All-Star Panel Debates 'The Pledge to America'

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report With Bret Baier," September 22, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE MINORITY LEAD ER: Republicans have discussed coming forward with our plans for the future. And over the course of the next three months we're going to continue to work with the American people, work with those who are interested in terms of developing what that is. We don't know what it's going to be, not at this point. But when we do, we'll make sure that you are aware of it.


BRET BAIER, HOST: That was the House Minority Leader John Boehner a few months ago. Now they know. And here it is. A 21-page document, called "A Pledge to America." It's being circulated at this hour to Republican lawmakers.

Here is part of the preamble, "Regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent. An arrogant and out-of- touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of many."

There are many specifics in this 21-page document. We went through them at the top of the show. You can read the write-up of the document on

But let's talk about it with the panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, what jumps out at you from reading "The Pledge to America"?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think the fact that it is specific and lengthy. You can almost say it's exhaustive in a way that I think is both bold and aggressive.

Look, I take a backseat to no one with my cynicism about these kinds of things. In a sense, it's a political gimmick and it will help Republicans get elected. I get that. So was the "Contract with America."

And if you look back at the "contract," even five or six years after the contract was passed, 95 of the programs that were either scrutinized or eliminated had increased in the budgets by a total of about 15 percent. So there are reasons to be skeptical and these are promises coming out of Washington.

Having said all of that, this is a pretty impressive document. It is specific about spending levels and turning back TARP, returning to pre-stimulus levels, repealing health care. There are a lot of specifics in here, and I think a lot of things for people to like.

BAIER: Mort, the plan will be rolled out tomorrow at a hardware store in suburban Virginia as the GOP leaders talk about the specifics. What about all of this?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": Everybody wants to be with the folks, which is OK.

Look, the biggest thing that the document does not address is the fact that the national debt is now 100 percent of GDP and rising, right? So they start talking about how they are going to cut spending, $100 billion, in the first year out of a deficit that is now $1.5 trillion.

They are talking about cutting, freezing discretionary spending, discretionary spending represents 32 percent of the federal budget, 58 percent of the federal budget is mandatory. That's entitlement. That's Medicare, that's Social Security. Not a word, not a word about doing that.

Furthermore, they are going to extent all of the Bush tax cuts permanently. Now they do not deal with how they are going to fill the hole. If they say, well, we'll take in more revenue, you got to show it, because I don't think the math adds up.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Mort is dismayed that Republicans aren't suicidally promising the kind entitlements with a month to go before Election Day. I'm not surprised. Democrats who were in charge haven't proposed that either. All of it is punted into December on the deficit commission.

Look, if I were a Republican strategist, I probably wouldn't have issued any of this. If you are in an election where the other side brought the country ideologically to a point it does not want to go, against tremendous popular resistance on health care and others, I would allow the other guys to carry all that agenda into election and defend it and stand on the sidelines and say, you know, that will be quite enough.

However, if you decide you want a program like this, this I think is OK. It doesn't quite have the concision and the bite of Gingrich's idea of, what is it, 20 years ago. But I think it has enough specifics, cutting taxes for business, returning the unspent stimulus money to the Treasury, and particularly the repeal of Obamacare with the institution of really required, tort reform, the one element that is completely left out of the Democratic health reform, scandalously so.

So as it goes, I think it's fairly circumscribed. I don't think it will hurt a lot. But it does give the Democrats ammunition in a place where I wouldn't have given them any.

BAIER: "Repeal and replace healthcare," Steve, is what it says. This is on the sixth month anniversary, if you will, of when the president signed the health bill in law. The president going to the backyard in Fairfax, Virginia, to talk to some folks about health care reform.

Also purchasing health insurance across state lines, expend health savings accounts, ensure access for patients with preexisting conditions, something that's in the current law, and permanently setting up the Hyde amendment banning taxpayer funding for abortion. These are some of the specifics in the health care portion.

HAYES: Right. And behind the scenes I think there was a debate among the leadership in the House about how specific to be and whether to go beyond just talking about the jobs and the economy. Ultimately, as you say, there was a decision made to be broader and have a broad statement about a governing philosophy. And there is in the forward a discussion of returning to constitutional limits on government.

Just to pick up on what Mort said, though, I don't think it's necessary, as much as I would have liked it, I don't think it's necessary and/or wise to engage in a specific discussion about entitlements in this kind of a document.

That said, conservatives are the ones out making specific proposals on entitlement reform, like Mitch Daniels, like Paul Ryan.

BAIER: Paul Ryan, yes.

HAYES: This is where the ideas are coming from. So I think you can't really say that the conservatives aren't the ones who are willing to take risks on entitlement reform just because it's not in this rather exhaustive document.

KONDRACKE: The Republican Party does not have the courage of Paul Ryan, let's face it. They are not willing to privatize Social Security or say they will. They are not willing to voucherize Medicare. They're not going to do it.

