'Special Report' Panel on Battle Over Health Care Reform

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from July 15, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's time for us to buck up, Congress, this administration, the entire federal government, to be clear that we've got to get this done.

Our nurses are onboard. The American people are onboard. It's now up to us. We can do what we've done for so long, and defer tough decisions for another day, or we can step up and meet our responsibilities. In other words, we can lead.


BAIER: President Obama in the Rose Garden today, a day where the Senate House committee passed along party lines out of committee a health care reform bill. This was Senator Ted Kennedy's bill. It does include a federally run public option.

The president there saying that the American people are for it, but not as many as used to be for this plan. As you take a look at Rasmussen polls, the latest, the president and congressional Democrats health care plan, opposing 49 percent, in favor 46 percent. And you can see it has switched in just a couple of weeks.

Let's bring in our panel, Jeff Birnbaum, managing editor digital of the "Washington Times," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Jeff, the Senate committee passing along party lines a big deal, but a lot of questions about where this goes from here.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, MANAGING EDITOR DIGITAL, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Right. It is actually just a partial bill. It doesn't pay for itself. That comes from another committee, the finance committee in the Senate.

I think that the passage of that, while a surprise and momentous in a certain way, it moves the Obama health reform further than the Clinton health reform ever got.

I think it's mostly, though, the illusion of motion that we're seeing, because this is more of a benchmark than a real live bill. It sets out the basics of what President Obama and the Democratic leaders would like, but it will have to be watered down considerably if it's going to go anywhere in the Senate, in particular.

You mentioned the government run insurance program. I'm not sure that there are enough votes for that. There is a huge question mark that hasn't even been addressed about how to pay for this. House Democrats want gigantic surtaxes on upper income people, not popular at all among Democrats in the Senate.

So this is just a marker and not a real bill, in my view.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes, everybody is waiting for the Senate Finance Committee. That's the key committee. It's the committee that is trying very hard. It's struggling, actually, to craft a bill that Republicans can vote for. Max Baucus, the chairman of that committee, wants a bipartisan bill.

And they have been having the most trouble with the pay-fors. How do you pay for $1 trillion worth of expanded health care coverage? And they are not crazy about doing what the House version does, which is raise taxes, as Jeff just said, on the wealthiest Americans. So they're really struggling to do that.

It was interesting. Today, President Obama pointed to the fact that in the Senate health committee, there were 160 amendments passed, adopted, that had been proposed by Republicans. And he said this is a hopeful sign for bipartisanship on the final bill.

But he didn't mention that not a single Republican voted for the actual bill when it came out of that committee. The White House is trying to redefine bipartisanship as to whether or not they adopt Republican ideas as opposed to get Republican votes.

BAIER: Charles, quickly here. We'll have another panel after the break, but your assessment of where things stand?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This is a fictional development because it's easy to do what the House and Senate have done, which is to propose enormous amounts of goodies that are going to be handed out. The real issue now and always is how you are going to pay for it.

Chris Dodd who, is handling this in the Senate, came out and said, as we saw earlier in the show, that we're going to look at waste, fraud and abuse and prevention. That's an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

BAIER: President Obama is obviously selling it hard. We have much more to talk about, about the health care push, and where exactly lawmakers are on all sides on this issue. Stay with us.


BAIER: Reacting to the bill that passed out of committee today, Republican senator Orrin Hatch said this — "They are just going to tax us right into oblivion if we allow them to pass this kind of a bill. They are hiding the costs. They are hiding these costs with budget gimmickry."

We're back with the panel. Charles, can Republicans stop whatever comes out health care bill-wise from the Democrats?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think they can sway public opinion on two issues. On complexity, the Republicans have a chart which makes it look like an absurd Rube Goldberg device. Secondly, on sticker shock, on cost.

When you hear, as I said earlier, Chris Dodd speak about prevention as a way of reducing cost prevention. Prevention's a wonderful idea. Study after study have shown it doesn't reduce costs.

Otherwise you're going to have to do as the House did, which is have a surtax on the rich, who already are paying — the top one percent are paying almost half of all income taxes. That well is dry.

And to do it in a recession is crazy. I think there are issues on which the Republicans can prevail.

BAIER: Mara, the president said we need to buck people up. This is a president with a big Democratic majority. And he said a couple of these statements over the past couple of days that seem to indicate the White House has some real concerns.

LIASSON: The president has been kind of clanging the bell of urgency, and saying you have to get this done by the August recess. And he has had individual members of Congress like Max Baucus into the White House to tell them the same thing.

What he isn't doing is telling them what hard political choices he wants them to make. He says our muscles have atrophied to do big things in Washington.

The problem is that he has laid down a lot of white lines of his own that makes it harder to find the revenue for this. He doesn't want to raise any taxes on people making under $250,000. He doesn't want to tax benefits. And he wants to be deficit neutral, which is a good thing.

But at some point, maybe sooner than the president had wanted to, he is going to have to wade in and start telling people what he wants them to do.

BAIER: Quickly, does this happen before the August recess?

BIRNBAUM: This meaning passage of a bill through both chambers —no, especially if the Republicans push the word "rationing." I think they are going to focus on that. We're going to hear that more from the Republicans as an antidote to what the Democrats are saying is good about the health reform bill.

BAIER: Thank you, panel. One topic abbreviated by the breaking news here in Washington.

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