'Special Report' Panel on 'Scott Brown Effect' on Health Care Reform

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from January 20, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: So in its present form, without any change, I don't think it's possible to pass the Senate bill in the House.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Democrats aren't listening to the people. This bill is dead.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously Tuesday resulted in new political circumstances.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.: There have got to be some basic things here that we can all agree on.

SEN.-ELECT SCOTT BROWN, R-MASS.: The fact that there seems to be no transparency and the back room deals, people are outraged by that.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts has essentially pushed the reset button here in Washington. It is a completely different story after Tuesday night.

What about that and how it will affect legislation moving forward? Let's bring in our panel: Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Mara, first to you about what has happened since Tuesday.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, a lot has happened since Tuesday. Obviously health care was about to pass. Everybody here at this table and this town felt that way. No longer.

And I think what happened is really a stunning indictment, more than anything else, of the Democratic majority, the fact that with 60 votes in the Senate they could not in one solid year after their president got elected pass his signature domestic priority. I mean, that is stunning. I can't think of a Republican majority that would have failed to do that.

So I think it's a real indictment of them, the fact that they couldn't get it done by now, and now they have lost the 60 votes that they need to pass it.

The president clearly signaled that he was willing to retreat to a kind of health insurance reform package. I don't know if the Republicans are in any mood to give the president anything.

But that clearly, you know, if you go to them, and the interesting thing about that if you go down to health insurance reforms, you might lose all of your industry buy-in. Don't forget, the health insurance industry basically called a truce on this one, said they would agree to be regulated like utilities if they could get those 30 million new customers. They were willing to sacrifice margin for volume. That was the new business model that they had bought into.

Well, health insurance reform regulates them but doesn't give them all the new customers. So I think you lose them, and that was the grand bargain that was made even before Barack Obama was elected. So that's...

BAIER: Fred, your assessment?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: You know, scaling back Obama care is a non-starter. Look, it is dead. It is dead in the House. It is dead in the Senate. I'm not sure it would have passed even before Brown. Nancy Pelosi was down to 218 votes and some of the more moderate Democrats were queasy.

But the whole thing is dead. Republicans aren't going to help out on this. The Republican position is get that off the table. We will start anew. We can deal with all these things that people want, whether it's sick people with preexisting conditions or all these things. But you are going to have to give some Republicans some things.

BAIER: Tort reform.

BARNES: They want tort reform. They want the competition produced by allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, and so on. But President Obama and congressional Democrats after writing these bills, completely shutting out Republicans, except on the Senate finance committee when they had some Republicans involved there, but except for that, now they want Republicans to come in and help them fine tune this bill so it will pass? That's just not going to happen.

BAIER: Charles, in that interview with ABC, President Obama, we saw it in James' piece, James Rosen's piece, he told George Stephanopoulos about the reaction to Scott Brown's election.

"We were just so busy getting stuff done, dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people."

Now, we did some research. President Obama gave 411 speeches, comments, and remarks, 52 of those specifically on health care, 158 interviews, 90 for TV, 11 radio, the rest in print, 42 news conferences, 23 town hall meetings. It's hard to say that he wasn't speaking directly to the American people, right?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's amazing that his explanation for all of this is that he was so occupied with helping the American people working quietly and late nights in the White House that he was overly reticent. The man was ubiquitous. The man was everywhere. The man hovered like big brother. Every night you turned him on.

He gave 29 speeches on health care, and at the end every time he gave a speech the numbers were declining.

Look, it is not that — Democrats want to think there is a question of the message. They want to believe it was a matter of tactics. They want to say he contracted out and ended up owing Congress. He should have directed out of the White House. All of that is cosmetic.

The problem is the substance. He tried — he had one issue he wanted above all. He had cap and trade, which also didn't succeed. But his signature issue was health care. The bills that were produced were monstrosities.

At the beginning it was a contradiction in terms. He says I'm going to expand the coverage, include everybody who is uninsured, and cut costs. A child would know that's impossible. It was doomed because of the internal contradictions.

And the problem is that, in the end, it was all substance. The reason that it failed in Massachusetts, of all places — again, it wasn't a cosmetic issue, it was a resistance of the substance. And then in the end it was a disgust over the process and all the deals.

BAIER: Mara, what about this turn to populism, really focusing on the banks, and that's trying to focus the anger, he says, that he sees in this past election?

LIASSON: I think there’s going to have to be more ways that the White House will get in touch with how the voters are feeling. But this is a start. Voters are angry at Wall Street and that unites the left and the right and independents. They are angry about the big bonuses.

I think that the ideas that he is talking about in terms of resurrecting some kind of fire wall for the banks make sense. I don't think that's going to be a problem for him.

BAIER: Fred?

BARNES: He needs independents. Independents are rejecting him now overwhelmingly in the New Jersey and Virginia governor's races and on Tuesday in Massachusetts. You don't get them with populism. They are not the folks that will go for that. They never have. And so he is on the wrong track.

You have to realize that President Obama is a weaker president than he was before the election on Tuesday. You can't go around for the third time and campaign for somebody who loses and polls show that you might have actually marginally hurt that candidate as polls showed in Martha Coakley's case.

