RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Democrats in Congress find themselves in an interesting moment. They've been left out in the cold on the tax bill. Senate Republicans passed their bill over in the early morning hours Saturday. And they did it without a single Democrat vote. But now there's a government shutdown looming, and Republicans now need at least some Democrats to get onboard in order to prevent that from happening. We are joined now by Senator Chris Van Hollen on the line. He's a Democrat from Maryland, who sits on the Senate's budget committee.
Thanks so much for being with us, Senator.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Rachel, great to be with you this morning.
MARTIN: Let's start with the tax bill. This looks to be a done deal. The House and Senate will now reconcile their two bills in conference. It'll go to the president's desk for his signature by Christmas, they anticipate. What do you believe will be the most significant consequences of the Republican tax plan?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think the public is beginning to find out just how bad this bill is, which is one of the reasons Republican leaders have tried to rush it through so quickly. You're going to see giant tax cuts for big corporations. And they are going to be financed in a couple of ways. One, millions of middle-class families will see their taxes go up, two, even after that, you're going to see a trillion dollars added to the debt - and that's a low number - over the next 10 years, and number three, in the Senate bill, you're going to see people who are in the health care exchanges have their premiums go up.
And according to the Congressional Budget Office, 13 million fewer Americans will have access to affordable health care. Again, that's just to pay for these big tax cuts for big corporations. So we're going to be challenging our colleagues as the months go by to ask workers, you know, where's your $4,000 wage increase that you were promised? So we'll see how all this shakes out.
MARTIN: Is there anything that could be done in conference as the House and Senate try to reconcile that would ease your concerns? I mean, there's talk of reducing the corporate tax cut, perhaps.
VAN HOLLEN: I think that the core of this bill is so rotten that the only way to fix it is to throw this out and start again. We would have liked to have bipartisan tax reform. We do need to have tax reform and simplification in the country. But this has been a Trojan horse for providing tax cuts for the very wealthy and, again, financed by raising taxes on millions of folks in the middle class.
MARTIN: Meanwhile, there's a government shutdown looming, as you know. You all need to pass some kind of temporary stopgap measure by Friday to prevent a shutdown. Republicans need you now. They need some Democrats to make this happen. What could get you to yes?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, we'd like to see adequate investments in the economy and things that help the economy grow, including our kids' education, including modernizing our infrastructure. And you do have a lot of these Republicans who just voted to increase the national debt by over a trillion dollars who now want to cut our investments in our kids' education. So we're not going to support bills that really cut into those important levers for economic growth. We also need to deal with the Children's Health Insurance Program, the community health centers.
We've got to deal with some important issues related to immigration. So there's a whole lot on our plate right now. And I'm hoping our...
MARTIN: But how likely is it that that would happen? That's a long laundry list. You're talking about reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program. You just talked about education. There's also Democrats who say you've got to stabilize the Affordable Care Act's insurance markets, you mentioned DACA. Are you going to overplay your hand here?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, a couple of these things were now promised to Republican senators as a condition of them supporting this big tax-cut bill. For example, Senator Susan Collins said she got an agreement to pass the bipartisan semi-fix to some of the Affordable Care Act exchanges. Now, it's not going to undo the damage that was in the tax bill, but that was a promise made to her. Jeff Flake said he was promised that they would deal with the dreamers, with the DACA issue. So Republican leaders have now said that they'll be willing to act on some of these things.
And we'll have to see. Of course, months ago, President Trump said that he wanted a, quote, "good government shutdown." We hope that they don't take us in that direction.
MARTIN: So you're referring to a tweet the president sent out in May saying exactly that, the country could use, essentially, a good shutdown to fix this mess. But do you think a shutdown would actually hurt Republicans politically?
VAN HOLLEN: I think a shutdown would hurt the country. If we saw what happened in 2013 - shameful government shutdown. It was about 16 days. It created chaos, not just within government services, around the country. It resulted in a big hit on the economy. So it's really important that we avoid a government shutdown. And I really hope Republican leaders don't follow through on that earlier suggestion in President Trump's tweet from earlier this year.
MARTIN: But would you be able to prioritize that laundry list that you just laid out? Would you be able to prioritize it if it meant keeping the government open? You've got to pick one or two, can you do that?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, these are all vital things. In other words, we've got to make sure we get the investment side right. That's part of keeping the government open. Number two, the Children's Health Insurance Program is running out as we speak. And so it's essential that we get those things passed. I will say, Republicans...
MARTIN: Do you need DACA protections - do you need DACA protections to be in there to pass this?
VAN HOLLEN: We have to deal with the DACA issue by the end of the year. And what form that takes, we'll have to figure out. Again, they promised Senator Flake that they would address this issue. So let's see if they come through on that promise.
MARTIN: Democratic Senator Christopher Van Hollen of Maryland. Thanks so much, Senator.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.