This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 4, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM HARKIN, D-IOWA: Today I'm here to tell you, no one is going to give us the Employee Free Choice Act. We're going to have to fight for it. So I'm asking you, beginning today, to turn up the heat, turn up the pressure.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-UTAH: They're trying to stack the deck so that they can basically force unionization on America. And if they get this bill, or any ramification of it, you're going to see a major, major effort by the unions to unionize people against their will without giving them a right to a secret ballot to make that determination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, HOST: There you hear Democratic Senator Tom Harkin today at a big here rally in D.C. for the Employee Free Choice Act, and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch saying it's a bad idea.
Basically, this bill is designed to make it easier for workers to unionize. Critics say that the bill could lead to coercion, intimidation, and without a secret ballot in these votes for unionization.
Some analytical observations about this from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call — FOX News contributors all.
Fred, the politics of the Employee Free Choice Act — where does it stand?
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, there was a reason for this rally today by the union people, and that's because they have been losing ground. They need to make up for lost ground.
In the last congress, they had something like 230 cosponsors for the card check bill. This time they're having trouble getting to 200 cosponsors in the House, even though there are more Democrats in the House than there were in the last congress.
And now you have five or six senators, most of them Democrats, who are now kind of queasy on it who weren't before, and are talking about well, maybe there's some alternative to it. So organized labor is trying to make up for lost ground.
There was a very interesting paper that was brought to my attention just the other day by a very, very prominent economist, who found that the higher rate of unionization is in a state — in other words, if the state has a fairly highly unionized state, the higher the unemployment rate.
The same thing happened during the New Deal, of course. It was great if you had a job, but a lot more people didn't have jobs.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: You know what, the substantive arguments aside, the politics of this are really interesting, because, obviously, this is an extremely high priority for unions.
And I would say for the business community, this is about as high of a priority as you can get. In other words, there is nothing you can trade away to make card check palatable to the business community, and the White House knows that.
And what I'm hearing is that the message that certainly the president is sending and other people is that there are a lot more ways to, quote, "increase the density of union representation other than card check."
BAIER: In other words, he doesn't want to deal with this now.
LIASSON: Yes, yes.
Now, you have the vice president out there saying card check is really important, and we want it. And, certainly Obama is on record as having cosponsored the bill originally when he was in the Senate. But I don't think this is something, in the end, that they are going to fight tooth and nail for. There are too many other things they want the cooperation of the business community on down the road, whether it is stimulus, healthcare, energy. And I don't think they're going to make this a major battle.
Now, the big question is, will it die by itself in the Senate? And I think it actually will. I don't think it will pass a filibuster.
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: It depends on whether Obama encourages House Democrats to pass it and encourages the Senate Democrats to bring it up. I think he will not.
This is the equivalent of what gays in the military was to Bill Clinton, and there would be a firestorm of opposition to this. Look, this is a George Orwell, call your office bill. The Employee Free Choice Act — not quite. It is the employee forced choice act.
Certainly in a tough union organizing campaign, both the employer and the union badger the workers one way or another. But the secret ballot is the check on that. And to take away the secret ballot, you know, it's un-American.
BAIER: Let's talk for a second about the Labor Secretary nominee, California Democratic Representative Hilda Solis. She has some issues here as she has told during her confirmation. What are they, Mort?
KONDRACKE: She was treasurer on the board of a group that lobbies her fellow congress people when she was in the House. And according to the House rules, you are not allowed to work for a lobby. And the question is —
BAIER: On this issue, on card check?
KONDRACKE: Yes, on card check. But you're not allowed to lobby your colleagues on anything, and if you have an outside association, you're supposed to disclose it, and she did not disclose it.
Now, I don't think this is going to kill her nomination, but it's another one of those things which — well, it's probably not going to kill the nomination, but it is —
BAIER: We said that about Tom Daschle, too.
BARNES: Let me explain one thing why they are both wrong about Obama on card check. Obama is irrelevant. Labor is going to push this thing through Congress as hard as they can. That's where their strength is. It is not particularly with Obama.
