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Special Report

Panel on Possibility of Democrats Using Reconcilliation to Pass Health Care

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 3, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For us to start over now could simply lead to delay t hat could last for another decade or even more. The American people and the U.S. economy just can't wait that long.

So, no matter which approach you favor, I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform.

MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This is really not an argument between Democrats and Republicans. It's an argument between Democrats and the American people.

ERIC CANTOR, R-VA., HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: They use reconciliation at their peril. I have said before that if Nancy Pelosi rams this bill through on reconciliation, she will lose her majority in the House in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, President Obama outlining his plan, saying health care reform must be passed now by Congress no matter what.

What about this speech today and the way forward? Let's bring in our panel, Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Kirsten Powers, columnist of the New York Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, the president delivered this speech, again choosing to use health care professionals as the backdrop in part, doctors and nurses up on the stage with him, and delivered a speech that he has delivered before in many, many phrases.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The staging was a little bit staged and stiff. But I think the process is exactly what we predicted a week ago.

The president and the leaders in the House and the Senate had decided they are going to go to reconciliation, which is essentially we are going to do it one party, a party line vote. That's what they are going for.

But they wanted to present it to the American citizenry as having tried to reach out. That's why you had the charade of the summit last week, seven hours of discussion when it was already pre-cooked that that wouldn't change anything.

That's why you had yesterday, the release of the changes that Obama was heralding as leaning over towards Republicans. For example, tort reform, which are absolutely insignificant and almost comical. With tort reform he is offering for a problem that we heard earlier in the program costs the American medical system $100 billion, $200 billion a year.

He is offering a few pilot programs which are utterly meaningless and that will amount to one half of 100th of one percent of the cost of Obama care.

But that's part of the deal. He wants to appear to be offering to incorporate Republican proposals. And now the pivot, which we had today. Obama says I tried, I reached out, Republicans are stubborn, oppositionists and nihilistic. I'm going to go for it on a party line vote.

For a man who campaigned as the man who would transcend partisanship, it's rather ironic that this is what he has decided to do.

BAIER: Did he, Kirsten, change any minds today? We've talked how important this step is in the House. Today, late in the day, Bart Stupak, Democratic congressman from Michigan, talked to Fox Business Network and abortion funding and the concern moving forward there. Take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE BART STUPAK, D-MICH.: If it is the proposal that the Senate passed and nothing has changed in it, the Senate health care bill, if that's the one they are presenting in reconciliation to the members of the House of Representatives, I will bet you that won't even come close to passing. It will be defeated soundly.

Members do not want to vote for it. Not only do they not like the bill. The process has been tainted, and we're not going to attach our names to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Congressman Stupak says he has 12, 13 members siding with him. How tough is this, and did the president change the ballgame at all today?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK POST: I don't know if the president changed the ballgame that much. I think what some people are looking for was for some leadership, and I think he is finally showing some leadership on the issue. And they think maybe they will get a little cover from him.

I would go with Nancy Pelosi over Bart Stupak, frankly. And Nancy Pelosi has told the White House that she has the votes and she's going to get the votes, and she is pretty reliable when it comes to these things.

I think they are hoping they are going to pick up some Democrats who voted no last time who might vote for this bill because it has more cost containment in it, it's a little more conservative. And they think that they can wrangle the votes, and Bart Stupak, most of those members he is talking about, they will be able to do abortion fix in reconciliation, hopefully, and that they will be able to bring them on.

BAIER: You know, Fred, there are 52 Blue Dogs, fiscally conservative Democrats, 49 of them come from districts that John McCain won in 2008. There is another issue of how many who voted yes last time might not want to walk that plank this time.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Great opportunity for them. They voted yes back before Thanksgiving in the House and it gives them to a chance to vote no.

The bill is even less popular now than it was back then by, I don't know, 10, 15, maybe 20 percentage points. CNN poll shows three-to-one the American people are against this bill. They would rather start over or do nothing. So, there is no percentage in their voting again.

I don't believe Nancy Pelosi is anywhere near having enough votes. If you are going to rely on her, Kirsten, I think you are in a lot of trouble. There is no incentive for anybody to vote for this.

This was Obama's 35th speech on health care. The more he gives the less popular it becomes. And I don't think this one helped him at all. He's seen 10 of the no votes from the last time at the White House tonight, one of whose brother Jim Matheson of Utah, his brother just got an appeals court judgeship out in the tenth circuit just named for that. But I'm not implying anything, just an interesting factoid today I thought I would throw in there.

KRAUTHAMMER: The coincidence is kind of astonishing.

BARNES: I think the timing is very, very interesting.

Look, there is nothing in it for people to vote for this. It's unpopular. And if they can get out of it, they will.

And think of this, if I were a House member, what would I would worry about the most, and that is voting for the Senate bill and then expecting the Senate to make changes in it through reconciliation.

You could just see senators there, Bret, saying, well, you know, they passed the bill and we have health care bill and, you know, reconciliation, if we do that now that will blow up the Senate. It will be hard in years to come and we may be in the minority and, you know, it would just — it would be so divisive. Maybe we just shouldn't do it.

BAIER: We have seen a lot of tape back in 2005 of Democrats, and we have played a lot of it here. There is a new piece of tape, Charles, that came out today, of Senator Obama referring to health care specifically and how to get it through Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If we want to transform the country though, that requires a sizeable majority.

We have you got to break out what I call the 50-plus-one pattern presidential politics. Maybe you eke out a victory 50 plus one. Then you can't govern. You know, you get Air Force One and I mean there are a lot of nice perks. But you can't deliver on health care. We're not going to pass universal health care with a 50-plus-one strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: He is trying, right?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, that's one of the reasons his numbers are now in the low 40s. This is a man who ran again as the man who would clean up Washington, undo its wicked ways, banish the lobbyists, take out all the machinations and corruption and backroom deals.

