Panel On Obama Delaying Travel Plans for Health Care

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 18, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: I think the president believes that this was so mething that was important to him, both the trip and the legislation are. I think the president believes that right now the place for him to be is in Washington seeing this through.

HOUSE MINORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO: The president's latest ploy as he's dealing with his members trying to convince them to vote against their constituents and to vote with him is to make the point that his presidency is on the line.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Well, our plan is for it not to come to the Senate. Our plan is for it to be defeated here in the House in the next few days.


BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: A lot of people are counting votes here in Washington before a big House vote expected sometime Sunday, Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening.

Here's the latest tally called the whip count that we have. As of right now, 216 are the number of votes needed to pass this health care reform bill in the House. It's essentially a reconciliation rule — more on that in a bit. But we have it at 214 to 217, not reaching it but getting closer as there is a lot of movement back and forth and a lot of arm twisting.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Mara, the president postponing this trip for a number of weeks, a pretty big deal.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: He's postponing it until June. They had already pushed it back so he could be in town to sign the bill if it's passed. He could sign it on Sunday. But now they have decided not to go at all.

I think it's the right decision for a lot of reasons. He has to be here. He has to get every last vote he can. And also, it isn't over even though the bill would actually become law once the House acts it does go to the Senate for the reconciliation part of it, and he has to be here for that, too.

BAIER: Steve, do you get a sense that the White House is feeling confident about their ability to turn no votes to yes votes?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I don't know that they are. I mean, I think there are two things, one of them being the president's postponing of his trip, that suggests they don't have the votes right now. That's one of them.

The other is the continued courting of Joseph Cao from Louisiana who voted for the bill the first time last fall and has been a public no, publicly opposed to the bill since the beginning of the year because of the abortion — he has problems with the abortion language.

They courted him yesterday and they courted him potentially again today, trying to flip him. You don't go after somebody who is a public no in that way and who is a no on reasons of moral principle, because he is prolife, unless you really think that you need the votes.

So I think the fact that they are going after him and trying to flip him suggest that they know that they don't have the votes.

BAIER: Charles, the Democrats touted these preliminary numbers from the Congressional Budget Office of their new bill, the reconciliation bill. Here are the numbers. We will talk more about them in the next panel, but, just to touch on them — the cost overall $940 billion over 10 years, reduces the deficit by $138 billion over 10 years, 32 million more Americans get coverage.

These are preliminary, does not include discretionary spending according to the CBO.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The old tricks and loopholes are all in this. One of the reasons there is momentum for the president and that I think they are going to get what they are looking for, I think they are going to get with the flips that we have already seen, Kucinich yesterday, Gutierrez today.

I think if the president is two votes down as he is in our tally, he is going to make it. And I think in part it's because you have got the presidency on the line here. With all the powers he has, you got a large majority of Democrats in the House and the Senate.

And I would add another element. You have a supine and credulous press. I'll give you one example — all the headlines today are how the big deficit reduction number you mentioned, $138 plus billion.

Now, built into that, I haven't seen this anywhere, about half of that is a deficit reduction as a result of a measure that doesn't have anything at all to do with health care. It's the federal takeover of student loans, which, for a lot of gimmicky reasons, will reduce the deficit by about $70 billion or so.

So that is shoe horned in in order to make the numbers look good, and that is not reported. It's a completely extraneous measure. But you still get Pelosi claiming unchallenged that this is a great — that this measure and the president as well is saying this, that it's the biggest blow in favor of reducing the deficit in years.

It's not. It's all loophole ridden.

BAIER: Mara, on the day, a day after the congressman from Illinois, Gutierrez, switched his vote from no to yes, the National Council of La Raza, the Hispanic group has released statements to a number of news organizations saying they are no longer in favor of health care reform legislation. How big a deal is that?

LIASSON: It's so interesting, the splits inside these interest groups. I mean, you saw the nuns in the Catholic Hospitals go against the bishops. Now you have the National Council of La Raza going against the Hispanic caucus because Gutierrez is now saying the president has convinced me he cares about immigration reform.

The problem La Raza had is they were for the House bill that allowed illegal immigrants buy own insurance with their own money on these exchanges. They won't get subsidies, but they would be able to buy them. The Senate bill doesn't allow that. That's what Gutierrez didn't like, but the president convinced him to come on board anyway.

I don't think at this point La Raza is going to necessarily switch a lot of Hispanic votes back to no. I don't think that's necessarily a big pull. I don't think it's good. I don't think it's good ever when you have a group that's ostensibly inside the Democratic tent saying they don't want this.

BAIER: And the White House is doing the personal reach-out. They are having lawmakers come in and talk directly with the president. Today Congressman Altmire from Pennsylvania was there for the jobs signing bill. And Steve, this is, you know, final days.

HAYES: Yes, I think — you know, when the history of this is all written in 10 or 20 years, we will look back on this period and I think we will look at amazement of the cornhusker kickback, that such a big deal was made of that, because we will learn what had actually been happening behind the scenes right now. And it's all of this kind of stuff.

Interestingly, at the press briefing today, Robert Gibbs was asked directly can you rule out that the president is making any sort of quid pro quo exchanges? Gibbs didn't answer the question which I think answers the question.

BAIER: He also didn't directly answer whether the president is using the line that "This will be the end of my presidency if this doesn't pass."

LIASSON: He didn't — he said he doesn't know that he has — look, the presidents have used that line for time and memorial. You have to do it for me because my presidency is on the line.

