Transcript: Sen. Bill Frist on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt of 'FOX News Sunday,' February 13, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Guiding the president's ambitious second-term agenda through Congress is the job of our first guest, the Senator majority leader, Bill Frist.

Senator, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST, R-TN: Good to be with you this morning.

WALLACE: Let's begin with those Iraqi election results. As we said, the Shiite coalition got almost half the vote, but that's still well short of the two-thirds needed to form a new government. Your reaction?

FRIST: Chris, several interesting things. I think there's not a lot of new data today, but what was interesting to me, having just been in Iraq now about 3 1/2 weeks ago, is, first, the elections were transformative, a lot of hope there on the ground. I was talking to some friends earlier this morning about it, and the hope, the optimism is there.

Number two, the fact that the Shiite have about 47 percent, 48 percent, leaves open the possibility that minority coalitions can come together in this, sort of, parliamentary post-election give-and-take that's going on right now to put together a slate or a new prime minister. So the fact that the Shiite got less than 50 percent I think is the one remarkable piece of information.

Again, the elections transformative on the ground over there, a lot of hope and optimism, and a lot of positioning, for example, who will be the next prime minister, already under way.

WALLACE: Sounds like there could be a lot of horse-trading.

FRIST: Well, I think that there will be. In fact, I know that there actually is. There are people -- I'm sure Allawi is working very hard. We have Shiites who are working very hard. We have a fellow by the name of Jafari who, again, is working very hard.

All of that's under way. Very exciting, and that's really the part of that democracy that we're all so happy that they're moving toward.

WALLACE: Let's go back to the legislative landscape, the legislative agenda you're going to have to push through that building behind me over there.

A hot topic here in Washington right now is the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which, according to projections, is going to end up costing quite a lot more, $724 billion, than a lot of members of Congress say they'd been led to believe.

Now, both Republicans and Democrats are talking about measures to try to cut costs. But the president this week came out very strongly, said he threatens to veto any measure that will scale back the benefit.

Question: As Senate majority leader, will you work to block any change to the prescription drug benefit?

FRIST: Several real quick things.

On the prescription drug benefit, it is an important part of giving health-care security for our seniors. Right now, prescription drugs are the most powerful thing in medicine today, and to deny that from seniors when you've got it, I've got it, most of the American people have it, is wrong. So the prescription drug policy is great policy.

Number two, the cost estimate itself, whether it was $400 billion or maybe $500 billion for a 10-year period, the window we're talking about now is not the same 10-year period. It's 10 years -- or two years later, which it has full two years of implementation. So, it's apples versus oranges. If you look at apples versus apples, the cost estimates have not increased.

Third, it's expensive, there is no question about it. But when you put preventive care, chronic disease management and prescription drugs in the bill, it's going to cost you something.

And fourthly, we have to address the skyrocketing cost of health care. And you do that by looking at the overall system and moving toward a patient-centered, consumer-driven, provider-friendly system that's driven on information and choice.

And I say all of that because you can't just isolate out the cost itself and say, "Let's take it out. Let's address it."

I think we ought to let the program be implemented. It hasn't started. It's going to start in 2006. And then after a year, come back and see if we should make modifications.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you specifically about that, because some Republicans are proposing either allowing drugs to be imported from Canada or mandating the government to try to negotiate lower prices with the drug companies.

FRIST: Yes, and...

WALLACE: Would you support either of those?

FRIST: ... we're all struggling with the skyrocketing costs of health care. It's too high. It drives people to the ranks of the uninsured. We've got to address that as a system.

To unravel a Medicare bill that is a very strong bill, a good bill, before it's even started -- it doesn't start until 2006, the Medicare implementation -- I think is wrong. I think that's what the president was saying.

WALLACE: Let's turn to Social Security. Your counterpart in the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert, said this week -- and let's put it up on the screen so you can take a look at it -- "You can't jam change down the American people's throat," that it could take six months, it could take two years to pass Social Security reform.

