This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Are you for sale? How much? Well, how about your senator? Allegations are flying tonight about sweetheart deals for senators' votes.
Joining us live is Ceci Connolly, national staff writer for The Washington Post. Well, it certainly looks like some of the senators might be for sale.
CECI CONNOLLY, WASHINGTON POST: I'm going to let you say that, Greta, not me.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK, so just give me the facts, then. Who got what?
CONNOLLY: Well, as best as we can tell right now -- and I'm sure there's even more that we haven't dug up yet, but obviously, Ben Nelson, the senator from Nebraska, the final, elusive 60th vote that Harry Reid needed to seal this deal -- he got not only language on abortion and not having federal funding for abortion, which was a big priority for him, but he also got a big exemption on expanding Medicaid in his state. Most states have to share that cost with the federal government. Nebraska won't ever have to pay a penny of that expansion forever.
VAN SUSTEREN: So all the rest of us will be paying now for Nebraska. Had we had a senator -- we live in the District of Columbia, or at least I do -- but had we had a senator who was a holdout, we'd be better off.
CONNOLLY: Well, potentially. But you know, there are some of the late deciders -- you can look at somebody like Senator Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas.
VAN SUSTEREN: What did she get?
CONNOLLY: Just about nothing so far.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that's stupid!
CONNOLLY: Exactly! So you know, now, Mary Landrieu, Louisiana, I'm sure you heard all the talk about...
VAN SUSTEREN: Three hundred.
CONNOLLY: ... the "Louisiana purchase." That was about $300 million, much of it going to Katrina victims. So it's all in the eye of the beholder. Some people say some of these things are good things. We know that in a couple...
VAN SUSTEREN: If you live there!
CONNOLLY: If you live there, absolutely. But some of it is also probably decent policy. There's more money that's being put into some community health clinics around the country.
VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, but you can it put in my health clinic!
VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, like, that may be the answer, but what about my health clinic? I mean, like, you know, it's -- you know, that's the problem is that, you know, you hold out to the very end -- and in some ways, if I were in Nebraska tonight, I'd be, you know, high-fiving Ben Nelson, high-fiving Senator Landrieu in Louisiana, but I don't live those two places. How about -- how about Connecticut? How'd Senator Dodd do?
CONNOLLY: Senator Dodd did very well for his home state, and there's a good reason for that. He's in a very tough re-election campaign, as you probably know, next year, Greta. And the White House wants to help him hang onto that Democratic seat up in Connecticut.
VAN SUSTEREN: So I'm paying for Senator Dodd to hang out in his seat (INAUDIBLE) I don't even vote in Connecticut.
CONNOLLY: That's entirely possible.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's -- it's extraordinary, when you look at this -- I know this is not unusual. The Republicans do that when they're in power, but now we're really learning how the sausage is made because there's such a spotlight on this. We're really seeing sort of the underbelly of...
CONNOLLY: Well, I mean, just this very same week, we had Senator George Voinovich from Ohio, a Republican who's getting ready to retire, put out a press release bragging about a good bit of pork that he's gotten for his home state for a defense appropriations bill. So you're absolutely right, this is both parties. But right now, the spotlight's really on the Democrats and the health care bill.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, did any Republican, as best we know because we're just sort of going through this bill -- any Republican get any, like, fancy good deal like the Democratic senators?
CONNOLLY: Well, interestingly, there are some Republicans and their states -- in particular, I can think of Utah and Wyoming -- that are going to benefit from a very 11th-hour change that has to do with something that they dubbed "frontier counties." These are basically a handful of states out in the western part of the country that are very rural, have very low- density population areas. They're going to get a boost in some of their Medicare rates. So while it was primarily intended for North Dakota and South Dakota, with their Democratic senators, Republican senators from Wyoming and Utah are also going to be the beneficiaries of that change.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why does this look so unseemly? I mean -- you know, I mean, and I understand, you know, this is how it's done, I understand both parties do it. But it just looks like everybody's for sale. And I know you can't reflect on it. You only do the facts. But still, there's -- there's something about it.
CONNOLLY: Well, I think that the way that we really have to examine these is go through and say, Does this make some good policy sense? I understand your point about...
VAN SUSTEREN: But I'm not getting the benefit of it because my senator wasn't in last!
CONNOLLY: Well, and that may well be. And I live in the district, too, so I know all of your complaints about being here and all of our taxation without representation here in the District of Columbia. But there are all sorts of inequities all over this country, and trying to fix a couple of them may make sense.
VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, I know it's done all the time, both parties and everything. It's just the spotlight happens to be on this one. Anyway, Ceci, as always, it's nice to see you.
Well, President Barack Obama has a message for critics -- Stop your carping.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to be clear. For all those who are continually carping about how this is somehow a big spending government bill, this cuts our deficit by $132 billion the first 10 years and by over $1 trillion in the second.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Just in case you were wondering, we looked up the "carping." The definition of "carping" is, "marked by or inclined to querulous and often perverse criticism."
