Panel on Possibility of Using Reconciliation to Pass Health Care; Toyota Recalls

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 23, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: If you look at what the president has done, he has basically crippled the summit that's expected on Thursday by coming in with a rerun of the same failed bill that couldn't pass the House or Senate.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-NV., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Since 1981, reconciliation has been used 21 times. The vast majority of those reconciliation efforts have been by Republicans. So we have — nothing is off the table. We will be happy to take a look at that. But, realistically, they should stop crying about reconciliation as if it's never been done before.


BAIER: Reconciliation, as we told you earlier in the show, is the parliamentary process by which — it's usually used for budgetary measures — you pass something with 51 votes in the Senate as opposed to 61 that is used to bust up a filibuster.

So we're one day closer to bipartisan summit, it doesn't sound too bipartisan. But let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard,, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, what about how this is playing out ahead of this get-together?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I have to admit in all my years of watching Washington, I find this totally perplexing. I do not understand what the White House is doing here.

We have seen them make blunders. We have seen them make blunders in particular on health care. But you look at how they are handling this debate in the aftermath of the Scott Brown election when they lost numbers. People don't want to be talking about health care, and the White House is now talking about health care and potentially will be talking about health care going forward.

It seems to me that they are reading the wrong polls. The White House, the liberals in the White House are telling the president that people like this. And there are polls, if you poll questions individually about individual elements of the various plans, in particularly the Senate plan, that poll well because you don't have the cost associated with them.

So, the president and his advisers, I think, must be buying their own polls, must be believing the best case scenario, the rosiest scenario in order to keep pushing.

Either that, to take it totally cynical view of it, or it's a total sop to the left. They are going to push for a few weeks to the left, try to make their base happy, and then pivot to jobs and be done with it.

BAIER: We should point out the Republicans named the people who are going, the senators who are going to the bipartisan summit. They include Senators McConnell, Kyl, McCain, Alexander, Grassley, Enzi, and the two doctors, Republican doctors in the Senate, Senators Coburn and Barrasso.

A.B., what do you think the White House is hoping to get out of this summit.

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: I disagree a bit with Steve. It's not perplexing what they are doing. They want one last chance to reframe this debate for health care reform, whether it lives or dies.

And in a bipartisan setting, when they have everyone in the room and they are all face to face, they want to show as a party the president bringing the Republicans to the table where the Democrats welcome them and everyone is at the table working together or they want to show the Republicans saying no.

They know that they don't have the numbers in the House in their own party. They don't have the numbers in the Senate in their own party. Health care is further away than we thought it was even weeks ago. It gets more impossible every day. Reconciliation is not possible. They are not going to get a bill. This is a last chance to reframe the debate.

And cynically they are not looking at any polls that make them happy or show a rosy scenario. They are looking at polls that show that they are pregnant with health care. They have voted on it. All the members will take the hit. It's too late to run away from it. Pass something, jam it down the throats, which is the Republican expression for this process because if you don't, you lose more.

BAIER: You know, we should point out there isn't a White House bill per se. There are ideas. The Congressional Budget Office can't even score what the White House put out this week yet because they say there aren't specifics. And, usually people negotiate over a specific bill that's laid out. There won't be one on the table. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Right. Well, that's because the event Thursday is not a real event about real numbers. This is a theatrical event.

Look, Obama became president of the United States with a theatrical campaign in 2008. Charisma, rhetoric, that's what he does best. He then tried a year of governing. He didn't succeed very well. So he is returning to theater Thursday.

And I think it's going to help him. I think he's likely to come out ahead as he did when he met with the House Republicans in Baltimore. His idea is you pivot off that with a bump you get, the confidence, the morale it infuses in your troops in the Senate and the House, and you go and you attempt reconciliation.

BAIER: About that, reconciliation, this process, Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia is one of the people who came up with the rule back in 1974. Here is what he wrote to his colleagues just last year about using reconciliation, this process for health care.

"I oppose using budget reconciliation to pass health care reform and climate change legislation. Such a proposal would violate the intent and spirit of the budget process and do serious injury to the constitutional role of the Senate." That's from April of last year.

KRAUTHAMMER: Since he is one the inventors of this process, I think is he a pretty good authority on the spirit and intent. And it is a trick, and we have never done it for a bill of this scope or size or reform revolution in the sixth of the American economy. However, it's not illegal. I think it's still possible.

I think the reason Obama is trying this is not because he wants to placate his left and show that he gave it the college try. This is a man who believes ideologically in this deeply. He sees himself as a world historical figure, not just the first African-American president, but like Reagan, a man who changed history. He wants to be the father of national health care.

And if this is passed or jammed or rammed, ultimately we will end up with a Canadian system or a British system and he will be remembered of as the man who did it. It's about ideology and politics.

BAIER: Steve, as we pointed out at the beginning of the show, the key part of the reconciliation process is the House has to first pass the existing Senate bill with no changes. And the numbers just aren't there.

