CAPITOL HILL – The members of Congress representing Prince George’s County are taking leading roles in the fight against President Donald Trump’s agenda, be it his budget proposal or the Trump-supported Republican plan to repeal Obamacare.
Last Thursday, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5) organized and chaired a hearing on the impacts of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obamacare. That afternoon, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) held a press conference where he blasted Trump’s “budget blueprint,” the preliminary budget document Trump submitted outlining deep cuts to many federal government departments to finance a $54 million increase in defense spending.
“It is directly aimed at hurting working families,” Van Hollen said. “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump talked about the forgotten Americans. If you look at this budget, it leaves them behind. They’re not even an afterthought.”
Van Hollen said he opposed the elimination of many programs- including federal funding for Meals on Wheels, which provides food for seniors in need, and the Community Development Block Grant program which funds community-based housing, infrastructure and other projects- and the cuts to federal agencies such as the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump’s administration believes those programs, and others reduced in the budget, are ineffective. The president, in a letter accompanying the budget, said the cuts are “sensible and rational.”
“Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people,” Trump wrote. “Our aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens- a government that puts the needs of its own people first.”
Van Hollen said he believes the budget will have the opposite effect and hurt America’s interests. Maryland specifically could see impacts from the reduced spending in federal agencies that employ 120,000 state residents, the elimination of federal funding to Chesapeake Bay restoration and Trump’s plan to end the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program for projects that haven’t been approved. The Purple Line was slated to receive funds under this program, and it remains uncertain whether it will.
“President Trump’s budget betrays his campaign commitment to invest in infrastructure. I strongly oppose this cut to public transit, and I’m deeply concerned about its impact on the Purple Line. Without the federal government’s support, current and future transit projects would have a much harder time getting off the ground – and the impacts would be felt by families across the country,” Van Hollen said.
“President Trump wants to threaten federal jobs and economic stability in our region, and I will fight that effort tooth and nail,” he added.
One of Van Hollen’s own legislative accomplishments, the CURES Act, designed to increase federal investment into medical research, has been turned back, with the National Institutes of Health seeing a 20 percent cut.
Van Hollen said he did agree with the increases in spending for homeland security and the FBI, and with a strong investment in the military, so long as it doesn’t come at a cost to other programs.
He and the other senators will have the final say over the federal budget, and Van Hollen said he would work to restore funding.
“I have to believe that my Republican colleagues, they are going to look at this budget and see that it dramatically disinvests in their states,” he said. “We’re (Democrats) going to work very hard to make sure that this budget is not the budget that ultimately emerges from both the House and the Senate.”
Hoyer also came out strongly against a Trump proposal: the repeal and replacement of the ACA with a Republican alternative called the American Health Care Act (AHCA). He held a hearing with fellow House Democrats, including Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-Md. 8) to listen to expert witnesses testify about the benefits of the ACA and what could be lost if it is repealed.
“While House Republicans continue to move their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act forward, they have yet to hold a single hearing to discuss the severe impact their bill will have on the American people. We heard from two panels of witnesses on the economic implications of repeal, as well as first-hand accounts from patients and provider,” Hoyer said. “All of our witnesses agreed – from patients to doctors, families and small businesses, repealing the Affordable Care Act will be devastating for all Americans.”
Panelists included Mike Kreidler, insurance commissioner for the state of Washington, and doctors such as Dr. Nitin Damle, president of the American College of Physicians.
Kreidler said his state provides an example of the consequences of the AHCA proposal to eliminate the individual mandate while still requiring insurers to keep patients with pre-existing conditions on the roles: unsustainable costs as younger and healthier people leave the market.
“In (19)95, they repealed the mandate portion but left in place the pre-existing condition protections,” he said. “The net result was by 1998, we had collapsed the individual market in the state of Washington. You couldn’t buy a policy.”
The other panelists spoke on the importance of Medicaid to many of their patients and the importance of not enacting provisions that would lower the insured rate, which they believe AHCA would do.
“If you lose access, you lose opportunity. And opportunity is everything in medicine,” Damle said.
Congressmen asked questions about the impact of the AHCA on hospitals and jobs, on women’s health and on insurance premiums and deductibles. The panelists said it would have negative consequences for each of those areas.
However, while the Democrats’ hearing was going on, the House Budget committee voted out AHCA by a 19-17 vote.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi vowed that her party would continue to fight to prevent the AHCA from becoming law.
“The bill steals $600 billion from working families and gives it to the rich. It’s Robin Hood in reverse,” she said. “We have the humility to accept positive changes that would improve the Affordable Care Act, but we do not support a repeal which would have the devastating impacts that the Republicans are proposing.”