So Senator Judd Gregg voted against the bill and he says we are running up a debt we can't pay. Is Senator Gregg carping? We asked.
VAN SUSTEREN: Before we get to the numbers, are you carping?
SEN. JUDD GREGG, R - N.H.: Well, it's magic math he's using because in the first 10 years, of course, he matches 10 years of tax increases and 10 years of Medicare cuts against five or six years of spending. Second 10 years, they make some really outrageous assumptions in the area of Medicare cuts, basically that you can cut a trillion dollars of Medicare in order to get these numbers. So I don't believe they work. I believe, in the end, this bill is going to -- unfortunately, because it's creating a massive new entitlement using Medicare funds to basically fund it -- it's going to end up adding to our deficit significantly.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, he used the term "carping," though, which I think sort of reflects the sort of -- at least the spirit that we think is going on in Capitol Hill, a lot of hostility. He didn't say disagree, he said carping. ``Carping'' -- at least I interpret it to mean you're complaining.
GREGG: Well, you know, isn't it somebody's job to point out what's really going to happen here to America? You know, we have this very serious problem in this country. We're running up a lot of debt that we can't afford to pay, which means we pass on to our kids a government they can't afford to support, which means that their standard of living goes down. And when you increase the government -- and there's no argument about this. When you increase the government by $2.3 trillion, you're creating a much bigger burden on our kids, and I think it's worth talking about, and we've only had, like, 48 hours to do it under the new bill.
VAN SUSTEREN: What is -- and I realize you're a Republican who's voted against -- at least, so far, against everything that's come along. But if this is such a great bill, why can't we have it now? I mean, once you pass it, because it looks inevitable it's going to be passed, why can't it go into effect? Is it because it isn't that great, or is it because it takes so long to implement it as a practical matter? Why are we paying now to get it later?
GREGG: Politics. I mean, obviously, if they put in place the Medicare cuts from day one, half a trillion dollars, seniors would be extremely upset. So they put it out two or three years, and as to its immediate impact. If they put the fees and penalties in place that are in this, it would be a problem.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that sounds diabolical. Not -- I mean, you know -- you know, this is -- this is such an important bill to so many Americans, whether you're for it or against it or just simply confused, if the point is sort of saying, Look, we pay now and we're not going to get it for four years, and you're saying it's politics, that sounds downright diabolical. That doesn't seem like, you know, Let's fix the problem.
GREGG: Well, diabolical may be too strong a word. But clearly, what's happening here is that there's a political game going on, and the game is this. They want people to feel the real impact of this until after the next election, even though we know it's going to fundamentally change the way the government functions and the way you get your health care.
We know under this bill that after it's fully phased in, three or four years from now, that basically, a lot of people who have private insurance are going to end up on a quasi-public plan, that a lot of people who get Medicare are going to find that their Medicare providers are no longer in business because they can't afford the reimbursement system that's been cut so dramatically. And we know it's going to have an impact on the delivery of health care.
We also know the government's going to get a lot bigger. And I don't think they want people to really appreciate the full implications of this bill until a few years out, when they'll -- when the -- when the actual bill will be in the rear-view mirror and they'll be past a couple of elections.
VAN SUSTEREN: How'd you get Senator Ben Nelson's vote?
GREGG: You'd have to ask Ben Nelson. There's obviously a lot of representations. I have no idea.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, the -- you know, the last senator sort of (INAUDIBLE) out always seems to get the best deal.
VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, it's something that's sort of, like -- you know, it's almost smart to hold out.
GREGG: Yes, there's something to be said for that in this business, isn't there. It appears the last senator gets the most baggage on the train. There's, unfortunately, a lot of baggage on this train. This bill is passed with a lot of special interest deals being done, which means that, probably, the policy wasn't all that good or the policy would have carried it on its own.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the president said that this was above special interests. Was there special interests involved in this?
GREGG: Well, there were clearly special deals cut for states. Louisiana got a special deal. Texas got a special deal. Florida got a special deal. Nebraska got a special deal and New York got a special deal, all in different areas, that we know about. We haven't been able to totally analyze the bill because we've only seen it for a few days. And obviously, those states have key senators, and I suspect there was some issue of making them comfortable with the bill that required that those types of special deals put in.
VAN SUSTEREN: How come the...
GREGG: Be put in.
VAN SUSTEREN: How come the insurance -- I mean, the stock's of the insurance companies soared on Friday, went up again today. Is that just coincidental, or do you think that's directly related to this? And did the insurance industry get a special deal ?
GREGG: That's a good question. I think we're going to find out over the time what the real answer to that is. I suspect there are winners and losers in the insurance industry here. And it's pretty hard to predict right now who the winners will be, who the losers will be. Obviously, the market picked a few winners today, I think. But maybe it's just the fact that they're seeing that the government's going to expand by $2.3 trillion. They're going to spend this much more money, and they figure the insurance industry's going to get a certain percentage of that. I just don't know the answer.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.
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