This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from July 17, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We actually believe that about two-thirds of the cost of reforming health care could be achieved through these savings alone without any new revenue.

Of course, that still leaves one-third of the costs in order for us to cover all Americans that we're still going to have to find a way to pay for.

Those who are betting against this happening this year are badly mistaken. We are going to get this done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: The president this afternoon pushing back on health care reform, the doubts that may be creeping in on Capitol Hill. The savings he was talking about there are in Medicaid and Medicare. There are some doubts about that, too.

So what about the status of health care reform legislation? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune magazine, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio — Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, it seems to me that the president is in a jam. I mean, clearly when you get Doug Elmendorf at the Congressional Budget Office, who, you, Doug Elmendorf was put in place by Democrats, and he's, in fact, succeeded Peter Orszag, who went off to the White House.

So this is not something coming from some attack machine. This is something coming from people who are trying to be supportive but see that the primary tenet of all that President Obama has been promising, which is that it is going to lower the cost of health care both for the government in terms of Medicare and Medicaid and for individual families, that that is not going to be real, according to an impartial scorer here at the CBO.

It takes a lot of the urgency, a lot of reality, a lot of the drive out of something that most Americans would like to see, health care reform.

BAIER: Nina, the president today now has announced a primetime press conference, news conference for Wednesday night. This is a push, but is there enough receiving end on Capitol Hill for this?

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: It's interesting. I think I got a little glimpse of, today, what he is going to try to — what case he is going to be trying to make next Wednesday.

When I listen to Larry Summers give his speech, his chief economic adviser, and he said, well, look, the CBO is scoring on hard savings and hard numbers. But there's lots of stuff in there, these wellness prevention programs, you know, IT stuff, technology stuff we have already passed.

And that's more, you know, they can't score that. They don't know how to put an actual number on that.

Well, that's a hard case to make. And you look at some of these wellness programs, it is like expanding wellness centers in communities or giving states more money for wellness.

I mean, what does that mean? We all know that preventive health care will end up with some savings. But they had, in short term, to expand coverage, it's going to cost. And the burden of those costs, frankly, is going to fall on moderate and conservative Democrats.

I was at a House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting yesterday when they started that markup of that legislation in the House. You would have thought the Democrats — an hour and a half in, four Democrats were raising objections to Henry Waxman's bill. I mean, it was pretty astonishing. They sounded like Republicans.

And the other thing they were concerned about was reimbursements to rural hospitals, the administration and Congressional Democrats want to limit reimbursement to hospitals. And these guys in these rural districts, like Rick Bowsher in Virginia, are saying, look, these hospitals will go under. They rely on private insurance to subsidize what they lose through Medicare and Medicaid.

So there are all sorts of dynamics here making this a real uphill battle for the White House right now.

BAIER: There are a lot of complicated issues here. We haven't even talked about tort reform. We haven't talked about what critics call "rationing" but supporters say is some kind of commission to look at savings about how this doctor should practice their medicine — Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, the people likely to have their health care rationed will be calling it rationing.

The CBO report, the Congressional Budget Office report, undermines the central tenet of the president's case for health care reform. It's not that it makes it a little difficult on the margins to make his arguments.

This is the main argument he has been making going back to the campaign and even earlier, that this kind of overhaul of the health care system, both, as Juan says, in government and in the market, will reduce costs, will reduce costs for government, will reduce costs in the private market.

That looks to be wrong, at least several large parts of that look to be just flat out wrong.

What was astonishing to me was that he went out today and he gave this little pep talk. There was nothing new in what he said. There was nothing significant in what he said. He simply reiterated the idea that he was going to do it and that they were going to get it done.

The problem I think he faces is that people no longer believe him when he says two-thirds of the cost will come in savings and we have to come up with the other one-third. People don't just buy that anymore.

You have in independent analyst, as Juan says, somebody who was appointed by Democrats, who is blowing holes in the main rationale for the argument. I think they are in real trouble.

BAIER: And Juan, the president is laying down this marker, saying this reform cannot add to the deficit, period, the end. The problem on Capitol Hill is they just can't figure out how to get that to happen.

WILLIAMS: Well, to my mind, it's even more problematic, Bret. You get Max Baucus, who is in charge of the Senate Finance Committee saying the president is causing his problems here. Why is he causing us problems? Because he won't allow taxing on health care benefits, remember John McCain's old proposal during the campaign.

President Obama has a different reason, though. He doesn't want to get in trouble with the unions, because the unions know that that's a real benefit to many of the workers, and if you start taxing that, it's also causing a problem with the promise not to tax people who earn less than $250,000.

I might add, you know, he hasn't gone after breaking eggs with the drug companies. He hasn't gone hard in terms of insisting that maybe we are going to have to pay some more taxes if you want a health care system that really drives down costs and can take care of the uninsured.

At this point, everyone on the Hill is saying it's just too much to get done now before the August recess.

BAIER: And Nina, finally, these conservative Democrats are looking at tax rates up into the 60 percent, 65 percent, and looking at reelection.

EASTON: And the tax rates, by the way, in some states will take us into the over 50 percent range, which we haven't seen since the pre- Clinton era.

And his adviser had promised and he had promised during the campaign that whatever tax hikes would just take us back to the Clinton era. Well, it looks like these tax hikes could take us further back, and a higher rate altogether.

