to having a tax on high-cost insurance plans, also increases the Medicare surcharge for very high- income individuals. So you can see room for a compromise there.

Would you have to have some threshold where you — on so-called Cadillac plans? Yes, but we believe that the Senate plan unfairly treats many individuals in terms of where the cap is.

WALLACE: OK. Abortion, which may be the toughest issue, because Congressman Bart Stupak, a Democrat, led the fight in the House for a provision sharply restricting any use of public funds to provide for abortions, but some House liberals and a lot of Senate Democrats said that goes too far.

How can you pass a version that perhaps moves a little bit more lenient than Stupak when he gave you the 64 votes to put you over the top?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, let me be clear. As you know, Chris, on both sides there's a clear effort to make sure that no public dollars go for abortion coverage. I mean, that is — that is clear in both bills. How you accomplish that has been a matter, of course, of great dispute between the two bodies and among different groups who are looking at this issue.

It's not clear exactly how this will be resolved in the final analysis, but I'm confident that it will be. One thing people predicted from the very beginning was that we wouldn't get as far as we have in terms of providing health reform.

I believe at the end of the day we will — we will resolve this issue in a way that meets that principle that taxpayer dollars will not go to pay for abortion.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the agenda for the new year. You and other Democratic leaders talk about focusing on two prime issues — one, jobs, and two, the deficit. How do you accomplish both at the same time?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, the first thing you need to do is get the economy going again. If people are out of work, if they don't have a job, they not only can't put food on the table and pay the rent, but obviously government revenues go down.

So just like doctors have to engage in triage, number one, get the economy moving again. And we have made substantial progress. We all know that back in January when the president was sworn in, the economy was going through the floor. I mean, it was in total free fall.

Things have begun to stabilize. The unemployment numbers have improved. And so number one is continue to produce jobs.

WALLACE: But, Congressman — but here's my point. And it was what I brought up with Senator Menendez. Health care — once all the benefits kick in in either 2013 or 2014, it's going to cost a trillion dollars over the next decade.

The House just passed another $174 billion jobs program. That's on top of the $787 billion stimulus program. How do you cut the deficit when I just mentioned $2 trillion in federal spending?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, first of all — and this is a very important point on the health care bill — there's a distinction between spending and cutting the deficit, because the health care bill is paid for. The nonpartisan Congressional...

WALLACE: Well, it is...

VAN HOLLEN: ... Budget Office...

WALLACE: ... to a — but there's a trick, which is that you start getting all the revenue in the first years and you don't start the benefits until...

VAN HOLLEN: No.

WALLACE: ... 2013 or '14.

VAN HOLLEN: The CBO said not only in the first 10 years but also in the second 10 years, the House and Senate bills will reduce the deficit.

Look, we can all argue about the surcharge on the wealthiest Americans. We can argue about whether you should provide the charge on high-, you know, cost health plans. But the fact of the matter is they do pay for themselves. In fact, they more than pay for themselves and reduce the deficit.

In terms of the jobs we just passed, what we did was we used some of the unspent money that was going to go to the big banks under TARP and said, "Let's use this money instead to generate more jobs..."

WALLACE: But that's still borrowed money.

VAN HOLLEN: "... on Main Street." This was already accounted for...

WALLACE: I know, but it's still borrowed money.

VAN HOLLEN: ... in terms of the — yes, but if you don't get the economy moving again, if you don't get people back to work...

WALLACE: I mean, you could have spent — you could have spent that money to reduce the deficit.

VAN HOLLEN: But the near-term priority is to get the economy going again, because if it continues to slide, the deficit's going to continue to get worse. If you don't get the economy on an upward trajectory, the fact of the matter is not only will people not have jobs, but the government will...

WALLACE: So is that...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: ... plan is you're going to keep spending more money?

VAN HOLLEN: No, absolutely not. Now, in the next year, in terms of the long term — there's the short-term priority, get the economy moving again. Long term, we absolutely have to put in place mechanisms that is will reduce the deficit in a predictable way, and this is going to be a big issue.

The House has passed what we call statutory pay-go, pay as you go, meaning you've got to pay your bills just like any family has to pay their — and the commission idea is something that's very much in play, create a commission that will make recommendations...

WALLACE: All right, let...

VAN HOLLEN: ... that people will then vote upon.

WALLACE: ... let me — because we're almost out of time, and I want to...

VAN HOLLEN: Sure.

WALLACE: ... just bring up politics, because that's your role as the head of the Democratic...

VAN HOLLEN: Sure.

WALLACE: ... Congressional Campaign Committee this coming November.

Let's review some of the challenges the Democrats have, and let's put them up on the screen. Eleven Democrats, most in swing districts, are retiring.

Last week Democratic congressman Parker Griffith switched parties.

According to the CQ Roll Call, there are 70 competitive Democratic races next year but only 32 competitive Republican races. And according to the Gallup Poll, this year Democrats have gone from plus eight in generic ballots — which party do you favor for Congress in your district — to minus four, to now a slim plus three. Aren't those all signs Democrats are in trouble?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, first, I've said from the beginning, and Democrats have said from the beginning, that this is going to be a challenging year. Historically, first midterm, new president, is always a challenging year.

WALLACE: Average is 20 seats.

VAN HOLLEN: That having — that having been said...

WALLACE: Would you be happy with 20 seats?

VAN HOLLEN: No. No, I'm not going to be happy with losing 20 seats. No. But that having been said, let's put these numbers in perspective.

You said there are 11 Democratic retirements, people who aren't running. There are 12 Republicans who are not running for their seats, including people like Mike Castle and Mark Kirk in very competitive seats for Democrats.

Number two, we're not going to be surprised like in 1994, and we've been preparing from day one. And number three, Republicans — their views of — in the public of the Republican Party right now are very, very low, and that contrasts with 1994.

So is this going to be a tough year? Yeah, and we're ready to fight. Is it going to be another 1994? No. Let me just say a word about Parker Griffith.

WALLACE: Well, let me just ask...

VAN HOLLEN: Sure.

WALLACE: If you talk about Parker Griffith, because we talked about this one congressman, Parker Griffith of Alabama, first-termer, switching parties — they're already reaching out to Chris Carney of Pennsylvania. How confident are you that neither Carney nor any other Democrat will jump ship in the next 12 months?

VAN HOLLEN: I'm very confident that no other Democrats are going to jump ship. And Parker Griffith — let me just read the headline from his local conservative newspaper, the Huntsville Times.

WALLACE: Which you just happened to bring with you.

VAN HOLLEN: Which I happened to bring with me. It says, "Parker Griffith's Party Switch About Self-preservation, not Conviction." I know he dressed it up as a matter of principle. The fact is he did a poll that showed that he might be in trouble. My view is he miscalculated politically because the fact of the matter is people will respect a person who will have differences. What they don't like is people with a finger to the wind.

And this guy voted 85 percent of the time with Democrats and he's going to have a little trouble with the Republican Party, not to mention a Democratic...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: I take it you didn't give Congressman Griffith a Christmas present.

VAN HOLLEN: I'm sorry I didn't. He got coal in his stocking from us.

WALLACE: Congressman Van Hollen, thank you so much for coming in today, and enjoy the rest of your holiday, sir.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you.

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