June 20, 2023

Senate Update: Fulfilling Promises and Delivering for Marylanders

It’s been a busy time on Capitol Hill, and it’s been a while since I sent the last newsletter, so there is much to report on. 

Avoiding a Debt Default

The House Republicans should never have threatened to default on our debts and destroy our economy to impose their agenda on the country. That was a reckless act. Fortunately, the agreement negotiated by President Biden and his team, while imperfect, averted such a catastrophe, thwarted the extremist MAGA demands, and ensured that we remain on track to implement the significant legislative gains that we enacted during the past two years. The agreement will provide some degree of stability in the congressional budget process and reduce – though given Speaker McCarthy’s recent backtracking on the deal – not eliminate, the risk of shameful government shutdowns during the next two years. It will put an end to a manufactured crisis and allow us to better focus on creating prosperity and opportunity for the American people.

Delivering Results for Marylanders

Passing the Inflation Reduction Act was an historic win for the American people – and, already, it has delivered real results for our state and country. The Act addresses some of the biggest challenges our nation faces: the worsening climate crisis, sky-high prescription drug costs, a tax code that unfairly puts corporations and the wealthy before working Americans, and inflation – all while reducing our national debt and creating thousands of good-paying jobs. Together with the infrastructure modernization law, we’re also helping to build new bridges, roads and transit systems, boost the Port of Baltimore, support WMATA, improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and reconnect communities split apart by harmful infrastructure decisions of the past – like the “Highway to Nowhere” that divides West Baltimore.

The clean energy provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act will help make Maryland a national leader in offshore wind energy. I recently joined my partner in the Senate, Senator Ben Cardin, and Governor Wes Moore for the groundbreaking of Skipjack Wind at Tradepoint Atlantic’s offshore wind construction facility in Baltimore County. There, key components of wind turbines will be manufactured by union workers to power a 966-megawatt wind farm off Maryland’s coast. This investment is a win-win-win. It will revitalize good manufacturing jobs in Baltimore County, slash energy prices for over 300,000 households in the region, and catapult our transition into becoming the first 100% clean energy state in the nation.

And that’s not the only way we’re investing in Maryland’s green energy economy. The Inflation Reduction Act also incorporates provisions of my National Climate Bank bill to create a nationwide network of state and local green banks like the Montgomery County Green Bank. Green banks serve as force multipliers, leveraging private sector investment in innovative clean energy projects – and the Montgomery County Green Bank is an exceptional example. Investing in this model and the platforms of key Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) across the country will help us create jobs – including in underserved communities – and spur the green energy technologies of the future.

These aren’t the only ways the Inflation Reduction Act is benefiting our communities. I also worked with colleagues on a long-time priority – driving down the staggering costs of health care coverage. And the results are already coming in. Tens of thousands of Marylanders will continue to see savings on their health insurance premiums that began with the American Rescue Plan and continue with the Inflation Reduction Act, and we’ve expanded health care coverage to almost 38,000 Marylanders. Seniors are already saving as much as $372 per dose in out-of-pocket costs for certain prescription drugs, in addition to the new cap on insulin co-payments at just $35 per month for Americans on Medicare. What’s more, our passage of this bill pushed Big Pharma companies to own up to their price-gouging on insulin, and finally reduce copayments for millions more Americans who rely on insulin. In addition to these successes, we finally won our battle to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which will ultimately result in even bigger savings for millions of Americans. 

The positive change hasn’t stopped there. We also secured major wins for our state through our efforts to pass the infrastructure modernization law. Just recently, Federal Team Maryland delivered $2 million in funding from this law to finally begin to right the historic wrong done by Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere.” This is an initiative that I’ve been working on since 2019, initially authoring a pilot program that paved the way for these funds. Reconnecting West Baltimore is vital to the success of its neighborhoods, and I will continue to work alongside our partners at the local level to ensure that residents are involved in the discussions around reuniting their community. 

Federal investments are also already coming to Maryland to fix our deteriorating roads, tunnels, and bridges. There are few examples that showcase the importance of these funds as clearly as the $4 billion in federal funding we’ve delivered to replace the 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel. The new tunnel will be named in honor of Frederick Douglass. Earlier this year, President Biden joined us at the B&P Tunnel to announce this critical investment. The tunnel – which pre-dates the Civil War – poses a significant safety risk for travelers and creates a major pinch point for commuter trains and freight rail traffic moving between Baltimore Penn Station and destinations south. By replacing the tunnel and reducing this traffic, we will cut the travel time from Baltimore to Union Station in D.C. to about 30 minutes, opening up huge opportunities for Maryland commuters, travelers, and businesses alike.

Beyond this important work, we’re also carrying out the promises of the historic PACT Act, which provides healthcare benefits for all generations of veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during their service. Within this bill we successfully secured $43 million to build a new Baltimore Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), replacing and expanding the outpatient services currently provided at the existing Baltimore VA Clinic Annex, while reducing the strain on the Baltimore VA Medical Center. We also obtained $32 million for the construction of a Prince George’s CBOC. This new facility will be significantly larger than the existing clinic in the southern part of the County and represent a major upgrade for area veterans.

Since the PACT Act was signed into law, more than half a million veterans have already applied to receive federal support and more than 3 million have received toxic exposure screenings. If you or a veteran you know think you may be eligible for these benefits you can find out more here or contact my office.

