August 23, 2021

Building Back Better

We have achieved a great deal since the start of this Congress – and I’m especially pleased with our work on getting our economy on the road to recovery. But as President Biden has underscored: it isn’t enough for us to just “build back” from the pandemic – we need to Build Back Better, with an emphasis on “Better.” That starts with growing our economy and creating jobs by fixing our crumbling roads and bridges, investing in transit systems across the country, modernizing our infrastructure to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and tackling the climate crisis. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill my Senate colleagues and I passed earlier this month will do just that.

This bill includes major provisions of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, such as large investments to improve our transit systems, railways, clean water systems, roads, bridges, and tunnels – bringing an estimated $6 billion for these projects alone to Maryland over the next five years. Importantly, it also has critical investments to build the backbone for a more competitive, modern U.S. economy, including funds to expand broadband to end the digital divide and to start building out our clean energy grid and electric charging stations.

I worked to secure key elements in this plan to support Maryland directly, including investments in crucial economic drivers in our state like the Port of Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay. I also fought to include provisions I authored to reconnect communities that had been split apart by 1960s federal transportation projects like the Highway to Nowhere in West Baltimore. And the bill includes a vital reauthorization of the $150 million annual federal contribution for WMATA for another eight years, policies I wrote to better protect our frontline transit workers, and my bipartisan amendment to ensure taxpayer funded infrastructure projects are soundly financed. Crucially, we also succeeded in adding language to keep federal funding for the Baltimore Red Line metro project alive, despite the Governor’s decision to pull the plug on this crucial investment. Finally, even before the pandemic began, I was working to connect every student, household, and business with affordable high-speed internet and expand the use of clean energy – and those investments in this bill, together with additional measures in the Democratic budget plan, will help keep Marylanders at the forefront of our global economy. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is an important step forward, but it is only a portion of the Build Back Better agenda. Right now, too many Americans are struggling to make ends meet – parents are juggling the costs of child care, millions of college graduates are drowning in student debt, seniors are weighed down by medical and prescription drug payments, and our workers and families are burdened by a tax system and an economy that doesn’t work for them. That’s why I’ve partnered with my colleagues on the Senate Budget Committee to assemble the Build Back Better Budget, which puts forward once-in-a-generation investments to change this.

Our budget plan puts everyday Americans first. It dramatically grows opportunity for all, cutting the costs of everything from prescription drugs to child care, expanding services covered by Medicare to include dental, hearing, and vision services for our seniors, and extending the new monthly tax cuts for families with children that we secured in the American Rescue Plan. As the impacts of climate change take a greater and greater toll on our daily lives, this budget turns a challenge into an opportunity, dedicating the necessary resources to begin tackling the climate crisis while creating millions of home-grown, good-paying, clean-energy jobs. This plan puts us on a path to a clean energy future, including through my proposal to create a national Clean Energy Technology Accelerator and my proposal to help Americans make their homes more energy efficient. Our framework also includes key provisions to create universal early education and make two-year community college free. Our Build Back Better Budget will raise the standard of living for workers, families, seniors, and students across Maryland and our country, and delivering these benefits to our state is a top priority. The budget plan, combined with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, includes all key elements of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan – and more. 

Our Build Back Better Budget will be paid for with long overdue reforms to our tax system to ensure that large corporations and the wealthiest of the wealthy pay their fair share to invest in the success of all. My colleagues and I have put together a menu of revenue options to pay for our budget – and Americans making under $400,000 a year won’t pay an extra dime in taxes.

Our options begin with providing the IRS the necessary funds to enforce the current tax law, so that those cheating their fellow Americans – primarily some very wealthy individuals who don’t report all their income – start paying what they already owe. The Treasury Department estimates that there were $600 billion in taxes that were owed but not paid in 2019 alone – and that the wealthiest of the wealthy are disproportionately to blame. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, I have already held a public hearing with top IRS officials on this very issue, and I will continue pushing alongside colleagues to sharpen the IRS’ enforcement capabilities. It’s also vital that corporations start paying their fair share. I’m glad that President Biden has proposed returning the corporate tax rate to 28% and establishing a 21% minimum tax on the foreign profits of American corporations – along with undoing provisions from the 2017 Trump Tax Scam that encouraged corporations to ship jobs overseas and park money in offshore tax havens. I’ve also worked with my House colleague Representative Don Beyer to propose a Millionaires Surtax that would apply an additional 10-percentage point tax to annual incomes above $2 million for married couples or above $1 million for individuals – and would apply equally to wages and salaries as well as to capital gains and other investment income – as the super-well-off get richer mostly by making money off of money rather than from their work. Our vision is straightforward, simple, and easy to implement, and this legislation wouldn’t raise taxes for 99.8% of Americans. These are just a few of our many options going forward to ensure that the very wealthy and large corporations contribute more to invest in the success of every American. The huge income and wealth gaps in our country have grown even more in recent times. We must build a more inclusive economy with more shared prosperity.

Making Polluters Pay

In addition to these ideas, earlier this month I put forward a plan that would help fund our proposals to tackle climate change in the Build Back Better Budget. This plan, which I announced with a number of my colleagues, requires the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses doing business in the U.S. to pay into a Polluters Pay Climate Fund based on a percentage of their global emissions over the last two decades. The plan would impact about 25-30 of the biggest polluters – mostly big oil companies. The idea is patterned after Superfund, which was established to address damages from hazardous waste, and the monies collected would be used to finance a wide range of efforts to address the climate crisis – efforts that are at the very heart of our Build Back Better Budget.

