This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 11, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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SEN. BEN NELSON, D-NEB.: It's a jobs bill, and today you might call us the "jobs squad," because that's what we're attempting to do, to make sure that people will have the opportunity to hang on to their jobs that they have today.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO: Everything that I'm hearing about the so-called deal, I'm very disappointed — very disappointed because it won't do what the American people expect that it will do, and that is create and preserve jobs in our country.
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BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, it depends on who you ask whether the conference committee of the House and Senate lawmakers have really come up with a deal that everybody's happy with.
Obviously, not everyone is happy with it, as you heard from the House Minority Leader there, John Boehner. What about the process and what is in this final bill?
Some analytical observations from Bill Sammon, FOX News Washington deputy managing editor, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call.
Mort, we know the conference committee is still hashing out some details. What's the latest as you know it?
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: They have reduced the size of the bill by $100 billion from what it was in the Senate version, and there is some cutback in school construction, but not entirely. The House Democrats fought to keep that largely in.
The president's "make work pay" provision I guess has been saved. They cut back on tax credits for auto purchases and housing. But they have kept in — to me, the most odious part of this bill, forgetting the pork, is the idea that they will spend $70 billion to fix the alternative minimum tax, which does zero for stimulus.
And everybody knows that it does zero for stimulus. It's just in there to help the Democrats solve their problem in the Senate with the blue dogs in the House who are insisting that it be paid for.
Look, this bill does nothing for post-partisanship, President Obama's favorite line. But it does have the virtue of clarity and responsibility. I mean, this is a 90 percent Democratic content package. It is 65 percent spending, 35 percent tax cuts.
And, so, if it works, the Democrats win and the Republicans lose, and vice versa.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That's clearly what Boehner is counting on, when you heard him before. And he says this isn't going to work, and they are assuming that if the economy is still bad a year and a half from now, they're going to be able to say "I told you so." But, look, this bill is a compromise. It still has the level of tax cuts that the president started with, approximately one-third.
I think Mort is absolutely right about the AMT. If you strip it out, this bill is like $710 billion, which is actually smaller than economists on the left and right say is necessary to really reboot the economy.
So I think there is a chance that this thing is too small and maybe not sufficiently stimulative.
BILL SAMMON, WASHINGTON DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, FOX NEWS: Too small — where do I start? This is a $790 billion stimulus bill. And I think we have all become numb to these big numbers to the point of where if we get it under $800 billion, that's some kind of bargain. We went from $830 billion, which is where it was at in the Senate.
And we have to remember that back in September, Harry Reid was talking about a $50 or $60 billion stimulus bill. And it has grown into the hundreds, towards a trillion.
And so the goal posts have moved. Instead of being the goal posts from $50 billion to a trillion, which is really where they are if you look at the broad sweep of this, it's $790 to $838 billion. And we're supposed to feel good that we got it under $800 billion. I think it's a staggering number.
Mort used the word "clarity." I don't think I would use the word "clarity" to describe this bill in any way, shape, or form. There is stuff that's coming out of this thing. Every time you have another news cycle to look at the particulars, you get these unbelievable pork projects that just curl your hair. So I'm not sure that "clarity" is the proper word here.
KONDRACKE: I wasn't talking about the clarity of the contents of the bill. I'm talking about clarity of ownership and responsibility.
And that's true. People are going to start combing through this bill and fining all kinds of junk. And one of the things that should have been done carefully was to take the junk out, the indefensible junk, which you're going to see more of spilling all over the street. But fundamentally, look, the Democrats are responsible for this thing, and, as I said, if it works, they're going to triumph, and if it doesn't work, they're going to suffer.
BAIER: What about — last thing, Mara — the process here for this administration and how they have handled this as it comes to a head, probably a vote tomorrow afternoon?
LIASSON: Well, they decided that they would let the House Democratic leadership kind of run with this in its first iteration, although much of what the House Democratic leadership came up with was what the White House wanted.
