'Special Report' Panel on House Passage of $410 Billion Spending Plan

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 25, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WISC.: There are a lot of things that are in this bill t hat we shouldn't be doing, personally, I believe, ever, but in the recession of all times we shouldn't be doing these things.

There is money for tattoo removal in this bill. I mean, you can go on and on about the junk and the pork that's in this bill.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER H ARRY REID, D-NEV.: I'm here to tell everyone that we have an obligation as members of Congress to help direct spending to our states.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Today the House passed a huge $410 billion spending plan that covers March through September of this year. In it, more than 8,500 earmarks, pet projects for lawmakers.

Some thoughts on all of this from our panel: Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Fred, obviously, these earmarks are put in there by both Republicans and Democrats, it is important to point out. But yet the president, the administration is swallowing this, not fighting it at all.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, look, the Democrats are now in charge. They could get rid of the earmarks if they want to, their own and the Republicans, who get 40 percent or something as the minority party usually does. And they do hand them out that way.

Some of these earmarks are for members of Congress who aren't members of congress anymore. They are former members. And there are a lot of crazy ones.

I don't even think earmarks are the most important thing here. I think this is an important matter for President Obama, and for this reason — really, for two reasons. One, yesterday he had his fiscal responsibility summit — not yesterday, on Monday — his fiscal responsibility summit.

And he talked in his speech last night about reducing the deficit and getting control of our spending, and so on. Well, a good chance would be right here, just to say to Harry Reid and to Nancy Pelosi, look, I'd like you to cut a little of this out. We don't need to increase spending eight percent over the prior year. That's too much. That's double or triple the rate of inflation.

So that's one thing. He could do it if he's serious at all about reducing or controlling spending.

And secondly, I mean, Harry Reid — you just saw it. He threw down the gauntlet. And Harry Reid's the guy — Juan, you have heard him-he's the one who said "I don't work for President Obama. I don't work for him." The truth is he does work for Obama if the president tells him so.

BAIER: Juan, last night David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, was on and said that essentially they're going to stomach this in the hopes that they can revise next budget to not put in any earmarks. But to hear the majority leader talk, that doesn't seem that possible.

WILLIAMS: No. And Axelrod said this in response to your question to him last night. As he was saying it, I was thinking to myself what he is doing is saying he can't handle this fight right now.

I didn't think it was Eric Holder's stuff about cowardice. Here at the moment where I think the administration is backing off a big fight, because it would be a huge fight with members of congress, both Republicans and Democrats, over the use of earmarks.

The use of earmarks, when you go and talk to the guys on Capitol Hill, they tell you, as long as they feel it's transparent and open, they don't see anything wrong with it, because they see it as a speedy way to get these items in place in their congressional districts to help people.

Often these things go to quite worthy causes like universities, medical facilities. We make fun of the ones like the bridge to nowhere, but most earmarks, if you looked at them, you could make a case for them.

But what happens is, especially you would have thought with Republicans taking control of the Senate — I'm sorry, of the House — in, like, '94, you would have thought, well, gee, here we have a Republican revolution, promises, contract with America. Why didn't Republicans take care of earmarks?

The answer is it helps them with the people who are trying to win control, win elections at home, so they can win control of the House or Senate. It helps them win elections. And they want those earmarks as much as Democrats want them.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It is one thing to swallow 8,000 earmarks. It is another for the president to stand up in the Congress last night and to pretend he's a champion of those who fight earmarks.

What he said last night was "The stimulus package I passed has no earmarks," and the next sentence he said was "And the budget next year has no earmarks."

Now, he left out the sentence in the middle, which was that "The budget I'm going to submit in two days has 8,000 of them, including an earmark for the reduction of pig odor in Louisiana," which could be a worthy cause. I'm not sure.

It is the most egregious sleight of hand, because a viewer had no idea what was left out here. And it is the hypocrisy that I think is disturbing.

The president's calculation obviously is "I will give the gluttons in the House and Senate their earmarks this year, and I will impose on them austerity and chastity next year and all the out years."

I will believe it when I see it.

BAIER: Because Fred, he needs this Congress to pass some big things in that speech. So, is that what this is about?

BARNES: Well, it is partly about that. But Democrats have huge majorities in the House and Senate. They're going to pass these things. I don't think there is any question about it.

Juan, you were wrong about one thing, and that is when you said earmarks win elections. Republicans in 2006 and 2008, the Republican leadership kept these earmarks-remember, they went up something like 14,000 earmarks under the Republicans-and they thought earmarks would save them, would win elections.

WILLIAMS: That's what they thought.

BARNES: It didn't happen. They lost.