Do you agree with Speaker Hastert?

FRIST: I agree wholeheartedly you can't jam change down the throat of the American people.

What we need to do is really demonstrate the reality of problem. We have a demographic shift with a doubling of the number of seniors. Seniors are getting older and older, in part because of the profession of medicine, but they're getting older and older, and with that we have fewer people paying into the system.

The baby boom starts three years from now in 2008. We have a catastrophe that can happen unless we act. Politicians can kick it off to the future, which I think is morally wrong, or we can address it now.

We need to first make sure the American people understand there's a problem, engage the American people.

WALLACE: And could that take more than a year?

FRIST: Well, I would hope not. It depends on how good we are and the media is.

The Democrats need to stop saying there's not a problem. There is a problem. It's demographically driven. It's a tidal wave that we can't control. It's driven by the baby boom coming in with fewer people paying into the program.

So, we have a long way to go. It looks likes we have to start in the United States Senate, because we have the Democrats in the Senate say there's no problem. There's a huge problem out there that's going to punish your children and the next generation because we've overpromised.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about the Democrats, because the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, says he has 45 solid votes against these private accounts, that, in his words, "it's not going to happen."

But interestingly, in the last few days, two Democratic senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Thomas Carper of Delaware, said they're willing to consider personal accounts.

Senator Frist, is there some erosion on the Democratic side? Are some of those solid 45 "no" votes maybe a little softer than Senator Reid thinks they are?

FRIST: Chris, I don't know. I think nobody, Democrat or Republican, should be drawing lines in the sand, when we've got a huge problem, which is a moral responsibility, I think, to address.

I think what we're seeing is that people are going to back off and say, "Let's spend a little time. Let's work together." It's not a Democrat problem or a Republican problem. It's an American problem. And let's work together.

Therefore, I will again appeal to everybody, my colleagues and Democrats, keep everything on the table, everything that you possibly can. If you have something you just don't believe in, take it off the table. Keep everything on the table. Admit there's a problem. Let's move forward.

And I think that's what Senator Carper and Senator Nelson are doing.

Now, the personal accounts are not the answer. That's why you have to keep everything on the table. There's a lot of focus on it. I believe in them, but it's not the only answer. Let's put everything on the table, and then let's look, let's negotiate, what's best for the American people.

WALLACE: New subject: Howard Dean has just been elected the new head of the Democratic Party. Dean had this to say recently: "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for." And after his selection as head of the DNC yesterday, he had some more choice words. Let's watch.


HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: You cannot trust Republicans with your money.

The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there.


WALLACE: What do you think of Howard Dean?

FRIST: Well, when I see the words "hate," and then I see his picture and know that they came from him, and he hasn't sort of withdrawn that, it makes me a little hesitant -- a little, I guess, disappointed.

Because I think the American people now, after we have come off a very tough election year, a lot of partisanship -- and that's part of the politics -- at this point want us to govern with meaningful solutions.

FRIST: And that's what they want. It doesn't mean the parties aren't sharp and they're not aggressive in defending their principles. But they want us to govern. And I don't think that having a Democratic leader saying they hate everybody is going to feed into that.

And, again, I respect Dr. Dean in many ways, and I look forward to working with him. I hope that some of that rhetoric -- and probably on both sides of the aisle -- can be toned down, so we can govern for the American people.

WALLACE: And what do you think his election says about where the Democratic Party is headed now?

FRIST: Well, I think everybody knows the Democratic Party's very divided right now.

If you look at the last 10 years, the Republican Party is the majority party. We've accomplished what hadn't been done in over 100 years: re-electing a Republican president, increased majority in the Senate, increased majority in the House, increased majority of governorships.

They're very divided, and they're trying to feel their way along.

It surprises me a little bit, when America wants us to come together and work toward the middle, but I would say with good, strong values and Republican principles, that they'd take somebody who is actually further to the left. But, again, they have to decide, and that's their strategy.