And here he is sort of demanding that members of the House and the Senate ram through a procedure that its inventor, Robert Byrd, has said would be violation of the spirit and intent of the law, budget reconciliation, if it were to be rammed through this way.

Look, I'm not disillusioned by Obama because I was never illusioned. And those who believed in him, yes, we can means, yes, I can do anything I damn well please if I have the one vote majority.

BAIER: Kirsten, finally, the White House points out that this health care proposal has passed the Senate with 60 votes, has passed the House already in a House health care plan, and they say, you know, we are going to move forward on the simple majority. Politically, is this going to get really ugly for this White House and the Democratic Congress?

POWERS: I think on the face of it, I actually don't think the average American cares that much about reconciliation.

But what will happen is the Republicans will demagogue it and they will turn it into something that they have already done, which is pretend that we never used reconciliation, pretend that they never used reconciliation, pretend that the last 16 out of 21 times we used reconciliation it wasn't Republicans that were doing it.

And the White House will be caught flat-footed like they always are. And I think that — and then next thing you know Americans are going to believe that something really dirty just went down in Washington when, in fact, it is pretty standard operating procedure.

BARNES: Yes, but the good news is we will never get there, because it's not going to pass the House, you know. You believe in Nancy Pelosi — has she produced in public a single no vote from last time that says I'm voting yes this time?

POWERS: They have about nine people that they're hoping —

BARNES: I can tell you ones in public. You saw one, Bart Stupak, Jim Oberstar, Bill Lipinski of Chicago, Cao, the Republican who voted for it.

BAIER: All right, down the line really quick, does it pass the House, the first step.

BARNES: No.

POWERS: Yes.

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes.

BAIER: That's a large pause for Charles.

POWERS: He didn't want to agree with me.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's right.

BAIER: And then does it get through?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it fails because of the dense foliage in the Senate. The procedure is so arcane and complicated, I think it's going to get stopped there and not in the House.

Can I make one point? Reconciliation has never been used for anything of this size and scope, nor in 200 years have we ever had anything of the size and scope pass on a pure party line vote.

POWERS: That's not true.

BAIER: We have more on health care reform news on the "Special Report" homepage. You can hear Kirsten on the online show tonight finish this thought.

(LAUGHTER)

Much more on this topic, and you just log on there. You can vote on the "your choice online" right there on the side, the poll. Check it out during the break. Come back in three minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLES RANGEL, D-N.Y.: In order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have, this morning, sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence.

JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: There is nothing in the rules of the House that refers to temporarily stepping aside. Either you are the chairman or you are not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, there is a question about that as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, powerful Chairman Charlie Rangel stepped aside temporarily today as Ethics Committee investigations continue. We're back with the panel. Fred, what about this?

BARNES: I suspect he won't be back. This is one of the lesser charges. It's one of taking these flights that were paid for down to wherever that conference was. I forget where it was.

The more serious charge is the one that he didn't report earnings on his tax returns and pay taxes. Now, the Ethics Committee hasn't gotten that one yet or hasn't ruled on it. And look, he had been admonished on this one. If he had to step down for this — and there are other things, too, his apartments in Harlem and so on. There are a variety of things.

So, when they are going to come along, bing, bing, bing, bing, he will be admonished to worse on those. I think Pete Stark, who is stepping in now to be the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, will be there for a while.

BAIER: Kirsten, is this the beginning of a narrative of a culture of corruption? You have back in 2006 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talking about her efforts on the ethics front. And then she was asked about Charlie Rangel specifics just this past weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: We will make this the most honest, ethical, and open Congress in history.

It was in the violation of the rule of the House. It was not something that jeopardized our country in any way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Is this starting to become a narrative?

POWERS: Well, for a narrative, you need to have more than one person. But I think that certainly people will be looking for the narrative, and the fact that she held this up as being we are going to be so ethical and then sits there and says something that is just unbelievable that she thinks that's an OK thing to say.

And the fact that she stood by Rangel when I think it was pretty clear what was going on. And I think she still wanted to continue to stand by Rangel, frankly and was sort — her hand was forced and he left.

I agree with Fred. I think he is gone. I don't think —

BAIER: Gone from the chairmanship?

POWERS: Yes. And I think what's coming down the pike is going to be much worse than this little admonishment that he just got.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I would agree. I think you are right, Kirsten. You do need more than one example in the House.

What we have had this year, of course, is the governorships, Illinois, and New York, other places that have been rather messy. But it's not yet attached to the Democrats as a party and certainly not the party in the House and the Senate.

If it does, they are in deep trouble, because in the wave election of 16 years ago, if was not just the failure of health care that triggered the demise of the Democrats. It was the culture of corruption. There was — and that, once it sticks, it's hard to get rid of.

I must say in Rangel's — I wouldn't say defense. He had to step down if you are the chairman of the tax writing committee and you have these offenses pending accusation of not paying your taxes or declaring income. It's serious stuff.

Nonetheless, these are not political felonies. It's an abuse of power. If you are in power for as long as he is, you stretch the perks a little bit. And in a sense, it's a tragedy. He has been an iconic, historic congressman, and I take no pleasure in seeing his, what I think is probably his slow exit under these terms.

Schadenfreude is reserved for the evil, not the people who have overstepped, as I think is essentially what he did.

BARNES: You know, purely on for Republicans getting along with the chairman, they get along — they got along OK with Rangel. Pete Stark? They hate him. He hates them. It will be a dogfight.

BAIER: Explosive at least. More on this on the online show as well.

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