WILLIAMS: But there, Fred, you got to factor in the corruption, the Abramoff, what was going on in California. Those things then add in and people say "Oh, this is corruption."

BARNES: The earmarks are invitations to corruption.

BAIER: As we told you earlier, the big news from the Homeland Security Secretary wasn't what she said, but rather that she didn't seem to want to talk about terrorism.


HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO: There are risks out there. There are people out there who, quite frankly, seek to harm the United States.


BAIER: What about the critics who say this administration is too soft on terrorism? The panel will discuss that after the break.



REP. MARK SOUDER, R-IND.: It's important that in what is perceived as a little bit of a back peddling on focus on terrorism doesn't turn into wholesale retreat.

NAPOLITANO: With respect to the issue of terrorism, there's no one more conscious than I am about the reason for this department, why it was stood up, and what our fundamental responsibilities are.


BAIER: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano before the House Homeland Security Committee today in her opening statements — statement, rather — did not use the words, "terror," "Al Qaeda" or "vulnerability." It raised some eyebrows. We're back with the panel to talk about that.

But, first, Charles, you have something to point out from the last panel.

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes, I want to issue a correction. The earmark on the study of pig odor was not in Louisiana. I misread the state initials. It is in Iowa, and I will not further editorialize on that issue.

BAIER: I'm glad we got that cleared up.

Now let's talk about this topic, Secretary Napolitano not mentioning these words.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's astonishing. Her department was established because of a terror attack. And it fits with the speech that we heard last night by the president in which he spoke for almost an hour, and he had only one reference to terrorism in a clause bracketed with poverty and oppression. And he called them "challenges," not even threats.

This is an administration that does not want to use the words "War on Terror," and that has an attitude of terrorism as a law enforcement issue.

As we heard from Catherine Herridge, if you call the Defense Department about the terrorists in Guantanamo, they will refer you about their disposition to the Department of Justice, which is now in charge, meaning a terrorist is not a ward of the Department of War, the Pentagon, but of the Department of Justice.

We have gone from a model of war in this decade and reverted to what happened in the '90's, looking at terror as a matter of law enforcement.

And I would say one more thing — if the War on Terror no longer exists, either it never existed, in which case Obama ought to explain that to the families of 9/11, or we have won the war, the war is essentially over, or at least our enemy is degraded where it's not a great threat, in which case the country and the president owe a loud, huge, public, official thank you to George Bush.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I have such a strongly different point of view on this. It seems to me that the war on terror is evolved. I was struck by the fact that the president didn't mention the war on terrorism last night, because in all previous state of union — of course, that wasn't technically a state of the union address — but in these joint sessions of Congress that the president has held since 9/11, it's been prominent.

But, clearly, we are in a different moment here in American history in terms of the threat that we face from economic crisis. And I must say that extends into the world environment, into the global environment.

Just today we learned the president is being briefed by the CIA in terms of the economic threat as a possible precursor to terrorist activities.

This, I think, suggests this is a different way of dealing and seeing the issue. It is not that Janet Napolitano is trying to undo the Department of Homeland Security. At the White House, they understand if there is another terror attack on their watch, it is devastating.

Can you imagine the level of criticism that would absolutely crush any Democrat who is seen as being weak on terror? That's not the issue to my mind here.

BARNES: I think that is the issue. After all, Barack Obama is commander in chief. He is not mommy in chief or nanny in chief or any of those things that involve domestic policy issues. He is commander in chief.

And I think in his speech, it was something like 7 percent of the speech was devoted to diplomacy and the military, 7 percent. That's amazing.

I mean, look — and look what Obama, the points he made in his campaign. One of his biggest points was the mistake that President Bush has made by fighting the war in Iraq when the serious war, the central front in the war on terror was in Afghanistan.

And he mentioned Afghanistan in one sentence, not mentioning the fact that he had ordered 17,000 troops there. He didn't explain why he's done that, where the war stands, how these troops will help. He didn't do any of that. And I think that was a tremendous oversight.

Look, the simple fact is — and maybe they're correct — that Democrats, Janet Napolitano, Barack Obama and his people at the White House and in Congress, Democrats don't think that the terrorist threat is anywhere near as great as the Bush administration did, as I do.

I don't know about you, Juan, but in any case, they're downplaying it purposely because they don't think it's as major of a threat as others have thought.

WILLIAMS: I don't think it's a matter of not thinking it is a major threat. I think, in fact, they are front and center on it. But I do think you have to look at what is going on in our economy. If you look at the public opinion reflecting what American priorities, there is no question it's the economy.

BARNES: Juan, he spent 93 percent of the speech on domestic policy. That's fine, but he could have done more on the military.

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