Transcript: Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s opening remarks on the CBO’s 2014 budget & economic outlook

Partial transcript of opening remarks by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2014 federal budget and economic outlook. The House Budget Committee hearing was held on Feb. 5, 2014:

…As I look over the most recent CBO report, it’s a good news, bad news story.

The good news is that we have seen economic growth over the last few years and you project continued economic growth going forward. The economy has added over 8.2 million private sector jobs over the last 46 months.

On the other hand, this report projects very sluggish growth in the job market. In fact, as I read it, you project the average unemployment rate in 2014 will actually be higher than the average unemployment rate in December of last year, and that clearly is not good news.

In fact, page 3 of your report sums up this mixed story when it states “economic growth is projected to be solid in the near term but weakness in the labor market will persist.” And that sums up our challenge.

And it seems to me, we should therefore take actions that are within the control of this Congress. Congress can change that trajectory. Your report is based on current law. But Congress can take action today that will actually change that story for the remainder of this year and increase job growth.

And the President and House Democrats have put forward very clear ideas to do it.

We have a jobs plan that calls for a significant additional investment in our national infrastructure, in our roads, in our bridges, in our broadband to help boost our international competitiveness and put people back to work.

We can increase the minimum wage, which allows more Americans to keep the fruits of their labor and by putting more money into the pockets of relatively lower income individuals, who tend to spend it more. They will create more demand in the economy.

And at the same time, while we have a chronic problem with long-term unemployment, we can extend unemployment insurance to those now 1.7 million Americans. And as the Congressional Budget Office itself has said, that will actually create additional jobs this year. 200,000 being the last projection.

So there are things we could do today, Mr. Chairman, to get back to work and to get the country back to work.

And one thing we should not do – one thing we should not do is to mess around with whether or not America pays its bills on time because that will create uncertainty in the economy and that will hurt economic growth and jobs.

Now, Dr. Elmendorf, you’ve got a comprehensive report. But the one thing that’s gotten all the attention and it’s on the front page of all the papers is the thing that Chairman Ryan referred to.

And I have to say this is an example when one misinterpretation gets out of the box early and goes around the world, it takes the truth an awful long time to up.

Because what we believe we should focus on is the availability of jobs today, whether or not there’s a demand for jobs today.

And instead, what the Chairman was focusing on was beginning in 2017 when the economy gets back to full employment as a result of the Affordable Care Act more Americans will be able to voluntarily choose – choose – to work fewer hours or not take a job because they don’t depend on that job anymore for the provision of health insurance. Because before the ACA, if you lost your job, you lost your health insurance. Now, you can go to the exchange and get affordable health insurance and as a result, people may choose differently.

I find it really kind of ironic that back in 2008 when Sen. [John] McCain proposed a health care reform plan, the Heritage Foundation and conservatives herald it as a plan that would help break job lock. You know, they said today leaving a job or changing jobs meaning leaving behind health insurance provided at the place of work. Individuals who work to take a better job or change careers or leave the workforce to raise a family or retire early take substantial risks, and by God, the McCain health care reform plan will end that job lock.

Well, the Affordable Care Act does end that job lock. It allows Americans to choose to spend more time with their families or to pursue their dreams, and that is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing.

What’s a bad thing is the lack of available jobs today and the fact that here in the House we have a one-note focus on trying to eliminate affordable care for millions of Americans rather than focus on creating more jobs for million of Americans. That should be our focus, Mr. Chairman, and that is really the conclusion of this report if you look at the entire thing instead of a few paragraphs…

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