Chris Van Hollen delivered his first speech on the Senate floor Thursday, denouncing Senate Republicans for what he called a "reckless" and "irresponsible" plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Van Hollen, a Democrat who previously represented Maryland's 8th District in the House of Representatives, was elected in November to fill Barbara Mikulski's vacated Senate seat. While Van Hollen said it is "somewhat unusual" for a new member to speak on the floor so soon, he added that "what we are witnessing today in the Senate is not business as usual."
The Senate voted 51-48 Wednesday to begin debate on a budget resolution that "Republicans hope will result in overhauling the Affordable Care Act," CNN reported. This is the first step toward creating a federal budget that would repeal major provisions of the health care law, according to CNN.
Maryland's newest Senator called Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare a "bait-and-switch scheme" that would result in 30 million people losing direct health care access.
"For more than six years, Republicans in this Senate and in the House of Representatives have said repeatedly that they would repeal Obamacare, but replace it," Van Hollen said. "Replace it with something – they said – with something that will be much better. And now we know, as the clock ticks down, that that has been a farce. There is no Republican replacement bill to provide the kind of coverage and benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and the consequences of that failure are going to be devastating for the country."
President-elect Donald Trump throughout his campaign promised to work with Congress to repeal Obamacare, which he calls on his campaign website an "incredible economic burden." Vice President-elect Mike Pence told reporters Wednesday that repealing and replacing the health care law is "the first order of business."
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act say the law has led to higher premiums and less choice in the health care market.
Van Hollen acknowledged Thursday that some premiums and co-pays have increased in federal health care exchanges exchanges, but said that "blowing up the entire Affordable Care Act … is not a solution."
"Rather than repeal and replace — since there is no replace – it is repeal and run." he said.
Van Hollen compared Republican actions in the Senate to a "tyranny of the majority" and pledged to "fight every day" to protect the Affordable Care Act.
But despite partisan divisions, Van Hollen said he is excited to work on behalf of Marylanders and "address the real priorities and concerns of the American people."
"I will also fight every day to try to live up to the true tradition of the Senate, which is people trying to work together for the good of the country." he said. "It is disappointing to be here at a time when the Senate is embarked on violating that tradition in order to strip Americans of their health care. I hope we will not let that happen."