'Special Report' Panel on Health Care Reform Debate in Senate; Sarah Palin's Future Plans

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from November 20, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, D-LA.: I haven't made a final decision because I liter ally have been, except for the one and a half hours I have been here, literally reading the bill, and that will continue until about six or seven o'clock tonight.

And then after I have all the information in front of me, I'm going to make a final decision. There are some very excellent things about this bill, and then there is still some concerns.


BRET BAIER, HOST: One of the excellent things for Senator Landrieu may be $100 million in federal Medicaid subsidies that goes to just one state — Louisiana — on page 434.

There are still some senators we don't know how they will vote, but most are lining up to move this forward. This as polls show, the newest polls about health care reform legislation, that 51 percent oppose, 35 percent favor. And there you can see how it's moved a little bit.

And then better or worse, will your family do better or worse under proposed health care reforms? And there you see worse off, 37 percent. No difference, 37 percent.

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, what about the vote that will happen Saturday night in the Senate?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: This is a huge, huge test of the Democratic majority in the Senate. This is a procedural vote. This is a time a party gets to act like a parliamentary majority. In other words: There are many Democrats who don't like what is in this bill and maybe they won't vote on the final package. But this is a procedure to get it to the floor to merely have a debate.

This is the kind of thing that Republicans used to ask for with judicial nominations when Democrats were blocking it. This is just to get the vote to the floor.

I think the three holdouts — Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Blanche Lambert Lincoln — I think the hardest vote there is Blanche Lambert Lincoln.

BAIER: Nelson has already said he's going to vote to move it forward.

LIASSON: And I think Mary Landrieu probably will too.

BAIER: Especially with the additional incentive.

LIASSON: Yes, but believe me, this kind of thing, the incentives have happened...

BAIER: What does Blanche Lincoln get?

LIASSON: We don't know. That the big question that everybody has been asking is what does she want? She is the only one of the three that is actually up. Her numbers are terrible in Arkansas. It is a state that did not vote for Barack Obama.

And message that the White House is sending to her among other things that they might be sending to her, like gifts and other things she may want, is if you think you can run for reelection having broken with the president on this crucial, crucial vote and keep your base excited and still somehow fend off the Republican attacks, you are deluded.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: That assumes that her base is the same is his base, and I'm not sure that — there is overlap there.

LIASSON: Yes. The Democratic base in Arkansas will not be happy if she votes to not even let the thing get to the floor.

HAYES: That's true, but the question is can she win with the Democratic base if she upsets the moderates and independents?


HAYES: I think that is at the very least an open question.

Look, I think it would be huge news if this wasn't going to pass tomorrow. I think it's relatively less interesting that it likely will. I mean, it's taken some maneuvering. You give Harry Reid credit.

I think the person who really deserves credit Mitch McConnell for keeping all Republicans onboard in opposition. He is going to at least — at this stage — hang this on the Democrats. This is going to be the Democratic bill, and he is going to make them do some maneuvering to get this forward.

You know, it's sort of an interesting moment. It is the first test, the Democrats look like they will pass it. But the real fighting starts on November 30 and I think Republicans are sort of united and geared up to have that fight.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: You asked what Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas will ask for. Well, after watching Louisiana get $100 million in what have some have called "The Louisiana Purchase," she out to ask for $250 million at least.

And that's because Obama said he would end business as usual in Washington. If you look at the section, it is 2006 in which the Louisiana money, it looks as if it is provision for all states which have had a proclamation of a disaster area in the last seven years, and then the fine print inside eliminates all the others except Louisiana.

So it's a new kind of business as usual.

I think that Steve is right. There is almost no way imaginable that the vote will fail tomorrow. If it is, it is the ultimate humiliation. It's the rejection of the debate even before it starts.

I think the Democrats who, even Lincoln who will have to be for reelection, will have a second shot at killing the bill later after the amendments. All of this is, are we going to have the beginning of a debate?

Now, you've got Nelson, who is against the abortion provisions. He will allow a debate, but if it's not changed in the course of these amendments, he will oppose the bill at the end, which is why I think the bill at the end is going to strip out all the abortion stuff.

And then on the private — on the public option, they're going to lose Lieberman in the end, not tomorrow night, but in the end if it stays in. But they could possibly gain Olympia Snowe of Maine if a trigger is in.

So it can in the end pass, but it has to be amended in precisely the right way.

BAIER: It's a balancing act, definitely.

I want to turn to the second day in a row where a federal panel has come out with guidelines and recommendations that the White House is not too pleased about.

First we had the mammograms that they said this is not administration policy to move the age up to fifty. Now the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG, advises women to start pap tests for cervical cancer at 21, not eighteen.

The White House, this is what the Washington Post said, quickly, "White House aides said the political team leading the fight to pass health care reform first heard about this upcoming report which the past approved in March in the past two weeks and viewed it as one of many potential headaches that opponents could use to attack reform efforts."

LIASSON: Is ACOG actually a government panel? I think it's more...

BAIER: Independent.

LIASSON: I don't know if it's a government panel. The first one was definitely a government panel, but a preventative task force...

BAIER: But it opens the door to this conversation about rationing.

LIASSON: There is no doubt. I think the mammogram thing was a bowling ball rolling right down towards health care reform, because it is one of the most emotional issues for women. Breast cancer is the number one concern about women when they're asked what they worry about.