And the second thing is, when the center piece, the centerpiece of your domestic policy is rejected, not just in polls, which has been going on for months, but by voters in one of the most liberal states in the country that he won by 26 points in 2008, when it's rejected, he is weaker.

He will not be taken as seriously by Democrats who won't regard him in the same way, and Republicans as well.

KRAUTHAMMER: The ultimate cause of the debacle in Massachusetts and of his decline, Obama's decline, is that he misread his mandate. This is a center-right country and he tried governing left. His only hope of success is to tack to the center, the way that Clinton did.

The problem is that he is much more ideological and he may not have the capacity or the will to end up back in the center.

BAIER: Because Mara, the left is saying he needs to go further left.

LIASSON: Yes. You know center, left, it depends on what you mean by tacking to the center. And populism doesn't mean necessarily left-wing populism, either. I think that anger at Wall Street unites every part of the political spectrum. Do Republicans really want to defend Wall Street bonuses right now? No.

BARNES: I don't think people want to hear some angry populist attacks.

LIASSON: He's not an angry populist. I think he is expressing the anger of the people at the bailouts and the fact that Wall Street hasn't...

KRAUTHAMMER: You abandon health care and you abandon cap and trade as a starter.

BAIER: OK, some changes, big changes coming in how political campaigns are funded. We will discuss today's big Supreme Court ruling and what it means for the midterms in three minutes.



SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: The Roberts court has turned back the clock on our democracy by over a century. This disastrous decision paves the way for free and unlimited special interest spending in our elections. With the stroke of a pen, the court decided to overrule the 100-year-old ban on corporate expenditures.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I don't know why the opponents are so freaked out about this. They don't seem to be bothered by the fact that media corporations have free speech. Why shouldn't a non-media corporation have free speech as well?


BAIER: A big ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court justices voting five to four to essentially give corporations and unions, for that matter, the same First Amendment rights that individuals have when it comes to political arena, the funding of political ads, speaking out, just as Anthony Kennedy writing this — "When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

We're back with the panel. Charles, what does this mean practically?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it's going to be extremely important. I think it's a great ruling. The most important amendment is the First Amendment. The most important of our rights is free speech, and the most important element in free speech is political speech.

And that's why the governing class has always attempted the kind of regulation of political speech — the less the better.

Now, it has to be admitted that one of the down sides of this will be a marginal increase in the power of money. However, for all of the restrictions that we have had under all our laws, the finance laws, money always ends up having its influence one way or the other. It finds its level, it goes around loopholes, you hire smart and now rich lawyers and you get around it.

And, secondly, the only way to completely abolish the power of money is to do what was done in other English-speaking countries and have it — you ban all political money and you have it all paid by the government.

The problem is if you do that, it's a huge advantage for any incumbent. So, I think the — what we heard today is exactly what you ought to do — disclaimers and disclosures so everybody knows who is giving and who is financing, but open the gates.

BAIER: Mara, Chuck Schumer, senator from New York said it's probably one of the three or four decisions in the history of the Supreme Court that undermines democracy. That was his take.

LIASSON: I can say this, on a practical level for 2010 and 2012 it will help Republicans. Corporations generally support Republicans. And in the battle of political money, they have more money than the unions.

BAIER: What about unions?

LIASSON: They have more money net than the unions. They just do. The unions will be in there, and believe me, this ruling obviously affects them and opens the door for them, too. But dollar for dollar, corporations are going to beat the resources and the assets of the labor unions. They just are.

So this is a win for Republicans and is yet another kind of blow to the solar plexus this week for Democrats.

BARNES: I don't really think so. Look, I don't think we are going to see all kinds of corporate expenditures in races, independent expenditures that show we are for this candidate and not for that candidate. Most big companies have shareholders. Do they want their companies doing that? Do they want they want them spending money on that?

And the other thing is, look, in 28 states, with about 60 percent of the population, the states allow corporations to participate with expenditures in campaign races, in elections. They do it.

Now, has that distorted the process? Has that been a huge asset to Republicans in these states? States like Oregon for one, for a very Democratic state? In Virginia, which now sort of goes back and forth between Republicans and Democrats? The history just isn't there.

And look, we — as Charles said, there is so much money out there. We already have rich people — a lot of them are liberals, you know, George Soros and so on — and a lot of them are conservatives, pouring money in all these independent expenditures. I'm very doubtful that corporations are going to be jumping in there so much.

BAIER: And Mara, quickly, this does not overturn the McCain-Feingold legislation entirely.


BAIER: And although Senator Feingold says he wants to go back and get more legislation to go back at this, that's not going to happen, right?

LIASSON: That's not going to happen. There is still disclosure and corporations are still banned from giving individual candidates money, so you can't have like the Senator from Boeing the way we used have in the old days. Some people thought that was good because at least you knew where they were coming from.

So pieces of the campaign finance system are still intact, and no, I don't think there will be any legislation overturning this ruling.

BAIER: That is it for the panel, but stay tuned because they're back. We'll explain, next.

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