Standing Up for Reproductive Rights

Across the nation, from Republican state legislatures to courts that have been packed with far-right wing judges, Americans’ reproductive rights are under attack. The malicious attempt to ban mifepristone – a pill that’s been proven safe and effective for over 20 years – has no basis in law and poses a serious health risk to women. I am committed to fighting tooth and nail against this effort. When the dangerous Texas district court order was first issued, my Democratic colleagues in the Senate and I submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Biden Administration’s appeal of this partisan attack on women’s healthcare. After the Supreme Court issued a stay on the ruling, allowing mifepristone to remain on the market while the case is under review, we doubled down on our commitment to protecting reproductive rights, filing another amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve also seen states like North Carolina and Nebraska continue to restrict women’s reproductive freedom. These ongoing attacks on these rights underscore the urgent need to codify Roe once and for all. That’s why I’m a cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, and why I’ll continue standing up and speaking out on this issue. Women’s health care rights can’t be left to the whims of far-right judges and state legislatures. We must take action.

Fighting for Common Sense Gun Reforms

Senseless gun violence continues to plague our nation’s communities, including more than 160 mass shootings since the start of 2023. Sadly, Maryland is not immune to this epidemic with 12 mass shootings in our own state just this year and the daily toll of gun violence in our neighborhoods. We can and we should do more to end the carnage. 

There are a series of steps we should take to make our communities safer, including banning military-style assault weapons, limiting the number of rounds in magazines, and requiring universal background checks. In addition to those safety measures, I’ve also authored and introduced the ATF Improvement and Modernization (AIM) Act to equip the ATF to better crack down on gun violence and the illegal use of firearms. Republicans often say we don’t need new gun safety laws – all we have to do is enforce the laws already on the books. But due to the GOP’s deliberate efforts to hamstring the ATF, our law enforcement officials are often impeded from doing just that. My bill would allow the ATF to cut through the red tape and better protect our communities. In addition to this measure, I’ve reintroduced the Handgun Permit to Purchase Act, which would incentivize state and local governments to implement permit-to-purchase laws that require individuals to obtain a license before purchasing a handgun. These laws are already on the books in Maryland, but our state is not an island and a large share of the guns used in crimes in Maryland come from other states. Encouraging more laws like Maryland’s across the country will improve public safety everywhere.

Protecting Consumers from Junk Fees and Predatory Subscriptions

While companies have made it easier than ever to sign up for subscription-based services, they have also come up with deceptive ways to make it harder than ever to get out of them. That’s why I recently introduced the Consumer OPT-IN Act, legislation to put Americans back in control by requiring companies to provide the option to “opt-in” to services, instead of the current focus on “opting out.” This bill would also ensure straightforward terms are provided to consumers, so it’s clear from the jump what you’re signing up for. Our bill will help protect consumers from online free trial scams and hard-to-cancel recurring-payment programs, by putting the onus on companies, not consumers, when it comes to extending subscriptions and memberships. This bill is part of my ongoing commitment to save Marylanders’ money and get rid of predatory business practices.

We’re also taking steps to crack down on hidden “junk fees” – extra and often hidden costs that are added to services and products in order to swipe billions of dollars each year from American consumers. Junk fees are used across many sectors, from banking, to travel, to concert sales, and utility services, and are often not disclosed until mid-transaction or at the time of payment, causing frustration and confusion for millions of Americans. Big corporations often use these junk fees to pick the pockets of American families, bringing in big profits for themselves, while these families are just trying to get by.

That’s why Senator Hickenlooper, Senator Sanders, and I sent a letter calling on the National Economic Council to take action against junk fees and protect American consumers. And with the help of the Biden Administration, we’re making real progress in eliminating costly junk fees. The Administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently banned surprise overdraft and bounce check fees, which will reduce fees incurred by Americans by more than $1 billion annually. The Department of Transportation also recently proposed a rule to require airlines and online booking services to provide the full cost of a ticket up front, including baggage and additional fees. And after the Biden Administration’s advocacy to ensure airlines guarantee a parent and child can sit together without incurring additional fees, we’ve already seen airlines start to ensure adjacent seats are available for parent and child for free. I’m committed to continuing to work with the Administration and my colleagues in the Senate to rein in predatory fees and build a fair economy for all.

Supporting the Vital Work of Maryland Organizations and Initiatives

One of my top priorities in the Senate is to invest federal dollars in the important work being done to strengthen communities throughout our state. It’s always a joy to visit with Marylanders, and in recent weeks and months, I’ve been all over the state meeting with the people who make our nation work and celebrating the wins we’ve secured together in the Senate.

Since the last newsletter, I’ve visited Baltimore to celebrate key progress in our journey to right the historic wrong of the “Highway to Nowhere.” I also toured downtown small businesses in the City, honored the life of Juanita Jackson Mitchell by launching the restoration of her former Upton law office, so it can be converted into a legal and social services hub for trauma survivors, and announced federal funding to help renovate The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum and Baltimore’s historic Arena Players theater. At the New Carrollton Metro station, I joined my Team Maryland colleagues to cut the ribbon at the brand-new Metro building. In Annapolis, we announced funding to preserve and revitalize City Dock – and in Odenton, we announced additional federal investments heading to Anne Arundel County. In Montgomery County, I joined leaders and volunteers at the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center to deliver needed federal funding to support their new health center location, and in Frederick, I visited the Asian American Center of Frederick, meeting with team members and program students. On the Eastern Shore, we announced a federal investment for Arc Central Chesapeake Region’s projects to support people with intellectual disabilities in Easton and its surrounding communities, and stopped by Chesapeake College to announce funding to enhance their Workforce Training Program. And in Cambridge, we stopped by the Boys and Girls Club to support the Club and its programs for local kids. I even got to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by making green “slime” with some Club members!

Those are just a few highlights of the work we’ve been doing to deliver for Marylanders. These accomplishments would not have been possible without the partnership of our local communities and Marylanders throughout the state. I’m grateful for your teamwork every single day.

I urge all of you to stay hopeful, stay active, and stay engaged.



Chris Van Hollen