'Making the Sausage' in the Health Care Battle on the Hill

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 20, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: We are just hours away. Tomorrow night, the Senate will vote on whether Senator Reid's health care bill goes to the floor. Senate minority whip John Kyl went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JOHN KYL, R - ARIZ., MINORITY WHIP: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I love the LBJ room here at the Capitol. It's beautiful.

KYL: It's a great room.

VAN SUSTEREN: I've never been in this room.

KYL: It's one of the rooms that the Democrats used to meet in. Now with slightly fewer numbers, Republicans meet in here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, it's a beautiful room. All right, tomorrow is the big day, is it not?

KYL: Tomorrow evening at 8:00 o'clock, we will proceed to vote on the cloture petition to take up the health care bill, the Reid health care bill. That means that if 60 senators vote to take the bill up, then we can begin debate and the amendment process after Thanksgiving.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, but for all intents and purposes, this is the vote because this is the 60-person vote that the Democrats have to get. If they don't get 60, it stops here. And if they get 60 tomorrow, then they only need 50 when the vote actually -- when the bill gets put before them.

KYL: Well, and as importantly, any senator that votes for this bill has to know that there's a 97 percent chance that this bill ends up passing. And for those senators on the other side who've said, I don't like this part or that part of it, unless they've got 60 votes to change it, their vote to proceed to this bill is tantamount to a vote for the bill because they're not going to change it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's talk about how the sausage is made here. It is -- it's apparent, or at least it appears that the two key votes right now are Senator Landrieu and Senator Blanche Lincoln for Senator Reid. He needs both those votes. Those are the two that he still hasn't secured. What I've understood or what I've heard, what I've read, is that Senator Landrieu has just secured $100 million for her district. It certainly appears, and this is done all the time, that this is an incentive by Senator Reid to get her vote.

KYL: One of the ways that the leader will get recalcitrant senators - - and it's done in the House of Representatives by the Speaker, as well -- to support their position is to favor them with something a little extra to sweeten the pot. Now, it's not really fair for one senator to get something that none of the other senators get. But in this bill, there is a provision that if you are from a state that seven years ago was declared a disaster area that you don't have to take the same kind of Medicaid hit that all of the other states do. In other words, your state isn't going to have to come up with all the dough that all the other states are, states that are already broke, to pay for more Medicaid patients.

Now, what state would that be? It happens to be Louisiana because seven years ago, with a hurricane, they were declared a disaster area. So instead of just saying, For Senator So-and-so's state, we're going to give her some extra money, it has to be a general provision. And therefore, it describes the circumstance under which her state is favored.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, it looks from the outside, if you go through sort of the nuances that you just explained in the bill, that it was -- that it's purchased, that it's $100 million that was put on the table for her constituents. And her vote is so important. And you know -- and frankly, it's a tough position to be in because this is $100 million to a district that really needs it, right? I mean, it's a tough spot for her.

KYL: Oh, sure. Each one of us could make the argument that there are special circumstances for our state that should enable us to some additional benefit. I mean, seven years ago, if you had a disaster declared in your state, that's -- that's an important thing. My state of Arizona is hurting badly. We have a very high unemployment rate because home construction and tourism are two of our big things, and of course, both are really in the tank right now. Each state could make some kind of a case why it should get something extra.

But for those senators who hold out until the last, sometimes they can extract a little extra in order to get their vote. Now, I'm not contending that anybody in particular did that. What I would like to do, though, is make the point that while nationwide this health care plan is opposed approximately 60 to 40 by most public opinion surveys, in a lot of the key states where there are key Democrats, more moderate Democrats, it is opposed by at least 2-to-1 and in some cases more than 2-to-1.

So the real question is, are these senators respecting the wishes of their constituents, who strongly oppose it, or are they bowing to the dictates of their leader, Harry Reid?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so if Senator Landrieu's got this $100 million and it is enormously tempting, and I can understand it with all the needs of her constituents, as well as the needs of your constituents -- of course, you're in the minority party, so you don't have the leverage and you're not the hold-out. What in the world could entice Senator Blanche Lincoln? Because if she is the last hold-out for that 60th, and she sees that Senator Landrieu got the $100 million, at least if I were Senator Landrieu (SIC), I would say, Look, you know, I need $101 million?

KYL: Well, I'm not going to speculate on that because I wouldn't want to characterize the motives of any of my colleagues. I'd simply take it to a slightly higher level. All 40 Republicans know this is a bad bill. We are respecting the wishes of our constituents. We're going to say, No, we don't want to start debate on this. We'd rather go back and start over.

The question is whether Leader Reid has all 60 of these Democrats. He needs them all. But if he gets all of his Democrats, then we start work on the bill. And I just ask my colleagues from more moderate states, whose constituents have already told them better than 2-to-1, Don't do this, that they respect the wishes of their constituents, not simply the dictates of their leader.

VAN SUSTEREN: Imagine the difficulty of someone who -- who comes from a state that is very much opposed to this bill and might be up for reelection soon and votes for it, knowing that this could be the sort of the death knell for that person's political career. That is a possibility.

KYL: It is. And what obviously will be argued, if you remember John Kerry and his famous debate when he said, Well, I voted before it before I voted against it -- that's what these people will be doing. If they say, Well, at the end, I'll still vote against it -- well, they'll have to explain why they voted for it, enabling the process to move forward, before they voted against it when it is probably going to be easier for it to end up passing.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, tomorrow is the big -- big vote is tomorrow. And you know, I actually think it's a tough decision for a lot of these sort of hold-out senators because, you know, they really do want to help their constituents so much. And it's tough question for them.

KYL: It is, and...

VAN SUSTEREN: And when the pot is sweetened a little bit...

KYL: Sure. I always thought that you owe your constituents your best judgment. You do what you think is right. But also, when it's overwhelmingly clear what they think, you should give that a great deal of consideration.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any chance the Republican Party's going to peel off a Democrat tomorrow night and it's going to be 59?

KYL: Well, you've just spoken of -- again, I won't mention names, but some Democrats whose constituents don't like this bill. And so there's always a possibility that they decide to follow their constituents, rather than their leader.


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