'Special Report' Panel on President Bush's Battle With Congress

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 20, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Unfortunately, instead of working with the administration to enact this funding increase for children's health, Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know that will be vetoed.

One of their leaders has even said such a veto would be "a political victory."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is wrong when he says Democrats want a political victory. What we want is a bipartisan bill. What we want is healthcare for 10 million children.


BRIT HUME, HOST: It is called SCHIP, which is an acronym for State's Children's Insurance Program, and the idea of it is to finance health insurance for low income children.

The president's complaint is that it takes this program, which has been funded for some time, and expands its coverage to people making something like 400 percent of what is considered the poverty rate income.

Some thoughts on this controversy and the whole issue of a veto now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

So Fred, where are the equities in this, and what does this early dust up over spending portend?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: It portends that there will be a budget fight over the larger bill that comes when they put all the spending for every federal department and defense and everything into one big package, which will come up in October. The president will probably veto it, and there will be a big fight there. This is a precursor to it.

The problem with the SCHIP Bill is — you heard Nancy Pelosi, "We're doing it for the children." I'm one who thinks, whenever I heard somebody say that, I hold onto my wallet. But it might work. People might agree with that.

And the president has to work hard —

HUME: Is it true, as he complains, that this bill would expand the coverage to families that do not meet the definition of poverty or poor in this country?

BARNES: That's exactly right. When you go to 200 percent of poverty, that's the roughly the median income for families. I said 200 percent — that's $45,000 or $43,000, which is the median income for American families.

This would go not only to $300,000, but to $400,000 of poverty —

HUME: You mean 4,000?

BARNES: No, 400 percent of poverty.

Now what the president's complaint was, and I think it is a legitimate one, what you are doing here is 75 percent of the children in the 200 to 300 percent category, in other words, $40,000 to $60,000, would have private insurance. And 90 percent in the $60,000 to $80,000 already have private insurance.

So what you are doing is you are substituting government healthcare insurance for private healthcare insurance. That is not — I don't think that's the right direction to go. It's certainly not a way to restrain healthcare costs and health insurance costs in this country.

But this is going to be tough veto for the president.


HUME: Will he have trouble sustaining this veto in your view, Mara?

LIASSON: Well, I think he will probably sustain the veto in the end. He has two things that he can point to. One is what he says is a federalization of healthcare, and also the tax hike on cigarettes, which would pay for this.

HUME: The tax hikes on cigarettes are complained against, I guess, because they supposedly hit poor people harder because they spend more of their income on cigarettes.

LIASSON: Yes, but also it is a kind of tax increase, since smoking is voluntary, that it is often considered one of the most doable ones politically.

On the Democrats side, they feel like this is something that they can say the president is against expanding health coverage for children. And this is one of those fight where both sides think the politics are on their side.

And I do think his veto will probably be sustained. But you have Charles Grassley in the Senate saying they are still trying to work out some kind of a deal.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There really is a principle underlying all this, and I think the president is right. We have a program for the kids who are already in poverty, that's Medicaid. And this program is designed for those who are just out of poverty but still hurting.

But once you expand it the way that the Democrats are proposing, you are ending up with a plan that is essentially a middle class entitlement in healthcare.

Now, if you want to have that, we have it for the elderly, it's called Medicare. Let's have it. Let's have an open, honest debate about nationalizing healthcare. It works in other countries, in Canada, and Britain, and elsewhere, good and bad elements of it.

But this is a stealth way of doing it, and I think he is right in saying if you want to do that, let's be open about it, and not just have Pelosi standing up saying "We want to help kids." It's helping the middle class, and if you want the government to essentially substitute its actions for the private market, let's have that debate.

If you have it at that level the president wins, but I think it will end up in a debate of sound bites in which you get the Speaker of the House saying the president wants to refuse a tax on cigarettes, a vice, in order to keep down the number of kids who aren't getting insurance from the government.

HUME: Will he lose on this politically, Fred?

BARNES: He may lose politically. I agree with Mara, I think the veto will be sustained.

But it's sad for me to say that I think it sometimes works when you say "I'm doing it for the children, we must do this for the children or they'll suffer otherwise." Well, for the most part this expansion of SCHIP would protect children and cover children who are not suffering, who have health insurance.

