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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Health Care and Recent Violence in Middle East

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from October 28, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, I-CONN.: If it still has a created government-run healt h insurance proposal in it toward the end, I will do what I really don't want to do, but I'll do it because I think it is the best thing it for our country and our future, and that is I will join the filibuster to stop that bill from passing the Senate.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: More senators care about the question of affordability, and for these senators, the public option has become an answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not shared any details of his health care reform bill, even with Democrats, but it does include this public option, the government-run health insurance option. He is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to determine what exactly it will cost and whether it adds to the deficit.

But he is doing head-counting right now, and judging by our counting of the counting, it's not going too well.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

A.B., do you get a sense that along with Lieberman, that there are other conservative Democrats, moderates, who are having increasing problems with the way this is being rolled out and what's in this bill?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: They don't know what's in the bill, and that's why he can't count heads. Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska, the former governor and also a former insurance commissioner, does not want to signal any kind of support or willingness to be onboard until he reads the bill. He doesn't know what the opt-out provision really means.

I think there is concern from Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and some concern from Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. If you count it up, there is just too many to say that he is even close if you combine them with Lieberman.

The thing is, for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, this was just an easy way to get the left off his back. It moves the train out of the station and it gets the Move On off his back. He is in a tough reelection in Nevada. He was under incredible pressure from the left. And this way he literally cannot lose for trying.

It probably won't pass the Senate. He can always crawl back to Olympia Snowe, Senator from Maine, the Republican who was on board for a triggered public option, and try to go with that.

But this isn't looking viable.

BAIER: Steve, it seems like this is setting up — nobody really knows what this opt-out means, that states could opt out of the public option, the government-run option.

Judd Gregg, the senator from New Hampshire, said that is like telling a kid he can opt out of his allowance. What state is going to opt out if the federal government is paying?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. And Judd Gregg is very getting good at these quips. Since he didn't take a position in the Obama administration, he is now the most quotable senator in opposition to Obama policies.

I think that is exactly right. The fact remains we don't know what's in the plan. I suspect, and it is just a suspicion, that Harry Reid is teeing this up so he can shift it to a trigger public option and call it a compromise and say Olympia Snowe is back in, we can get the other moderate Democrats to potentially come on board. The CBO is scoring that as well.

I suspect that's where he's going, but I don't think it solves the fundamental problem, though, that Democrats right now as a party on healthcare, everybody is mad at everybody else. It is amazing. The progressives are not happy with Nancy Pelosi and leadership. The moderates are not happy with Harry Reid or with Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi and Reid, I'm told, have had some very bitter disputes over the past few days about how exactly to proceed, what the timeline is going to be. The House is now going to be first, the Senate much, much later.

The Democratic Party seems like it's in disarray on this, the signature domestic policy item of the president.

BAIER: Speaking of the House, they may actually roll out their bill even though the Congressional Budget Office will not have dropped its numbers on that bill as of yet, but it may all happen tomorrow. We're waiting on confirmation on that.

Charles, it's interesting how this is playing out.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it's astonishing that people are talking about restructuring a sixth of the American economy and don't even have a bill, don't even have a scoring, don't even know what opting in and opting out means.

And here we are at a point where the president has said weeks ago that the time to debate is over. Well, how can you debate if you don't know what the plan is and what's in the plan and what it's going to cost?

I think the Reid gambit is about internal divided politics, about staying alive, appeasing his left. The best he can hope is that if he loses Lieberman on the public option, which he will, and he somehow holds all the other Democrats, then he goes to Olympia Snowe, he puts in a trigger which will be extremely weak, which means it will be triggered if it rains once in March, and then he gets the public option.

I think that's a three cushion shot in pool, but it's his hope. But I think in the end he doesn't really care. All he wants is the political cover of having proposed it.

BAIER: And you still believe that the public option, the government- run option is the camel's nose under the tent towards what the big picture is towards single payer? That's what you believe?

KRAUTHAMMER: It is what the left has said openly. It is the royal road to government-controlled healthcare. It is the only way to get there in a country that would resist it if you offered it openly and honestly.

BAIER: A.B., do you see this coming to a head before the end of the year? It seems like we're running out of legislative days as you look at both the Senate and the House calendar and how this is all going to come together.

STODDARD: We are. And the other thing that people are not talking about because the Democrats are trying to really create a united front and trying to create this idea of momentum and consensus, there is a real affordability question.

The House pay for it, the way they plan to pay for this, is unacceptable to the Senate, the Senate plan to pay for it unacceptable to the House.

And there is real concern that if you mandate the purchase of insurance, American families will be hit by a new tax and not able to come into the system without a heavy burden. And that is going to be something that is going to hit them so hard politically, they don't want to pass that either.

So how they resolve not only the abortion (ph) question, the public option question, but this question of whether or not people can really afford the overhaul is so fundamental and it is still hanging out there.