HAYES: But Barack Obama is sitting in the White House. He won't even talk about these things --

KONDRACKE: That's not liberal policy.

BAIER: I want to ask one question about 1994. Back then President Clinton went around the country saying the "Contract with America" was really a contract on America. It backfired, and America obviously had a wave election for Republicans. What Democrats are doing about this "Pledge to America," is there a danger there?

KONDRACKE: Well, I mean they are going to attack it obviously. You know, I don't think that -- I think this election is baked, frankly, and I don't think that anything that Obama says about health care or the Republicans say about what they are going to do is going to change it at all. This will be a wave election. The Republicans are going to score big victories because the unemployment rate is 9.6 and people are mad.

BAIER: Last word.

KRAUTHAMMER: If I'm a Republican and I'm ahead, I don't go long.


BAIER: Bob Woodward's new book is coming out, "Obama's Wars," and the excerpts are causing quite a stir in here Washington, D.C. It shows in part internal division in the Obama administration over the way forward in Afghanistan.

About that, here is one quote from President Obama. "I'm not doing ten years" about the war. "I'm not doing long-term nation building. I'm not spending $1 trillion. I have two years with the public on this. I want an exit strategy. I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."

About a possible terror attack, the president is quoted as saying this, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it. But even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, we absorbed it and we are stronger."

What about the specifics in this book and the fallout here in Washington? We're back with the panel. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: The most troubling aspects of the Obama surge in Afghanistan, ever since the speech in December in which he announced it, was the uncertain trumpet that you heard when he talked about withdrawal. Everything since I think has supported the suspicion that his heart was not in this war even though the rhetoric is how it is in the supreme interest of the United States that we succeed in the war.

And now we have what I think is shocking evidence, and I mean shocking evidence, that our suspicion, our skepticism about it, his heart isn't in the war, is in the excerpts.

I'm not talking about the calling of names or the infighting which occurs in every administration. I'm talking about what we just heard. This is a president that says of the generals, "I want exit strategy. I don't want a success strategy. I want an exit strategy."

He said we only have two years, and he says "I can't lose the Democratic Party." He's the leader of that party. He is the man who is going to lead it and us to new frontiers.

And this is a party that in two successive presidential elections argued strongly that the war in Afghanistan was the good war, the important war, the central war in the War on Terror. And now it seems as if all of that was a farce, and it was insincere, and it was disingenuous.

What I think is shocking here is that if you are a soldier in Afghanistan, American or NATO, or an Afghan who is helping us, that Afghan is going to think either he will change sides or he's going to leave Afghanistan.

I think this is demoralizing and the enemy will be greatly heartened when it looks at these quotes and hear what is really in the heart of the president. It's no longer inference. It's his own quotations.

BAIER: Mort, White House is trying to spin it as public relations winner, telling Politico that is shows a commander in chief who's analytical, strategic, decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role.

KONDRACKE: I share Charles' dismay at the fact that this guy said all during the '08 campaign that Afghanistan was the good war and that we had to win it, and it was in our vital national security interest that we drive out the Taliban and deal with Al Qaeda. And then he gets in in his first debate about it, and all he wants is an exit strategy.

Now, the good news is that he hasn't exited, not only did he raise, increase the troop levels by 30,000 in 2009, but he raised them again another 30,000 in 2010 and appointed David Petraeus as the commander there.

And when he said that he is going to leave in July of next year, everybody has been -- this is still a big mystery as to whether it will really happen. But the noises that are coming out tend to indicate that that is subject to conditions, and the conditions aren't getting any better, so we're going to stay.

BAIER: Steve, Charles says there is infighting of course in every administration, and there is. But some of the words used -- National Security adviser General Jim Jones talking about Obama's aides, calls them "the water bugs," the "Politburo", "the mafia," "the campaign set."

General Petraeus talking about David Axelrod, a senior adviser, calls him a "complete spin doctor." Some interesting phrasing in this book?

HAYES: Certainly consistent with what I've heard from people in the administration and outside of it. But I mean, I do think it's the substantive stuff that really is so deeply disturbing when it comes out this way.

I remember when we were here on December 1 of 2009 talking about the speech and wanting to be with the president, support the president because he was using the language, doing everything short of saying that we need to win in Afghanistan. He talked about how vital it was to U.S. national security interest and the interest of the globe that we do well there, that we banish Al Qaeda and not allow them to set up a safe haven there.

And at the same time, of course, he sets this deadline, which made me think at the time and others, is he in it to win it? And I think now Bob Woodward tells us what we've basically known in some ways for the better part of a year. He's not. This was a decision driven by politics.

We heard that from Bruce Rydell who conducting the Afghanistan review policy when he told it to the New York Times shortly after the new year. We heard it consistently and anonymously since then. But now we hear it from the aides on the record in some cases, and it seems that we are hearing it from the president itself. It's really a shocking book.

BAIER: Bob Woodward strikes again.

Panel, thank you.

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