Panel Breaks Down Cost, Hidden Items in Health Care Bill

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 19, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is the referee, the scorekeeper for how much things cost, says it will save us $1 trillion. Not only can we afford to do this, we can't afford not to do this.


REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WISC., HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE: For all of the bells and whistles and the hoopla and all the press conferences about this being an act of fiscal responsibility, of this bending the curve and reducing the deficit, we all now know that that is completely false. This bill is a budget Frankenstein.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, the back-and-forth today as we head toward a big weekend. A health care reform vote likely Sunday afternoon in the House of Representatives.

And there was a lot of back-and-forth in our whip count today. Four big changes, the latest just a few minutes ago, Democrat Suzanne Kosmas from Florida saying she will change her vote from back in November from "no" on the House healthcare reform bill to "yes" on this one.

Here is the whip count we have. This means 216-215, 216 being the number needed to pass, understanding that we're doing our count based on the assumption that the maybes, the large pool of maybes would stay the same as their vote back in November when they voted on the House health care bill.

So it's different count there, but they're close if they're not there tonight. Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard; Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio; and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Steve, what do you think?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think what the White house and the House Democrats have tried to do in the last 24 hours is basically seem like passing is inevitable. They want everyone to think they have the momentum and people who are saying they don't have the votes yet are crazy.

The problem is I don't think they do have the votes yet. I think they're close. I think they're likely to get them. I don't think they have the vote yet. And one of the ways you can tell this is because every time there is a flip, especially a switch from a "no" to a "yes," there is a huge celebration among the House Democrats and the White House.

BAIER: And a tweet from the White House.

HAYES: Everything.

BAIER: Every one.

HAYES: They're tweeting every single one, and they wouldn't be doing that if they had the votes. Clearly they wouldn't be doing that.

I think they're very close. I think what we're likely to see over the next 24-48 hours is continued pressure on the wavering House Democrats, particularly to keep the ones who were "yes" last time "yes" this time.

I think we're also likely to see potentially an emerging deal of some kind or another on abortion, on pro-life issues. There are reports now that pro-choice members of the House Democratic caucus have been sort of running in and out of Nancy Pelosi's office on Capitol Hill.

There are discussions about Bart Stupak. Brad Ellsworth, one of the former allies of Stupak has come out and said he is going to vote in favor of the bill. So there is a lot of activity on the abortion issue, taking what was thought to be a Stupak block of some people said five, some said ten, some 12, and potentially splintering that.

BAIER: The president today, Juan, went to a speech at George Mason University, tried to fire up that crowd. He said something he said many times before. Take a listen.


OBAMA: If you like your doctor, you are going to be able to keep your doctor, if you like your plan, keep your plan.



BAIER: Now the CBO, the new one on the new reconciliation bill that's out says the number of people who will lose their current insurance coverage by 2016 stands at 8 million. This is according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's because employers give up -- they wouldn't provide health insurance anymore, they would pay the penalty, the payroll tax increase. But he keeps on saying that ahead of the weekend.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Right, but those people wouldn't be left without insurance. They'd then be given voucher in some cases or subsidies if they were poor people.

BAIER: But they wouldn't be on the same plan. They wouldn't keep their doctor, or the plan.

WILLIAMS: They might keep their doctor. They'd have a different insurance plan. We have don't know what the provisions would be, if that is your point. But it would be a plan. They would be insured.

And of course, under this larger health reform deal now you will add 32 million people who will be insured. So there the likelihood they'd be uninsured is much less than if we stayed with the status quo.

But the momentum here is just so awesome. Since yesterday I think some kind of dam broke with the CBO scoring. We just saw Paul Ryan saying this is a budget-buster.

But the argument now among the Democrats is, wait a second, if the primary concern of the American people about the bill was deficit, then it was just, you know, you're putting in place entitlement, it will cost money. How could it not cost more? And it may make my insurance rate go up and I may have to pay for taxes to cover people who aren't insured.

That whole argument now seems to have boiled away in the last 24 hours. Instead the conversation among Democrats is you've got the CBO saying this in fact will trim money off the deficit, just as you heard President Obama say in the speech today at the Patriot Center.

BAIER: But the CBO said a couple other things, too, Charles.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: So much error, so little time. Number one, the president didn't say if you have insurance, you'll have another kind of insurance. He said if you have a plan, you'll keep a plan. Not true.

He says they'll save $1 trillion. Look, this sounds like the last hours of a presidential campaign in which the truth is stretched, bent and tortured to an unbelievable extent. And everyone accepts it because it's the end of a campaign and everybody knows it's fib-time.

The $1 trillion is a hoax. The CBO talked about the second decade, but it said this is extremely chancy, iffy, this is not a hard number. And look, that trillion dollars of saving in the second decade assumes that Congress in 2018 is going to pass the tax on Cadillac health plan, which Congress today under all the pressure of the president won't even touch.

So of course it's not going to happen in 2018. Of course you are not going to have a $1 trillion surplus. We know that in the first decade, it's not a plan of $1 trillion dollars. It's a plan that will cost us $2.5 -- we'll be deeply in debt.