But I do think they will squeeze this through both Houses, get it into conference, and go from there, just like cap-and-trade. They just squeezed it through the House.

And I think there's a good chance they will be able to just like through the skin of their teeth. It won't be bipartisan or broad support, but I think they'll —

BAIER: Do you agree?

WILLIAMS: I would have agreed, and I think that the American people still want something to happen. But at the moment, people on the Hill are saying to me, especially in the Senate, it doesn't look good.

HAYES: I think they are in trouble. The president said, don't slow down. That's what we heard before the stimulus package. I think people are rightly curious and skeptical of that argument.

BAIER: House Democrats up the ante over the CIA plan to assassinate terrorists. And is the stimulus really working? The Friday lightning round is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER HOEKSTRA, R-MICH., RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The allegations are that, after 9/11, the CIA and other parts of the government looked at ways to either capture, detain, contain, or kill Al Qaeda leaders.

That's not all that shocking. I think most Americans would think that that's something that we would be doing.

To call an investigation into alleged violations of the law, I think, is a gross exaggeration of what has happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: That's the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes, has launched an investigation into the CIA and why Congress was not briefed on what was a plan, we understand, that never developed, to assassinate and kill Al Qaeda leaders.

We're back with the panel for the fright Friday lightning round. Steve, let's start with you.

HAYES: This is all about politics. This investigation is entirely about politics. They are trying to do two things.

They are trying to expose the program and the details of the program because House Democrats on the intelligence committee think that those details, including the fact that former Vice President Dick Cheney didn't want the program briefed to Congress, will be embarrassing to the Bush administration.

But the second reason is that they're trying to protect Nancy Pelosi, who said in April the CIA misleads Congress as a matter of routine. She said, in effect, it's a matter of policy for the CIA to mislead Congress. They're trying now to prove that the CIA does, in fact, mislead Congress.

BAIER: Nina?

EASTON: I have to say I think Republicans should be saying bring it on. I think this is a winner for Republicans and a loser for Democrats.

I can't tell you how many people, like average people who don't get down in the weeds on health care and all that, say weren't we supposed to be killing Al Qaeda figures after 9/11? This is something that resonates with the public in a way that I don't think Democrats don't get.

And I don't think the public is going to be really upset that an unpopular Nancy Pelosi wasn't briefed on this.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I think people have some right to understand that Congress should have been briefed, and I think everybody agrees Congress should have been briefed, Republican and Democrat.

The second thing to say is that as the reporting has gone on, it seems that there was some reality to this plan. The question is to whether or not Vice President Cheney ordered that the Congress not be briefed and feared that there were leaks.

Now there have been subsequent leaks as the plan has come to be known —

BAIER: From Congress.

WILLIAMS: Yes. But the point remains, you can't have a secret agency going off, sort of, you know, like a loose cannon, conducting assassinations.

And that's the other thing. Are these assassinations? If that's the case, you would understand why people might have some hesitation, even though we want to kill Al Qaeda leaders.

BAIER: OK, second topic, Vice President Biden is out trumpeting the stimulus plan. He is saying it is working, it is creating or saving jobs. He had a big speech about it.

Juan, what about this, the defense of the stimulus?

WILLIAMS: It's curious, because he is in Eric Cantor's territory over in Virginia, a congressman. And Cantor shot back right away, the stimulus isn't producing the jobs at the rate that the Obama administration has promised, and that's obvious because the unemployment close is 9.5 and heading north at the moment as we speak.

The White House position is a lot of the stimulus money has yet to be put in place. But people are getting impatient.

BAIER: Nina?

EASTON: Well, I think, just going to back to Larry Summers and his speech today, there's clearly kind of a — people at the White House are puzzled that unemployment is not doing better given the level of economic growth, lack of growth. It is just not tracking as it historically does.

Which, as he says, employers are not hiring people and aren't filling jobs as the economy shows some sign of stabilizing, which says that the private investors or private companies don't have a lot of confidence in this economy. And I think that's the longer term saying that we need to worry about.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: The single worst thing they can do is insist that it's working when everybody can see plainly that it's not. They have said 8 percent unemployment. We're at 9.5. Everybody, including the president, expects that to go higher.

And more importantly, people know from talking to their friends and neighbors, people don't have jobs. People are continuing to struggle. You can't just keep claiming that it's working.

BAIER: Quickly, bring your own comment about this week.

HAYES: Reporting that Human Rights Watch, an organization that supposedly advocates for human rights, was in Saudi Arabia trying to collect checks from Saudi Arabians, including people close to the regime, who — because they are demonizing Israel. A bad policy for human rights watch.

BAIER: Yikes — Nina?

EASTON: I want to quickly promote one stimulus plan that Senator Johnny Isaacson of Georgia has proposed in the past. If you think the real estate market is the problem behind the economy, give a $15,000 tax credit to anybody, not just first time buyers, to buy homes, and that will stimulate the market.

BAIER: Ten seconds.

WILLIAMS: The president is at the All-Star game throwing out the first pitch, and people are making fun of his jeans. What is going on in this country? Too many men in skinny leg jeans.

I like those jeans. Now, I must say that our staff has complained to me, but they are all young people. I like those jeans.

BAIER: And the pitch?

WILLIAMS: The pitch — he didn't bounce it, did he?

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