BAIER: Another bloody day in a region of the world causing big problems for the United States. We will talk about what is next in Pakistan and Afghanistan when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAH MAHMOOD QUERISHI, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: We will not buckle. We will fight you. We will fight you because we want peace and stability in Pakistan. You are on the run, and you know that. You think by attacking innocent people and life, you will shake our determination? No, sir, you will not!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The Pakistani foreign minister today addressing terrorists directly after a car bomb in Peshawar killed more than 90 people, that as Secretary Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad.

Also in Afghanistan today an attack on a United Nations guesthouse. Insurgents dressed as Afghan police killed at least 11 including five U.N. workers, one of them an American. The violence continues.

Also, we are getting word about a possible decision from the administration. Late tonight, getting senior military commanders telling us there may be a decision as soon as this week from the White House, and that the number may be 20,000.

You will remember that General Stan McChrystal asked for 40,000 troops. We are hearing the numbers 20,000. Here is the A.P., two officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because President Obama has not announced his decision, said the troop numbers were under a narrowed scenario, probably would be lower than McChrystal's preference, at least at the outset.

The official did not divulge exact numbers. Again, we're just hearing from military commanders that the number could be 20,000.

We're back with the panel — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Let me start by addressing what is happening in Pakistani. I think the bombings in the cities are obviously linked to the Pakistani army assault on south Waziristan, which is the stronghold of the Taliban in Pakistan.

And the reason it is important in terms of our decision on Afghanistan is this — if the Pakistanis are attacking the enemy in Pakistan, unless there are Americans or NATO or Afghans on the other side of the border, the Pakistanis will fail because there would be a haven on the Afghan side.

We always think of Pakistan as a place in which you create a haven for the Afghan bad guys that we are attacking, but it works in the other way as well. You have got to have hammer and anvil. And the hammer now in Pakistan is the Pakistani army.

But unless we secure the Afghan areas on the other side, the bad guys will relocate and have sanctuary in Afghanistan.

That's why the wars are linked, and that's why the increase in the violence now in Pakistan is linked intimately with our decision on Afghanistan. And I worry that if you adopt the McChrystal-light strategy, which is what you are suggesting AP is reporting...

BAIER: Well, no. We're reporting the numbers. AP is suggesting that it is a narrowed...

KRAUTHAMMER: A narrow strategy, holding the cities and the infrastructure and leaving the countryside to the enemy. I'm not sure if that would in any way succeed.

The real issue is what does McChrystal think, and would he accept the McChrystal-light as a viable strategy, or will he say that I can't conduct this in good honor and resign.

BAIER: Steve, these numbers that we're talking about come from senior military commanders. They are not nailed down. This isn't confirmed by the White House.

However, if this is true, and the indications are that there is some half and half proposal here, 20,000 instead of 40,000, what does that mean on the ground in Afghanistan, and what does it mean politically?

HAYES: I think it likely means that we're choosing to fail. I think how stark of a problem this is.

This feels like a political compromise, not a military strategy. You're talking about increasing troops modestly in the cities, but as Charles says, leaving the countryside, parts of the countryside open. Well, that's where the Taliban is regrouping. That's where they're regaining strength right now.

It is a combination of counterinsurgency strategy on one hand and a counterterrorism strategy on the other, and those strategies in very important way are self-contradicting. They have the same ultimate objective, but the tactics are very different along the way, and one complicates the way that the other is carried are out.

BAIER: A.B.?

STODDARD: I agree it is going to be seen — anything short of McChrystal's request is going to be seen as a political decision.

BAIER: And you would be surprised if it comes sooner than the election in Afghanistan?

STODDARD: The administration has made clear it was going to come around November 7, the date of the Afghan runoff, or afterwards.

And I think it would be surprising, given not only the NBC poll out yesterday showing six in 10 Americans would like this decision to be made after the runoff in Afghanistan and that taking time is the right thing to do, but I think also just the pressure from his liberal left within the Democratic Party to come out with this announcement before that runoff complicates things for the White House.

But anything —

BAIER: Do you think that factors in November 3?

STODDARD: No, no, the fact that the opponents in the Democratic Party to any kind of additional troops in Afghanistan want to see what happens with Karzai's reelection and the runoff want us to pause and want the administration to wait to make this decision, they're arguing, obviously, for withdrawal.

So it would be surprising to me if he came out with this before the date of the runoff after saying it was such an important factor and sending Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff, on the Sunday shows to say that. At the same time I'm not surprised he would try to split the loaf and go right down the murky middle.

KRAUTHAMMER: Let's remember, it's the president himself who said just a month and a half ago Afghanistan is a war of necessity. Well, if it is a war of necessity, you have to have success and you have to have victory in those terms.

And unless you think that McChrystal misunderstands the situation on the ground, I'm not sure how you could conclude that half of McChrystal's strategy, cities, only, is going to succeed.

BAIER: Obviously this is a huge story. We will be following it and nailing down all the numbers and the confirmation when we can.

That is it for the panel.

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