All-Star Panel: What's next in Capitol Hill standoff?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 15, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R – OH, HOUSE SPEAKER: Our leadership team met with our members today trying to find a way forward in a bipartisan way that will continue to provide fairness to the American people under ObamaCare. There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do.

SEN. HARRY REID, D - NV, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We felt blind-sided by news from the House. But this isn't the first time. Extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to torpedo the Senate's bipartisan progress with a bill that can't pass the Senate, can't pass the Senate and won't pass the Senate.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, it doesn't look like that bill will pass the House either. In part there are two conservative organizations just came out within the past few minutes, Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action statement saying, quote, "The proposed deal on this Bill will do nothing to stop ObamaCare's massive new entitlements from taking root -- radically changing the nature of American health care. Heritage Action opposes the House proposal and will include it as a key vote in our legislative scorecard."

Freedom Works just moments ago said "Vote no on the House leadership's proposed amendment…which would raise the debt ceiling, fully fund the government and fully fund ObamaCare while doing nothing to provide Americans relief from the Washington health care takeover."

So here we are. This is what square one looks like. Let's bring in our panel, Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, Juan Williams, columnist with The Hill, and syndicated columnist George Will. OK, Rich, what do you think?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, quite a day in the House. The leadership initially in the morning and early afternoon had a package that they thought they could pass. It turned out they couldn't pass it. They come up with a new package, which is the one that they now appear not to have the votes for, that was really just stripped down when you got down to it to clean temporary debt ceiling increase and clean temporary CR with a so-called Vitter amendment on top of it.

BAIER: Explain that, the clean CR – continuing resolution would fund the government until December 15th, the clean debt ceiling would go to February 7 increase, and then the Vitter amendment dealt with ObamaCare in that all Congress members and their staffs and all administration officials and their staff would be included without subsidies.

LOWRY: Right. They have to go on the ObamaCare exchanges and they can't get subsidies, which they were getting through a lawless ruling by the Obama administration. So supporters of this approach thought it was a pretty good way to put Harry Reid in a tough spot because stripping the Vitter amendment out of that measure would be a hard vote for Democrats. But instead it looks as though with the opposition of these outside groups on the right that Boehner won't even be able to get it out of the House.

BAIER: OK, Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: So I think what you just heard described is a war within the Republican ranks. And the idea that you have these outside groups putting pressure on Boehner again is evidence. You know, John Boehner, as attractive a man and interesting man as he is, is not really in charge here and not exercising power. He can't get his troops in line as the speaker, Eric Cantor, the whip, can't get them in that second position.

So what you have here is a moment also where it seems as if they have put things in. Nancy Pelosi today called it, you know, sabotage. But they put things in like trying to tell the Treasury Department how -- what they could or could not do.

BAIER: Well, you know what that was. That was an effort in increasing the debt ceiling when they get to February 7th to say the treasury secretary could not use extraordinary measures there. They put that in apparently because they didn't want it to be dragged on into the primary season ahead of 2014.

WILLIAMS: Right, but you can't just use this as an opportunity, especially given the urgency of the moment, to start grabbing authority from other agencies of government. Obviously you're going to get people fighting. So the question is, are you serious or not?

BAIER: What now?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, what Heritage Action and Freedom Works have done is dramatized how the Republican leadership because of Ted Cruz lost management of expectations. Cruz and his cohort inflamed the Republican base with the utterly unrealistic expectation that ObamaCare could be defunded, repealed, stopped. In fact, they can't.

So what Republicans now feel baffled whereas in fact they should feel empowered. Three years ago we were talking about the Simpson-Bowles approach, the framework was going to be you would cut some entitlements or cut the growth of entitlements in exchange for tax increases. Now the argument has shifted radically in Republicans favor because of the sequester. Now it is we will lighten up perhaps on the sequester caps, giving Democrats billions to be spent now, in exchange for trillions cut in the out years.

Jeb Hensarling, wonderful congressman from Dallas, head of the Financial Services Committee, says Republicans today without either the White House or the Senate have been more successful because of the sequester in bending the cost curve of government than Republicans were when Bush was president, and for four and a half years they had all three focuses of power.

BAIER: That's not out of the cards because if they go to the conference committee, if they finally pass through a funding bill that gets them to December 15th, they have the House budget conferees and the Senate budget conferees come together. Democrats would like to end the sequester. Republicans have other ideas about entitlements and tax reform and other things. Rich, that's their, I guess, endgame.

LOWRY: Yeah. George has made this point repeatedly and he's been absolutely correct. As long as Republicans don't lose the sequester in this process, it is not a complete debacle. And if the can is kicked down the road a couple months, the Democrats hate the sequester so much that it is possible to get a deal, even perhaps a deal that effects ObamaCare. It's not inconceivable to me that you could have a delay on the individual mandate and exchange of some relaxation of the sequester cuts, which would be a big deal and nice win for Republicans.

BAIER: Juan, I think we still have a live shot on Capitol Hill.  We've just getting some video of staffers rolling in large carts of pizza, pizza boxes.


BAIER: And there's a quick shot of Paul Ryan. I don't know if he was eating the pizza, but it looks like they may be in for a long night, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Well, let's hope so because that would indicate they're working. There's the potential for something to get done.

BAIER: That's the Rules Committee room and no one's there.

WILLIAMS: Right. The reality to me is on the sequester, which is a major item, is that Republicans too have said this is a reckless way to go about government. And it's about budgeting. Many Republicans very upset about the impact it's had on the Pentagon, on defense spending in this country. But when you look at it from the Democrats perspective, it is absolutely taking away the guts of the social safety net for so many programs.

BAIER: Well, the president and Democrats have a part in this. They could have let this flexibility bill go through to enable each agency to decide how to cut the fat in each agency instead of doing the across the board sequester cut, but they chose not to do that.

WILLIAMS: You mean back originally.

BAIER: Yeah. I mean, that's where we are.

WILLIAMS: No. But what the point here is why now. Part of the objection by the way to those deadlines was that you would allow the second wave of sequesters then to hit come January if you didn't in fact say we're going to have to have a budget before January 15th.

So what you're getting is here all of these ancillary events piled on when you should be looking at what is at issue at the moment, which is opening the government, and let us get the debt ceiling raised so that we don't deal with these negatives. But instead you have, I think, and again, I think we're ignoring, you know, the elephant in the room, literally the Republican elephant in the room, which is you have these outside powers, I suppose Heritage and Freedom Works and all the rest are raising a ton of money tonight saying we're standing by principle while the government remains closed.

BAIER: George?

WILL: Harry Reid just called extreme the House provision that would have income verification for those getting subsidies under ObamaCare. Now, income verification is an attempt by Republicans to put back into ObamaCare what was there. The Department of Health and Human Services wrote criteria for this, and then of course, as they do with everything inconvenient, they waived them. So far from changing ObamaCare, the Republican House, those extremists, jihadist suicide vest wearing people, said let's restore ObamaCare --

LOWRY: Republicans have done less to change the -- to settle the law of the land is the phrase we've heard over and over again than the President of the United States has, who doesn't treat it as the law of land. He treats it as a menu where he picks and chooses what he weighs and applies.

BAIER: We're going to continue this discussion and talk about the debt ceiling and these payments that have to be made in coming days. We'll continue right after a short timeout.

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