For years, companies have made trillions in profits while spewing carbon pollution that wreaks havoc on our environment and harms public health. Now, every American is paying the price – from rising health costs to increasingly expensive climate mitigation efforts for everything from flooding to droughts to sea-level rise, and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has indicated that we’re at a real tipping point and must act now. Our idea is simple: big polluters should pay to help clean up the mess they caused – and those who polluted the most should pay the most. This proposal will ensure the costs of climate change are no longer borne solely by the American people – and instead require big corporate polluters to pay part of the clean-up bill.

Taking Swift Action to Protect Americans and Our Afghan Allies

Like so many Americans, I have been distraught over the terrible events unfolding in Afghanistan and have heard from hundreds of Marylanders who are seeking assistance in helping friends and relatives evacuate. We are grateful to the brave Maryland service members who put their lives on the line and to their families who share in that sacrifice. There will be plenty of time to review our involvement in Afghanistan and how we reached this point, but now is not that time. Right now, we must be focused on getting Americans out of the country safely and evacuating the Afghans, and their families, who for over two decades worked directly with us to support our mission in that war-torn country. That means not only those who assisted our military, but also those who worked with the U.N. mission and with international NGOs that took on a large role in promoting literacy, women's education and empowerment, and other efforts to strengthen civil society. We cannot abandon these people. That cannot be our legacy. My staff and I have been working tirelessly with the State Department to advocate for the swift and safe evacuation of Americans and vulnerable Afghans, and I urge you to contact my office if we can be of any assistance to you in this regard.

I recently joined 45 bipartisan Senate colleagues in urging the Biden Administration to take swift, robust action to protect and support Afghan women leaders facing unparalleled danger following the Taliban’s violent sweep across Afghanistan and seizure of Kabul. In a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, my colleagues and I called on the Administration to create a humanitarian parole category specifically for women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, parliamentarians, journalists, and members of the Female Tactical Platoon of the Afghan Special Security Forces – and to streamline the paperwork process to facilitate referrals to allow for fast, humane, and efficient relocation to the United States.

I am continuing to monitor the situation in Afghanistan with my Senate colleagues, and we must do everything in our power to act decisively to get these people out and work with all parties who are able to assist in this effort in the critical days and weeks ahead. Moving forward, I will be working closely with my colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and others to do a full review of U.S. policy towards Afghanistan over the years – including the final weeks of our engagement there. Chairman Menendez has already announced a hearing on this very issue, and it is imperative that the Senate faithfully fulfill its oversight role in this matter.

Getting Around Maryland

Last week, I traveled across Maryland to mark the progress we’ve made this year with local stakeholders and community leaders – and discuss the hard work we still have ahead of us.

My trip across the state began last Monday, when I made a number of stops in Montgomery County, starting with a meeting with small businesses, theaters, and performance spaces that were hit hard by the pandemic and have benefitted from the new Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program that we fought to pass in Congress in December. I then traveled to the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals, where I learned about the resources and services they provide to members of our Armed Forces and our veterans, who have made countless sacrifices for our nation. The clinic provides high-quality behavioral health care to veterans, active-duty service members, their families, and their caregivers – and during the visit I had the chance to thank the team for their hard work. I closed out the day by visiting the CareerCatchers offices in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I met with staff and volunteers to learn about the work they do to help provide vulnerable individuals with the training and resources they need to find and maintain employment.

On Tuesday, I traveled to the graduation ceremony of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program – where I spoke with the 36 graduates of the program and welcomed the 33 newly-selected Corps members who will spend the next year working to improve the environment and local communities. The program was created by the late great Maryland State Senate President, my good friend Mike Miller, and it was inspiring to see his legacy live on through the new members of his beloved Corps. I also drove over to Annapolis and met with Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley to learn about a new floodplain restoration project, tour the Annapolis City Dock, and discuss my new Polluters Pay Climate Fund proposal and the need to take immediate action to tackle the climate crisis in order to protect Maryland’s economy, small businesses, and families. I ended the day in Charles County at a tri-county roundtable discussion on bridging the digital divide, and I highlighted the broadband provisions we passed in the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

On Wednesday, I headed over to Baltimore City for a series of walking tours. I began the day touring the Belair-Edison neighborhood in Baltimore City with Safe Streets and Living Classrooms Foundation (LCF) staff and community members. Together, they’re teaming up to create a new Crisis Management System and provide residents jobs to help grow opportunity in the area. Programs like these are key to creating greater prosperity, and I’m glad to see this initiative gain momentum. I then joined Councilmember Mark Conway, State Senator Mary Washington, Loyola University leadership, and community members for a walking tour of the York Road Corridor Initiative in the Govans neighborhood in Baltimore City. The York Road Initiative is a vital program to expand healthy food access for local residents, invest in long-term infrastructure improvements, and much more – and it was great to check out the extraordinary work they’re putting into this key program. To support these efforts to strengthen our communities, I'm working to provide federal funding to back these crucial initiatives.

On Thursday, I headed to the Eastern Shore, where I delivered the keynote address at the Summer Conference Opening Session of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) and met with local lawmakers and county officials. In my remarks, I highlighted the extraordinary determination of our local leaders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – and discussed the critical federal funding we secured for Maryland in the Senate through the CARES Act, the December COVID relief package, and the American Rescue Plan. Later that day, I joined my colleague, Senator Ben Cardin, in Ocean City to mark the start of the Ocean City Beach renourishment project led by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and funded through federal dollars we fought to secure. That investment will help save the beach in Ocean City, which is an economic magnet that draws over 8 million visitors each year and supports hundreds of small businesses and thousands of jobs. 

My week of traveling made two things clear: our state’s economy is bouncing back from this crisis – and we couldn’t have gotten where we are now without the determination, fortitude, and downright grit of Marylanders across our great state. We still have a long road ahead, and the next few months will determine whether we can truly Build Back Better. But I am confident that, together, we will succeed.





          Chris Van Hollen