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Special Report

Panel on Possibility of Democrats Using Reconciliation to Pass Health Care Bill

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 25, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: In a month's time or a few weeks' time or six weeks' time , we could actually resolve something. And if we can't, then I think we have got to go ahead and make some decisions, and then that's what elections are for.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's time we do something and we're going to do it.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I was discouraged by the outcome. I think it's pretty clear that the majority, including the president, want to continue with basically the Senate bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Senate minority lea der there, the Senate majority leader reacting to the day-long health care summit which lasted more than seven and a half hours. Late in the day we heard from the White House senior advisor David Axelrod about this whole thing of pushing the Senate bill through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The American people, I think, want a straight up vote on this. They don't want procedural games. They want a majority vote on this one way or the other. Hopefully we can get that done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: But to get a majority vote you would have to do the procedural reconciliation, which essentially means 51 votes for the Senate instead of the normal 60.

So what about this day? Let's bring in our panel, Tucker Carlson, editor of thedailycaller.com, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Let's start, Charles, with, I guess, the end of the day, because we really learned everything at the end of the day.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: After seven and a half hours, the president reveals the purpose practically in the last minute, in which he said we're going to give it a month or so. We're going to see if we can agree.

Obviously they are not going to agree. Obviously this was all about giving the appearance of reaching out for other ideas. And it was all about setting the premise for a pivot to reconciliation, i.e., meaning the Democrats are not going to try to ram it through on a procedural trick in the Senate and try cobble the votes required in the House.

Now, I think the Democrats actually helped themselves in the process. They did have a seven and a half hour show in which it appeared as if they were genuinely open. I think it was quite cynical, but I think it allowed at least them to argue to independents who want to see a kind of an ecumenical effort, to argue that we tried. We went the last mile, and we failed. So in order to get health care reform, we had to go by this partisan procedure.

However, on the other hand, the Republicans really helped themselves. The argument against the party of no, they have no ideas, they are against anything, they're nihilists.

In fact, they spent seven hours, I think, presenting a very strong case. They're knowledgeable. They have ideas. They are interested in reform. But they have differences.

Lamar Alexander was dazzling. Paul Ryan was rapier sharp in rebutting all of the smoke and mirrors that the Democrats had presented. I think it's going to help the Republicans in November on their image. But in the short run it's going to help the Democrats in trying to ram the thing through.

BAIER: Thoughts?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: The purpose of this summit for the president was to, one, give the American people two things that they really want, bipartisanship and transparency. That's what the American people like to see, cameras were rolling, and he was reaching across the aisle.

The other purpose, the more important purpose, was to somehow use the summit to buck up his own Democrats so that they would get the votes they need in the House, in particular, which is going to be the bigger lift, and then try to get 51 votes in the Senate for the strategy of reconciliation.

I don't know if he accomplished that second purpose. It's hard to tell. I think it was a big risk for the president in that he gave the Republicans an equal -- he had them on the same stage as him. It was different than when he went to Baltimore and was talking from a podium.

I think that the Republicans made their arguments very well. They had seven hours to talk about all the reasons --

BAIER: You say he reached across the aisle. But he ended the day saying baby steps don't get you where you want to go. Despite the fact that Republicans said from the beginning, almost every one said we need to scrap the existing bill and we'll come with you on a number of different points.

LIASSON: What I mean by bipartisanship is the American people want to see both parties sitting down together, and that's what it accomplished. It was pretty much not too much more than that. The Republicans don't want to work with this bill as a starting point. They want to scrap it and start over, and the president doesn't want to scrap it.

I do want to take issue with one thing Charles said. Reconciliation is not a procedural trick. That implies it's illegitimate. Reconciliation has been used many times. You can say it's not wise in this instance on a big piece of social legislation. You can say there are many reasons not to do it, but it's not a trick.

BAIER: It's used for budget measures.

LIASSON: Yes, and it was used for welfare reform, it was used for Medicaid. It's been used for many things. Now, it's not used every day, and clearly the preference for big pieces of social legislation is not to use it, but it's not a trick.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's a trick because the Senator Byrd who invented it and who talked about it recently said it was never intended for anything like this. It is a trick in the sense that it was attempted. It was designed as a way to harmonize budgets and cut taxes -- raise taxes and cut spending.

It was never designed as a way to execute a reform for a sixth of the economy.

BAIER: Tucker, overview of the day.

TUCKER CARLSON, EDITOR, THEDAILYCALLER.COM: The White House is making the same bet they always make, which is if they just get the president out there, people will fall in love. They will be enthralled by the power and the magnetism of his personality.

This is the same bet they made going into Copenhagen trying to win the Olympics for Chicago. It's the same bet they made early on at the joint address to the joint session of Congress. They make it every time. And every time the verdict comes back, which is this guy may be charming, but it's not enough. The public just doesn't buy the program.

I think this time is more alluded to he may have actually pushed it too far. He did see diminished in this forum, I thought, because he was on, as someone wrote to us today, he looked like just another guy in subcommittee hearing in Rayburn.

But I also think his tone was off. Time and again a guy of amazing, remarkable self-esteem, he got highhanded with people. He got highhanded with John McCain. I know we are not allowed to call this president arrogant but I thought frankly it made him look that way, and I thought it made him look bad.

BAIER: Does he win votes with the American people, Mara with this.

LIASSON: I don't think he wins votes with the health care plan with the American people. I think the American people like the cameras to be rolling. They wanted this.