And the Blue Dogs are running around holding up the CBO number. It's not a new number. It's an old number. It's old and wrong because the assumptions it had to accept, like ten years of taxes in only six years of benefits out are fraudulent, and they were engineered in order to produce the right number.

It isn't as if the Blue Dogs had a revelation. It was cover, and that's all that is happening now.

BAIER: And quickly, on the process, it appears the House will do this "deem and pass" rule. They are going to have this vote and then have this reconciliation bill that goes to the Senate.

Now the Senate may modify that bill. If they do in any way, shape or form, it needs to go back to the House to have another vote. The whole purpose of "deem and pass" was to have one vote on this controversial legislation. Steve, there are potential Senate problems here as well.

HAYES: There are Senate problems here as well. And I think the House Democrats who are voting for this thing thinking they'll vote and get beyond it are wrong on several accounts. One, because as you point out, this is likely to come back up again in the reconciliation process. And two, you know the Republicans will use this as a campaign issue from the moment the vote is cast until November.

BAIER: OK, we have more on this, on health care reform on our homepage, including a Web exclusive report about how one company is getting creative in order to cut cost and give employees better coverage. Go to


BAIER: Every week on, "Special Report" homepage viewers vote on what topic we should discuss first in this, the Friday lightning round. As of 4:30 p.m. eastern time, 54 percent of you wanted to know whether there are any hidden items in health care.

The story on it earlier, but that's where we start the Friday lightning round and where we begin. We're back with the panel. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, one of the things that has been slipped into the health care bill is this, the federal takeover of student loans. But it had one exception, one bank in North Dakota which would have kept on lending.

Surprise, surprise, when it was discovered, the senator from that state, Kent Conrad all of a sudden had a seizure of conscience and decided he'd withdraw it.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I was going to say the same thing. The idea that the White House put pressure on Pelosi and Reid to throw this in at the same time is really an effort to circumvent large arguments about how many jobs it will cost because of the shrinkage in terms of the student loan industry.

And so whereas people haven't been paying attention, this wasn't part of the bill for most of its life, all of a sudden now this is just the tag-along. I think most people aren't aware of it. The administration says it will mean more money for Pell grants for low-income students. But the argument and the debate about it hasn't taken place because everyone is talking health care.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: My favorite comes in the new reconciliation fix. And it's $250 million to stop waste, fraud, and abuse. I like stopping waste, fraud, and abuse, but it's hilarious to me that the federal government, only the federal government would spend a quarter of a billion to save money.

BAIER: The Connecticut deal for the hospital in Connecticut, $100 million still in, the Montana deal about asbestos still in, the "Louisiana Purchase" still in. We'll continue to look through it and see if we find anything else.

OK, next up, Iran, Russia saying that they're not too keen on sanctions against Iran. Back with the panel on this one -- Steve?

HAYES: I'm shocked. I can't believe it. Look, this was obvious that this was coming. I think Russia has been playing a double game with us all along. But the strategic reality that I think is emerging through these negotiations about Iran sanctions is nobody really cares what the United States says about this anymore. Nobody is afraid of making us angry and nobody is afraid of disappointing us.

BAIER: Hillary Clinton over in Moscow, and yet the foreign minister there still announcing that Russia is going ahead to help Iran with the nuclear reactor.

WILLIAMS: This was one frosty news conference. It was very clear if you were watching that there is tension going on here.

And the argument is the United States has said all along if this is for peaceful purposes, for energy development, we are for it, but not while Iran continues to develop the potential for nuclear weapons. At this point, it should be used as leverage to stop that development.

The Russians seem to take a different posture, and I think this is really, it's not Medvedev doing this. I think what you have are larger powers in Russia, you know, saying we are going to be a counter to the U.S. and in essence join forces with China, which is also pursuing the same path, which is madness to me.

BAIER: China and Russia now publicly.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, interesting week of a study in contrast. The Israelis announce the construction of a bunch of houses for a few Hasidim in Jerusalem. The administration issues a condemnation and then a barrage of threats against Israel.

Same week, the secretary of state in Moscow gets slapped in the face as she is standing there, and the Russians announce that the they're going to complete a nuclear power plant in Iran contrary to American requests, Iran, a country that is the chief exporter of terror according to our own state response. And her response: nothing.

BAIER: Quickly down the line -- the Sestak charge that the White House offered him a job to get out of the primary in Pennsylvania. Joe Sestak, congressman. We're kind of at a standoff of information. End of the story?

KRAUTHAMMER: Probably, because we all know it happened. It will never be admitted. It's an old kind of a dealing, but today after all the kickbacks and stuff that people have seen in health care, I think there really is a new climate in which the public tolerance for this kind of corruption, there is no other word, is a lot lower. And I think there will be a lot less of it in the future.

BAIER: We asked a lot of times, Juan.

WILLIAMS: It's just evident there was an ask and a deal. But it wasn't for money. And I think that's what ultimately would have made it illegal and what it would have pushed the story forward. That's not on the table.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: Chicago-style politics in Washington. I think they're perfecting this to an art. We heard about this only because Sestak spoke out and spoke out of turn. I'm sure the White House wasn't happy about it. I suspect we'll hear a lot more about what is going on right now behind closed doors right over there.

BAIER: Much more on that, too.

That's it for the panel.

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