He would have to stand up and say "Don't do card check," or labor is going to push and Congress is going to go. Harry Reid has said they will bring it up in the summer, and it will probably come up earlier in the House.
BAIER: So, last word —
LIASSON: Right now it doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate. And I don't think it will get there.
BARNES: But nobody ever said they would bring it up now.
LIASSON: I don't think they will bring it up in the summer, either.
BARNES: It won't be some horrible thing for Obama, because he is basically irrelevant on this.
And, look, it will come to a vote in both the House and the Senate, believe me.
LIASSON: Yes, but it only matter if it passes. Then he has the decision whether to sign it or not. I don't think it will get to his desk.
BARNES: He cosponsored the darn thing —
LIASSON: I don't think it will get to his desk.
BAIER: Next up, the stimulus and the fight to put more money into a housing crisis that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not about next month. It is about the next decade to come. And we may have to go back to the American people and housing, which is the root cause of this problem. And there's nothing in this bill about housing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: The panel's fired up tonight. We'll find out what they think when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Failure to act and act now will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery, and a more uncertain future.
SEN. JIM DEMINT, R-S.C.: Every day the support for it is declining. We now have a chance to stop this bill and to replace it with a real economic stimulus plan that will protect and create jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: There you see President Obama and Republican Senator Jim DeMint talking about the economic stimulus plan that continues to grow in the Senate.
Here's what we know, the numbers now — on the House side it started at $819 billion. The Senate started $888 billion, but they added $11 billion for car buying, $6.5 billion for research. It's now $905 billion.
However, just a few moments ago, they passed an amendment giving a tax break of up to $15,000 to homebuyers. That would add another $20 billion. It continues to grow at this point.
We're back with our panel. Mort, do we know how big this will get?
KONDRACKE: Well, as you say, it keeps growing and growing and growing, and I don't see anybody whacking it.
Susan Collins was down at the White House today arguing that it should be $650 billion, and the president said no, $650 billion won't do it. It's got to be a big bill.
And her colleague Olympia Snowe has been arguing that Obama has to get in there and scrub this bill and eliminate all the trash that's in it.
And he's claiming that he has been eliminating trash, but that's not true. He hasn't. The only trash he has eliminated is a couple of items in the House bill.
He has got to get in there and, one, he has got to defend this bill better. That statement that I have got to have this bill, jobs are going to be lost, and that kind of thing, there is nobody besides him really defending the contents of the bill. And its popularity is going down, down, down.
And the second thing is that he has got to convince his Democratic colleagues to shed some of the stuff that is making this an object of derision.
LIASSON: I think, number one, he is telling the Democrats they are going to have to do that. I think he will weigh in more, especially when the House and Senate meet in a conference committee.
And right now this bill is going through an open process in the Senate. Amendments are being brought to the floor and they are being voted on. And so far I don't think any of them have been filibustered.
And look at the ones that are passing. Tax breaks for homebuyers, tax breaks for car buyers. This bill is slowly but surely, I think, getting to be more like a package that could attract Republican support.
And, yes, there is a lot of underbrush that is going to have to be cleared out, and the White House, at least what I'm hearing, intends to do that in conference.
Now, in terms of the size of it, I think that is a whole different matter. I think you're hearing a chorus of economists from the left and right saying this needs to be as big as possible.
BARNES: That's the problem, of course. It's too big.
Mort made a very good point. Obama is the only one defending it. How many Democratic senators have come on cable news in the last week or two to defend it? I can't think of any.
Now, maybe there have been a few, because they are embarrassed by it.
Mara, I'm afraid you haven't talked to any Republican senators. I think there is no conceivable way that this bill can be changed enough by President Obama or anybody that very many Republicans are going to vote for it in the Senate. They just aren't. It's going to be huge, way too big, it's not going to be stimulative.
And the amazing thing is that we have a very, very popular president who says it would be a catastrophe if this thing isn't passed right away. And yet people like Olympia Snowe aren't even for it yet. If he can't get Olympia Snowe, then this bill is really in trouble.
BAIER: Quickly, does he make the deadline — February 16, 17? No, yes?
BARNES: I don't think it matters, but he probably will. They will pass a bad bill.
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