October 17, 2017

Over the last few weeks, our nation has faced heart-breaking tragedies and huge challenges—from the slaughter in Las Vegas to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. In both cases, the nation has come together to express sympathy and prayers. But much more is needed to reduce the daily carnage from gun violence and to provide life-saving relief to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee, on which I serve, debated and voted on a budget and tax plan for our country. As discussed below, I am sorry to report that the plan that passed the Committee would gravely harm Maryland and the nation. That plan is scheduled to be debated and voted on this week in the full Senate.

I also serve on the Banking Committee, and, as discussed below, I recently had the opportunity to grill the CEO of Wells Fargo and the former CEO of Equifax about their scandalous, anti-consumer conduct.

I am grateful for the input I receive on these and other issues from my fellow Marylanders and Americans. Our democracy is strengthened by an active and engaged citizenry.

Chris Van Hollen

U.S. Senator

Reducing Gun Violence

We must never become numb to the carnage from gun violence, from the daily toll in our neighborhoods, to massacres like Las Vegas and Sandy Hook, and so many others before and in between. This is not normal. We are united in mourning the victims, but we must also unite to take common-sense steps to reduce the death count. Practical measures include: requiring universal criminal background checks; requiring licensing like we have in Maryland; limiting the number of rounds in magazines; and closing the loopholes that make it easy to convert a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic killing machine. These measures will not end all gun violence, but they will save lives. That is why I joined my colleagues in introducing five bills to strengthen our gun laws and protect our communities. Our thoughts and prayers won’t end the bloodshed—we must put politics aside and take action.

Responding to Natural Disasters

In the past month, our country was hit by a series of hurricanes. The scale of the devastation—from loss of life to loss of homes—has been staggering. The situation in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands remains critical. Our fellow Americans there continue to suffer from lack of fresh water, electricity, and urgently-needed medical care. They deserve the same level of emergency response that FEMA and the federal government provided in Houston and Florida.

Once emergency assistance has been provided in all these places, we must begin the process of rebuilding. The rebuilding effort should not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must build to last. Otherwise, we will put lives at risk and waste taxpayer money. That is why I’ve introduced legislation to ensure our national infrastructure is capable of withstanding floods—putting back in place the common-sense standards that President Trump rescinded just weeks before these hurricanes hit. We must also recognize that the frequency and intensity of these hurricanes is another way Mother Nature is telling us that we are poisoning the planet with carbon pollution. It is gross negligence for the EPA Director to be rescinding the Clean Power Plan but especially sinister in the face of overwhelming evidence of the costs—in lives, jobs, and property—of reversing our efforts to confront the reality of climate change.

Budget and Tax Plans

I am not going to sugarcoat this: despite the President's tweets and GOP rhetoric, the Republican Budget and Tax Reform Plan is a recipe for disaster for American families. It puts Medicare, Medicaid, and education funding on the chopping block to finance windfall tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Both our budget and our tax code should be focused on growing our economy, creating good-paying jobs, and helping families succeed. What Republicans are proposing does the exact opposite. It eliminates the estate tax, which currently impacts only the wealthiest 5,200 families in the entire country—literally two-tenths of 1 percent of taxpayer estates—while it explodes the national debt by at least $1.5 trillion (and likely trillions more). The proposal also ends the deduction for payments of state and local taxes. Eliminating this deduction, which is claimed by almost 50 percent of Maryland taxpayers, will result in a big tax increase for middle-class families. The bottom line: the Trump plan will provide windfall tax cuts to billionaires at the expense of everyone and everything else. I would like to work on common-sense, pro-growth reform that simplifies our tax code and helps working families. But the GOP plan is the wrong way to start.

Standing up for Consumer Rights

Recently, the Senate Banking Committee held hearings to demand answers from Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan and Equifax former CEO Richard Smith about misconduct by their companies. I’m deeply disturbed by Equifax’s security breach, which exposed the sensitive financial information of up to 145 million Americans—including over 3 million in Maryland. But the company’s actions following the breach are also alarming. In exchange for giving consumers temporary protections for losses that might stem from Equifax's own security lapse, the company tried to get people to give up their legal rights to hold the company accountable for damages. And as I questioned Wells Fargo’s CEO, it was clear that they were also trying to coerce consumers into giving up their rights to sue Wells Fargo for creating fake accounts and bilking thousands of customers. Both companies have tried to force consumers into mandatory arbitration and deny them the choice of going to court.
We must protect the rights of consumers and not just with respect to these two companies. Republicans are currently working to reverse the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new rule that protects the right of consumers who have been cheated to sue these huge financial institutions in court. I am fighting hard to prevent Senate Republicans from stripping away these essential consumer protections.

Improving Health Care for ALL Americans

After the American public rallied to defeat the Trumpcare plan, there has been an ongoing bipartisan effort in the Senate to improve and strengthen our health care system. Unfortunately, President Trump's recent decisions move in the opposite direction and will destabilize the health care system and drive premiums and costs even higher. Still, the Maryland Exchange offers the only affordable access to health coverage for thousands of Maryland families. Maryland’s 2018 Open Enrollment period—when anyone can sign up for health care on the exchange—runs from November 1, 2017 to December 15, 2017. To learn about your options and sign up for coverage, visit www.marylandhealthconnection.gov.