Many members have said that he did, and it certainly has the ring of truth. But you don't want to have your president, if you are Robert Gibbs, look like he is begging for them to save him.

I want to make one point about the cornhusker kickback and all these deals.

BAIER: We are going to talk about that in a second.

LIASSON: OK, fine.

BAIER: We'll talk about the special deals in the new bill, what we're digging out right now and get a little bit more into the numbers. Much more on health care reform on our homepage as well. Go to Be sure to vote on your choice for topic of the week for lightning round.

We will talk about those special deals when we come back.



SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: If you voted no and you vote yes and you lose your election and you think any nomination to a federal position isn't going to be held in the Senate, I got news for you. It's going to be held.

Number two is if you get a deal for — a parochial deal for you or your district, I have already instructed my staff and the staff of seven other senators that we will look at every appropriations bill at every level at every instance, and we will outline it by district, and we will associate that with the buying of your vote.


BAIER: Senator Tom Coburn issuing a warning to House Democrats about special deals that may be in this new reconciliation bill. We are still going through the finals see exactly what deals that were in the Senate bill are still in this bill.

And while we have been going through it Republican aides have pointed out there are a couple of deals by their reading, one for Representative Bart Gordon from Tennessee. That's new, which would be Medicaid aid for hospitals in Tennessee, more than $100 million there.

And then a deal, a carve out for a bank in North Dakota for Senator Kent Conrad. When this came up Conrad instructed the House budget Democrats to remove the provision. There is a lot of searching for deals in the new bill.

We're back with the panel. Steve, we may find more. We are still looking.

HAYES: What's amazing to me — I had a conversation with Paul Ryan yesterday about this. What's amazing to me is they still have the audacity to put in some of these deals.

You can back load these deals and say and make promises to people and say, look, in a couple of years I will help you out with this or I will make a campaign stop, or if you lose your reelection, I will find an administration job for you. You can do all these things in a way that's not so obvious.

But what is striking to me is that, you know, in this apparent Bismarck bailout they are calling it, this cut out for Conrad.

BAIER: Everybody has a name, don't they?

HAYES: I think the bailout name is a good name because it has such negative connotations. But they want more information about that. John Boehner put out a statement late this afternoon asking Earl Pomeroy about the Bismarck bailout. Did he know about it? What did he know about it? Did he press for it?

These are the kind of things I think we are likely to find in the last four or five day scramble.

BAIER: We should point out we haven't heard from Representative Gordon's office yet in a response to this charge by Republican aides that it's in this bill. They are pointing to specific language.

Mara, as far as we can tell, the Connecticut deal for the hundred million dollars for the hospital that Senator Dodd put in is still in there as well as others. I asked the president about that yesterday, and, you know, he didn't really have an answer about what was —

LIASSON: No. He defended Louisiana. He doesn't consider that in the same category.

But, look, the reason why we are — the Democrats are tying themselves up in knots right now is because they have to undo the deals that Harry Reid made to get the bill passed by the Senate. That's what reconciliation is about. It's about some other things, too, taxes and stuff.

But what is amazing is the incredible revulsion towards these deals on the part of the public. I think we really are in a new chapter. When this bill passed in the Senate, Harry Reid stood up and said to criticism of these deals, hey, this is what senators do. And if some of these senators didn't get a deal for their state, their constituents should be asking well, gee what are they doing up there?

So that's the old world of Washington where you do bring home the bacon and that's your job. Now we're in this era where people really do want reform and they don't want these deals. And now the House has taken a tiny little kind of baby step towards doing something about earmarks.

I think this is only going to snow ball and Congress is going to have to clean up their act.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: The big news is I think the Democrats running around, waving around the CBO report because the other concern of the public that's exploded over the last year is debt, expansion of government, and deficits. So it's waving around a number.

And I think it's unbelievably disingenuous. It says that over 10 years it will reduce the deficit by $138 billion. But to give you — to put it on a scale, last month alone, federal government under this administration ran a deficit of $221 billion. So, 10 years of the program is going to offset about 18 days of overspending in the last February of 2010.

But there is a larger issue here, which is it's pretending that somehow, and the president has said it's going to be a great day in deficit reduction. But look what it's doing. It's creating a new entitlement of roughly $1 trillion dollars.

It then is going to increase taxes and reduce spending to the tune of roughly $1.1 trillion. So, it ends up with $100 billion as a surplus.

But what it is doing, this is all happening in a climate where we have $9 trillion already in debt. It's going to double in 10 years. And we need every avenue of deficit reduction possible. So, of the $1.1 trillion of potential reduction, we're squandering $1 trillion of it on a new entitlement and having a tiny amount left over on these current entitlements.

BAIER: The long-term objection, which the CBO can't do beyond 10 years, they say it reduces the deficit by more than a trillion, 1.3 transparency over the 20 years, or something.

KRAUTHAMMER: I will believe a prediction of the weather on the first of January 2020 before I will believe a projection of deficits in 20 years. It's absurd, and it's meaningless.

BAIER: Steve, last word it looks like now that the language is out there, 72 hours. You do the math, Sunday afternoon to evening, a vote on this?

HAYES: Yes. That sounds about right. I think this will be a mad dash. We have seen minute by minute reports about flippers and potential flippers. That's what we are going to see for the next three days.

BAIER: House pass it, yes or no? Come on, quickly.

HAYES: Yes, by one vote.


KRAUTHAMMER: You asked me a month ago I said yes. It's going to be yes.

BAIER: Unanimous.

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