I think the one advice I'd give is, don't say no to everything, whether it's Social Security or whether it's the president's Cabinet nominees. Please, to Dr. Dean and his party, don't say no to everything.

WALLACE: We have only limited time left, and I'd like to go over the legislative landscape. So let's do a lightning round. I'll ask brief questions, and you give -- brief questions, you give me quick answers.

FRIST: OK, good.

WALLACE: First of all, the president's budget: Only in Washington would a $2.5 trillion budget be called "lean," but there were cuts in some politically sensitive programs: subsidies to farmers, cuts in the Centers for Disease Control, veterans' benefits, hiring more police.

Senator Frist, do you support all of those cuts?

FRIST: Tough budget, the toughest since I've been in Washington, D.C. Non-defense, non-homeland security spending is actually cut, goes down in real dollars. The toughest I've ever seen.

Do I support all of them? We will look at them.

I support the president's overall number, that flat spending, or cut in spending, the relative priorities he has expressed, his priorities. The United States Senate will express ours. I think that they'll come close to lining up, but not each and every one do I expect to line up.

WALLACE: So, you think there's going to be some picking and choosing among them?

FRIST: There will be picking and choosing. And that's what the United States Senate is for, as a co-equal branch of government.

WALLACE: The House passed an immigration bill this week that would require states to seek proof of legal residence before they give out drivers' licenses. Will the Senate pass that measure?

FRIST: The Senate will look very closely. I've asked our responsible committee, the Judiciary Committee, to look at those specific proposals. Those are very specific. It's not overall immigration reform, and I think we need to look at immigration reform in a more comprehensive way.

We will look at each and every one of those, through our committee process. And if it makes sense, we may go ahead and pass them in some way. If not, it may even be more likely we'll do a little bit broader immigration reform, instead of just those specific ones.

WALLACE: The president has renominated 10 of his judicial appointees to the appeals court, who had been blocked by Democratic filibusters. When will you bring up the first one?

FRIST: You know, last month 34 senators took an oath to the Constitution of the United States, and that oath means that they're going to give advice and consent, or that's their one responsibility.

We need to restore the tradition of giving advice and consent, and that means having a nominee coming from the president to us with majority support be allowed a vote, an up-or-down vote -- vote against, vote for, but allowed a vote. That is my goal in this Congress, to restore that 200 years of tradition.

The nominees the president has renominated have to go back through committee. They'll be coming out of committee one at a time. And I appeal to the other side of the aisle to give them an up-or-down vote. Vote against if you want to, but an up-or-down vote.

WALLACE: Well, you've raised the obvious question that's been a burning issue here on Capitol Hill. If Democrats decide to filibuster, as they did last year, will you seek a ruling that under the Constitution that you only need 51 votes, not 60, to stop a filibuster and vote on a judicial nomination?

FRIST: Chris, the goal will be to restore that tradition of 200 years. Just with class action lawsuits, they -- that was filibustered last year. But in this new Congress, in the 109th Congress, with us working together to govern with meaningful solutions, to work together, we were able to pass class action, a huge achievement, just three days ago.

FRIST: With that, I hope we can address these judges in the same way.

Again, I'm going to continue to appeal to let's give everybody an up-or-down vote, and then you don't have to change rules.

WALLACE: Will you bring up a constitutional amendment this year to ban same-sex marriages?

FRIST: Maybe not this year but in all likelihood in this Congress. It may be this year.

Right now we -- since we first brought it up, 13 states have passed constitutional amendments. The Defense of Marriage Act is again being questioned by judges -- activist judges -- all over the country. If they continue to question it, we'll bring it up sooner.

Otherwise, I expect it will be brought up some time in this Congress.

WALLACE: We got through it all, Senator Frist. Thank you so much. Thanks for joining us. Come back soon.

FRIST: Thank you. Great to be with you.