And here is this governmental panel — independent — but in the Senate bill it says that when it comes to writing the basic health care package that insurers who participate in these exchanges are going to offer, they're going to look to panels including this preventive task force and others to decide what should be in the package.

And I talked to Secretary Sebelius this week, who of course pushed back against this and said, no, no, we want women to keep on getting their mammograms, and this is just one study among many, and the final arbiter of what is in the basic insurance package if there is health care reform will be me, not these panels.

And I asked her, well, will you pledge to make sure that mammograms for women over 40 are included? And she said yes. In other words, the White House is doing everything it can to reassure Americans that there aren't going to be a bunch of panels deciding what they can and cannot get paid for.

BAIER: We will talk much more about this in days ahead, guaranteed.

The Friday Lightning Round is next with your choice of the online topic of the week. That's first. Stay tuned.


BAIER: All this week and every week on FoxNews.com, the Special Report page, viewers can vote on what topic we discuss first during the Friday lightning round. This is it. You can that poll on our Web site halfway down on the right-hand side of the screen right there in the circle.

As of 4 p.m. eastern this afternoon, about 1,300 of you had weighed in, and 61 percent wanted the first topic to be the most vulnerable lawmakers in 2010. So here we are, back with the panel. Steve, we'll start with you.

HAYES: I think the most interesting race probably of the entire cycle is going to be Charlie Crist vs. Marko Rubio in Florida.

Rubio is a young, fresh-faced conservative. I had somebody who is not prone to hysteria or enthusiasm at political events go and watch him speak and come back and say this is the Republican Barack Obama.

BAIER: The latest poll at real clear politics has Crist up by 13 roughly, but obviously, Rubio has made a charge as of late.

HAYES: That gap is really narrowing. I would be actually at this point, despite the fact that Rubio is down, I would be shocked if he doesn't win the primary in August.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: I think Chris Dodd, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, is also facing a very tough race. His two possible opponents, former Republican Congressman Rob Simmons, leads him in the polls, and so does the former world wrestling executive Linda McMahon.

And he has been struggling for a long time. For a while Dodd's numbers were coming up and people thought he was repairing himself and then all of a sudden they slid back down again.

He did make a momentous decision to chair the banking committee instead of the health committee when he had that choice, and of course, being sorted with banking in any way shape or form right now is not so great.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: The race that interests me is the one in Delaware where I think nepotism is the issue on the ballot. It was a seat held for 100 years by the vice president. His son is now the heir-apparent, but he is being opposed by Mike Castle, a very popular former governor. It's probably a dead heat, Castle is slightly ahead. It will be a really interesting race.

BAIER: Timothy Geithner, the treasury secretary, under fire up on Capitol Hill and in the hot seat, and even Democrats saying some of them that he should step down. Mara, what about this?

LIASSON: I think it just shows how unpopular the bailouts have been, what a thankless job it is to repair the economic crisis. I don't think that his job is in jeopardy. I think he still has the confidence of the only person that matters, Barack Obama.

And I think he is getting populist heat from both the left and right, but I don't think that he is seen as grossly incompetent. What I think he is just a poster boy, the face of the bailout right now in the administration.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I would agree. There were three people who saved us last year and Geithner was one of them. Bernanke was the other and Paulson, and they staggered around and they made mistakes and a lot of their steps were contradictory, but in the end, they saved the American economy.

I would not in any way let him go and actually, I would toast him for what he did — he and his two compatriots.

BAIER: Steve, it is also interesting to point out that the Treasury Department is still pretty vacant in some top spots. There are a lot of openings over there.

HAYES: It is. Which could be good or bad. I would not be joining Charles in that toast. I would not be clinking glasses with the group toasting Timothy Geithner.

But I think what politicians, what elected officials want to do right now is have some focus for the anger out there, and to be able to say, I'm doing something, and there's very little that a member of Congress can actually do. So this is one way they can affect it.

KRAUTHAMMER: And there is little a treasury secretary can do in the middle of a recession.

BAIER: OK, quickly, Sarah Palin. We have seen the "Sarah Palin Derangement Syndrome," but we have also seen ridiculous ratings every time she pops up talking about this book. Oprah had the highest rating in two years for her show — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: She's a rock star. She's this year's Barack Obama, incredible charisma and a strong constituency.

She will not be the nominee. She shouldn't be, but she will be decisive in deciding who is.

LIASSON: I agree.


LIASSON: She's very influential in the Republican Party, but she hasn't shown any signs of either wanting to or planning for a real presidential run.

BAIER: Really?

LIASSON: That's what I think. I can't find anybody who thinks she's going to do it. Now, she has plenty of time because she has 100 percent name ID, so she can start later than most other candidates. But I think she is not going to run. I think she will just be a power broker and king-maker.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: I think she will run and I think she assumes right now that she doesn't need to be doing the kind of things precisely because she's so popular.

Look, her book sold 300,000 copies on the first day. That is absolutely extraordinary. She clearly strikes a chord with huge numbers of conservatives out in the country who cheer her when they hear her name.

LIASSON: Can I amend my remarks? You know what, she might have to run just to preserve her viability as a force in the party, but I don't see her as a serious candidate for the nomination.

BAIER: Amended remarks on the Friday lightning round. I like that.

Finally, Oprah announcing her show will end at the end of 2011. Since we just talked about Oprah, any comments on that?

LIASSON: But she is making a cable net work, OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not sure I can take it. My afternoons will be empty.

HAYES: I wept.


BAIER: That's how we leave the Friday lightning round. Thank you all for tuning in.

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