Hot Stories for the Week of November 17 - 21

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, November 22, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: And the hot story is cardiac classic. Of course, I'm referring to the heart-stopping, arm-twisting, nerve-jangling three-hour vote on the House floor in which Republicans won and enacted ... at least in the House, a prescription drug benefit and some other Medicare (search) stuff. The Senate is supposed to follow suit on Monday.

Now, this as one of the most dramatic votes I know of on the House floor. I think three hours is longer than any time they've ever left a vote open. For about an hour and a half, Democrats were winning. It was 218 no, on the Medicare bill, to 216 in favor of it.

And then the Republicans really went to work. After a couple of times, the Republican leaders were going to give up. They thought, Gee, you know, we'll just never bring back, get any of these defectors from the Republican side to switch.

They did everything they possibly could. They guarded the doors so the defectors, the Republican defectors, couldn't get out without being had there, ... to having their arms twisted and being lobbied and so on. Several of them got out anyway.

They woke up President Bush at 5:00 a.m. Saturday morning to make some calls. And finally, they got the key switcher. It was Trent Franks (search), a freshman from Arizona, who Bush actually talked to, followed by a couple of more, Butch Otter (search) of Idaho and Ernie Istook (search) of Oklahoma, and, and couple of Democrats jumped too.

Now, all of Bush's calls, he had about 20 calls, some on Air Force One coming back from England, didn't work so well. He called Tom Feeney (search) of Florida to lobby him, and Feeney said, Look, I didn't come to Washington to expand the Great Society. And Bush, rather snippily, said, Neither did I, pal.

So in all, an amazing number of Republicans defected, 25, that's about two or three times the number of Republicans they usually lose.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, this was a pretty amazing performance on the Democratic side as well, ...

BARNES: Indeed.

KONDRACKE: ... you know, Nancy Pelosi (search) used to be regarded as some sort of a softie ... well, no more. I mean, she ... threatened any Democrat who voted ... for this thing that they were going to get kicked out of the caucus if, if they did so.


KONDRACKE: You know, the Democrats have, the Republicans have been pretty respectful of, of Steny Hoyer (search) as the whip, but dismissive of, of Pelosi. That's all over now. Only 16 Democrats voted in favor of this bill. The sad fact is, though, that here the Democrats were voting against a $400 billion expansion of a program that they started in 1965. And why did they mainly do it? In order to deprive President Bush of a political victory.

But here's Nancy Pelosi speaking about it.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans say this is a first step toward a prescription drug benefit. This Republican plan is not a first step, it is a false step. It is a mistake.

This is the beginning of the end of Medicare as we know it.


BARNES: The Madame LaFarge of the Democratic Party, would you say?


BARNES: And anyway, you know, they were out to deny Bush a prescription drug benefit. Bush obviously is one of the winners here, no question about that. He'll boast about it ... until November 2004, anyway. Another winner is House Speaker Denny Hastert, who got AARP, the retired Americans' lobby group to come in and, and support the Republican plan. That was crucial. They wouldn't have won without it.

And then there's whip Roy Blunt, who the Republican whip, who actually was the guy who bucked up the Republican leaders and got them not to give up. All winners.

KONDRACKE: Well, the other winners are obviously the deal-makers, Charles Grassley and Bill Thomas in the first instance. But Denny Hastert, the speaker, and, and Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, who had to rescue a failing agreement from them ... and, produce the deal. And then John Beaux and, Max Caucus, the ... only... Democrats ... allowed in, the conference, who, got what they wanted.

BARNES: Yes, yes, Caucus was really critical, and I know Tom Daschle's very mad at him. Losers. I'll ... you one of them is, the conservative Heritage Foundation (search), and they, and they lost, because they lobbied, I think honorably, against this bill, had, you know, put out papers and, had sessions where they talked to members to get them not to vote for the ... Republican members not to vote for it, infuriating Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.

Another loser, I think, is the budget. Look, this thing, Mort, is going to cost so much more than $400 billion over 10 years, it's not even close. It's great politics, it's a political bonanza for Republicans. But I think the, the substance is actually very ... weak, I don't think a prescription drug benefit is really needed. Most seniors have some sort of drug coverage, and the concessions to free market reforms were rather small.

KONDRACKE: Well, will -- that remains to be seen, I mean, there were, there were a lot of reforms, potential reforms in there. But anyway, the - - another loser is, is any remnant of ... civility left in the, in the House of Representatives. I mean ... Well, I don't think there was much of a remnant, but this really ripped it. I mean, the fact is that Democrats were excluded from the conference, except for two people, and then holding this vote open for three hours, which is a record, you know, is, is regarded as, as abusive of power ... on the part of the Democrats, and they are, this is the kind of thing ... the top, the pelt, helped topple Jim Wright when he was speaker.

BARNES: Yes. Now ... one question.


BARNES: What about AARP? Winner or loser?

KONDRACKE: Well, now, wait a minute. Well, the AARP clearly is a winner, in that it got the benefit that it, that it's always, it's always wanted. The question ... but it's got a lot of repair work to do, and we'll talk to John Rother ... later about, about this.

BARNES: ... getting along with Democrats again.


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