HAYES: The numbers do now work at this point. You talk to people on Capitol Hill and you have number thrown around anywhere from 215, somebody said today to me 190 Nancy Pelosi may be able to get. People tonight have any sense where the final number will be, but there seems to be broad agreement she doesn't have the numbers.

But just to Charles point briefly. I agree that I think he would like to have passed this as a president. But if he were that committed to it all along, why did he take an entire year letting everybody else do the details without actually — this is the first time the president has really weighed in with any kind of specifics, and now we have only got 11 pages worth of specifics at that.

KRAUTHAMMER: The answer is he misread the Clinton experience. He interpreted it as if the president proposes a plan, it gets torn apart and you fail. And he thought I will do it the reverse way, but he over-read the lesson, he did it entirely too much handing it over to the barons in the House and the Senate and he was stuck with two monstrosities.

BAIER: Final word, A.B., what is the left doing by talking and focusing on reconciliation if, as you say, it really isn't an option? I mean, literally, it is being touted again and again and again on other channels that it's really going to happen.

STODDARD: The pressure from the left is to use reconciliation. It has been for months. The Senate leadership and the White House decided by the end of the fall that it was impossible to use.

It is no more feasible today. You have the scare of Scott Brown's victory. You have nervous Democrats in the Senate who face losing their seats. They are going to have to oppose this procedure. They will do it in great numbers.

BAIER: So you say it's a head fake?

STODDARD: But it's — I don't know why they keep talking it up. I just know that the Republicans are not lying when they say they can bring points of order against it and they can get all of the insurance regulation out of the bill. They can jam all of the important components of health care right out of the piece of legislation and you are left with nothing.

BAIER: Senator Judd Gregg has 11 pages of objections already.

Congress gives Toyota a hard time over its performance issues. That is coming up in three minutes.



JIM LENTZ: We need to continue to be vigilant and continue to investigate all of the complaints that we get from consumers that we have done a relatively poor job of doing in the past.

RHONDA SMITH, LEXUS OWNER: I was going to have to put the car into the upcoming guardrail in order to prevent killing anyone else, and I prayed for god to help me. I called my husband on the blue tooth phone system. I knew — I'm sorry. I knew he could not help me, but I wanted to hear his voice one more time.


BAIER: Well, as you can see there at times today, the hearing up on Capitol Hill got emotional as people who were driving Toyotas at one time told their stories, and lawmakers pounced on the president of Toyota's U.S. operations, who said the recalls might not totally solve their problems.

We are back with the panel. Charles, let's start with you.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, when you hear that woman's story, it's so affecting and so riveting, heartrending, really, that you want to side entirely with the consumer and condemn Toyota.

But here is our problem. You live in industrial society where you produce a lot of products which involve life and death — cars, drugs, medical devices. And then when you hear complaints and when you hear horror stories, you have got to decide is it idiosyncratic error, one product, one car, or is it systemic?

And it's not easy to tell. You often hear all the caveats in the drug ads on television, it sounds as if it will kill you if you lick that pill. So why would you want to buy it?

But you have to make a calculation. Obviously in this case Toyota under-calculated the systemic nature of this and probably overlooked what could be an electronic issue. It assumes it's mechanical.

But, look, it's a systemic issue in our society, and there so no right answer, only in this case it looks as if Toyota is going to try to at least address the real issue about the electronic question.

BAIER: Toyota president James Lentz said he insisted electronic systems connected to the gas pedal and the fuel line did not contribute to the problem but says they still have to look into the problem.

STODDARD: He was embarrassed by that story. We have to be vigilant. He said we lost sight of our customers. In a decade of rapid expansion, he admitted that the company lost sight of its customers.

That's, I mean, just because — none of us like the fact that the federal government owns 61 percent of General Motors. But that doesn't mean that Toyotas can be unsafe. I think we heard this devastating story about a woman who is racing down the highway at 100 miles an hour and didn't know if she would live or die.

And Mr. Lentz did acknowledge the recall might not be enough to address the safety concerns. I think that — I think that, you know, Ford went through this 10 years ago. They had a lot of defects and they were put through the ringer. If General Motors ends up having consumer complaints or safety complaints they will have to be investigated as well.

BAIER: That's a good point. Other places have had many recalls. Toyota is in the spotlight right now.

HAYES: Toyota is in the spotlight, although Toyota had recalls, too. There were recalls in Britain about a decade ago and elsewhere. State Farm identified some problems, a pattern back in 2004.

I think the questions that we wanted to get out of the hearing were what actually happened, and will the recalls help? And, unfortunately I think for Toyota, we don't have answers to those questions. We don't know what happened.

And you heard the CEO say, or the president say, will this solve the problem — maybe not. So I think for Toyota it's not a great day.

I watched most of the hearings today, and in Congress what I was sort of surprised by was that the questions were responsible, respectful, and actually seemed interested in really generating information. That does not happen with these kinds of hearings very often.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's because it wasn't steroids in baseball.


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