HUME: When we come back, Iranian President Ahmadinejad and his invitation to speak and Columbia University, and the denial of his request to visit ground zero. That story next.



RAY KELLY, NEW WORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: Our position is that President Ahmadinejad will not be permitted to go to ground zero. This has been communicated to the Iranian mission.

BUSH: I can understand why they would not want somebody that is running a country that is a state sponsor of terror down there at the site.


HUME: What's that all about? It's about the president of Iran coming to the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, and people from all over the world come to that, all sorts of leaders. And he has been invited not to go to ground zero, where he said he wanted to lay a wreath.

But he has been invited to appear at Columbia University, where he will, supposedly, answer questions. This has become quite a controversy.

What about this, Fred?

BARNES: Well, I find it very offensive that he would be invited there —

HUME: To where?

BARNES: To Columbia. Look, it's clear —

HUME: Why is it offensive?

BARNES: I will tell you, it's offensive — one, Columbia has a double standard. They are inviting Ahmadinejad and the president, Lee Bollinger, of Columbia says "We are going to reason together. We can deal with him through the powers of dialogue and reason."

HUME: We have a quote on that. Let's look at the quote and see if we can't go from there.

"The event will be part of the annual World Leaders Forum, the University wide initiative intended to further Columbia's longstanding tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues."

So there you have it.

BARNES: What he says is that "We at Columbia, we have to discuss even believes that are offensive or even odious."

With Ahmadinejad there are two things that I think militate against that. One, he is not somebody you can reason with. He's a madman. He's not just some thug like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, he's a madman. He talks about eradicating Israel.

But it's not just his beliefs, it's his actions, his action of helping sending weapons to the Iraqis, sending revolutionary guards into Iraq as well, the Iraqi insurgency that have led to the killing of Americans. We don't know how many.

You heard Petraeus when he was here last week talking about Iran's role in Iraq. Other military figures in Iraq have said the same thing. They are playing a role killing Americans.

Now, would Columbia invite someone who wanted to come there and talk about why we shouldn't have homosexual rights? Of course they wouldn't. They wouldn't allow somebody like that on the campus. They don't allow ROTC because the military won't publicly acknowledge gays in the military.

And yet they let this guy, this madman. It's a double standard, and it's a pretty offensive one.

LIASSON: Yes, it is kind of extraordinary that he is coming. I can only imagine that there is going to be tremendous pressure on Bollinger. Exactly how is he going to present these series of sharp challenges that he said —

HUME: He says he personally will question this guy.

LIASSON: He did say that he thinks the students are fully capable of dealing with these occasions through the powers of dialogue and reason. He didn't actually say that he plans to reason with the guy. He said he is going to issue a series of sharp challenges.

This is going to be an extraordinary event. I'm sure there will be huge protests. And the bottom line is, on the one hand, even though it will expose America more directly to what exactly this guy believes, it also gives him a tremendous platform that he would now get anywhere else.

HUME: And is it not a source of prestige to him to be invited to what is considered by a lot of people still as a great university?

LIASSON: Sure, absolutely.

KRAUTHAMMER: And prestige for a man who not just denies the holocaust, but sponsored in Tehran an exhibit of Holocaust cartoons as a way to ridicule it. It is not just an order bad guy, he is an extraordinarily bad guy.

Let me give you an example of the double standard. This week there was a petition, in the last few weeks, at UC Davis by feminist professors protesting the appearance of Larry Summers at a dinner of the regents, which was supposed to happen last night.

The invitation was rescinded.

HUME: Former Harvard University President Summers, former Treasury Secretary Summers.

KRAUTHAMMER: In an Democratic administration, a great professor and a great American. His invitation is rescinded. These are elite institutions that speak about a welcoming a diversity opinion. Well, not if you are Larry Summers, and yet yes if you are the president of Iran, a sponsor of terrorism and a denier of the holocaust.

This is an example of the degradation of American academia. And the reason it has become so irrelevant in American public life — 40 years ago in the Kennedy days academia was a source of ideas. It no longer is. All of that now is in think tanks as a result of the incredibly hostile atmosphere in the university against real diversity of opinion.

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