And then at the end they worked hard, even though the president did a lot to change the tone and rule Republicans, in the end they did pretty much what President Bush used to do — pick off a few members of the other party — start with your own party, and then just pick out a few members, instead of building a true compromise from the center.
BAIER: Coming up, is the stimulus bill going to give big brother the final say on your medical issues?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there is language in there that says the government is going to make my healthcare decisions, we'll get it out.
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BAIER: The panel weighs in when we come back.
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SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN, D-MD.: What this is doing is doing it in a more efficient way. But it will not, and I repeat this, it will not interfere whatsoever with the doctor and patients making the appropriate medical decisions.
SEN. DR. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: That is absolute code for we'll decide for how you will be treated, we'll set a standard. If you don't comply, you will get less payment.
And we will decide what drugs, and especially in terms of new medical innovations, if they're too expensive, we will not allow those to be used.
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BAIER: What are they talking about? Buried deep in the 736-page stimulus package is a provision, a specific provision, dealing with healthcare, and it is raising a lot of eyebrows here in Washington.
We're back with our panel. Bill, let's start laying it out. What's the concern?
SAMMON: It creates something called a national coordinator for health information technology, which, obviously, conservatives view as a big brother move, and you are talking about creating federal councils, you are talking about digitizing everybody's medical records.
And even if you don't take the nefarious view of this, which is to say the federal government will start denying grandma her prescription because it's too expensive, I think there is a legitimate concern about privacy here — the federal government getting its hooks into everyone's medical records
It's interesting. Liberals are all about privacy when it comes to one medical procedure, abortion, but, apparently, on all other medical procedures they want to have this czar that can get into all of your medical records.
I think some of the concerns are overblown, but it could be the first step that puts the infrastructure in place that maybe a future president could use to bad means.
BAIER: And we should point out that George Bush did push for digitizing medical records as well.
Many people are pointing to Tom Daschle's book, and he is, of course, the former nominee for Health and Human Services, in which he said "The next president should act immediately to capitalize on the goodwill that greets any incoming administration.
If that means attaching a healthcare plan to the federal budget, so be it. This issue is too important to be stalled by the Senate protocol."
Mara, the sense is they're slipping something in here.
LIASSON: Sure. Just to interpret what that means, slipping it into the Senate budget means you only need 50 votes instead of 60. Senate protocol, what he is referring to there, is the filibuster. He wants to avoid it.
They definitely have put stuff into this bill — a down payment on universal healthcare. President Obama has been absolutely up front about it. He has said we have to make down payments on these big things on our agenda. He has done it for energy and he is doing it for healthcare.
He has said many, many times that digitizing medical records is the first step. You have to make healthcare delivery more efficient, and this is important.
I think they're trying to do as much as they can in this bill. They're still going to have to pass healthcare reform, and I don't think they're going to be able to put it all on the federal budget. It's going to be hard.
KONDRACKE: I talked to Newt Gingrich's favorite expert on healthcare IT, David Merritt, and he says that there is nothing in this bill that is not bipartisan, that hasn't been worked out during the Bush administration, except that there is a lot of money to help doctors buy technology equipment.
And so the idea that there is a conspiracy here is just far- fetched.
Now, Tom Daschle did recommend that there should be a Federal Reserve kind of thing for healthcare, which, conceivably, would do comparative effectiveness studies. And if it decided on the basis of cost to impose its standards, you could have rationing of Medicare and other things. But that's a long way down the pike here, and we're not anywhere near that, and it's not this bill.
BAIER: Isn't the language, though, pretty vague, which kind of opens the door to a lot of interpretation?
LIASSON: You know something about that? There is going to be so many things like this in this bill. This bill is huge. It was rushed. Most members have not read it. And Congress is going to have to go back on this and many other things, and clarify it.
SAMMON: And, remember, "Hillary-care," when it failed as an omnibus, the Clintons came back and tried to pass bits and pieces of healthcare reform incrementally. So that's what this probably is as well.
BAIER: OK, we'll see and we'll follow it.
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