I think the audience was not actually the American people. He needs to win votes among Democrats if they're going to pursue the strategy that they always planned to do, which is this reconciliation strategy.

The bigger lift, as I said they have to get -- they don't need 218 anymore because the House has shrunk recently, but they still need a majority of votes in the House, and Nancy Pelosi doesn't have them yet. And the question is did anything happen today to make her job easier, and I don't know.

BAIER: OK, more on the health care summit after the break. We will look at the political ramifications of this summit when we come back in three minutes.

In the meantime you can check out our website there, FOXnews.com/Special Report. We have videos on there as well as past panels and something we call "extra grapes" from the "Grapevine." Check it out on the break. We will see you on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: They want us to go back to the beginning. They want us not to do this kind of legislating.

OBAMA: Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election is over.

MCCAIN: I am reminded of that every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: It got heated a couple times during the health care summit back and forth, a couple of times between President Obama and John McCain, and it started with the president walking into Blair House saying he was all about listening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you have a brief comment?

OBAMA: I'm looking forward to listening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: That's what he said. Then we had the breakdown according to John Boehner's office. The Democrats and President Obama spoke for almost four hours and Republicans spoke for about two hours in the total timeframe. There were a couple discussions about timing throughout the summit.

We are back with the panel about the politics and the style involved here. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I thought it was rather interesting the president risked his prestige in doing. Let's remember, look at the optics of this. Two months ago is he standing in the Congress on the podium in the House of Representatives addressing the Congress. He has literally at its feet the whole Congress, the Supreme Court, the generals, and he is speaking to the nation on television. He gives this speech. This is in December on health care.

And he strikes out. He gets nowhere on it. So here he is now two months later, and he is literally at the same level as the members of the House and the Senate. He has given up the aura of the presidency, which is half king, half prime minister, and he is now at the level of prime minister toe to toe with members of a Congress.

So he diminishes his aura, and I think it doesn't help him in the long run.

And then he gets, at the same time he is so imperious and so self- confident that he nonetheless acts as the arbiter of what is legitimate and what's not. I mean, he would be saying, well, that's a talking point and that's a legitimate point.

You know, if you win the presidency, you win the White House, you win Air Force One, you get a personal chef, but you do not become the arbiter of legitimacy in American discourse. And that's what he appointed himself as.

BAIER: Tucker, everybody had, it seemed, a personal story. Somebody back home they just talked to, read a letter, something. We heard a lot of those stories throughout the day. Some are affective, obviously, some, at the end of the day, it seemed like we heard a lot.

CARLSON: George Miller not only has two artificial hips but a kidney stone. It turns out Louise Slaughter has a friend who borrowed her sister's false teeth. One of Obama girls had meningitis, the other asthma. Barack Obama's mother passed away.

All of this stuff is a species of moral blackmail -- I know someone who is suffering. I am suffering, therefore, you must accede to my point or you are a bad person. It's ludicrous.

I have to say, since I can't control myself, all the mistakes the Democrats made -- expected. The specter of spectacle of watching Republicans demagogue on Medicare, very distressing to see Republicans get up there and say you, President Obama, want to take money from seniors.

That is not a stand on principle. That is something that Democrats have deny for generations. It's been repugnant when they did it. A lot of Republicans recognize that we need to get Medicare under control or we will be bankrupt. And I wish they had said that today.

BAIER: We talked a little bit, Mara, about the politics here going forward. As you look at the latest FOX opinion dynamics poll just out today -- asked do nothing or pass a bill this year, you see do nothing there 50 percent, pass a bill this year 46 percent.

And then if no compromise is reached at today's health care summit, what should the president do? And that's the drop the bill and start over 59 percent to 34 percent. Similar polls in a number of different organizations.

LIASSON: You know, those polls don't tell Democrats what will happen to them if they do nothing next November. In other words, that's all how the American people feel right now. But a Democrat has to ask himself, if I go home to the voters, having already voted, many of them for a bill just like this one, and nothing to show for it, am I better off or worse off?

The Democrats are facing a really difficult problem. Either way is pretty bad for them in November. But they have to decide which is worse, to have cast all these votes and have nothing to show for it and look like we can't govern, we can't be effective, or to pass something, have the courage of our convictions, and go out and try to sell it.

I mean, I'm not saying that passing an unpopular bill is a good thing to do, but I feel that not passing anything for the Democrats is marginally politically worse. I'm not saying it's going to be good for them to do it. I'm just saying I think it's worse for them, and that is clearly what the house is going to be arguing.

BAIER: Were you surprised you didn't hear a Republican saying, hey, this summit is great, but we should have a jobs summit?

LIASSON: Well, yes. I mean, that would have been a good thing to do.

BAIER: Charles, final thoughts?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, it was a day of theater. I think the president accomplished giving the appearance of reaching across the aisle, but his audience is the Democrats in the House and the Senate. He might marginally have advanced the chance of getting it through.

Just one point on Medicare, the Democrats are -- it would be demagogic if you were to cut Medicare in the name of saving it and you oppose that. But what's happening here is Medicare is being cut in order to subsidize a new entitlement.

And that is legitimate to attack as incredibly imprudent and is not at all item demagogic. And if that is what the Republicans are arguing, and I think most of them are, I think it's good argument against these cuts.

BAIER: And Congressman Paul Ryan pointing out that the money is being used twice, to shore up Medicare and to spend on another program.

KRAUTHAMMER: And pretending that Medicare will be shored up at the same time, which of course is impossible.

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