'Special Report' Panel on Republican Opposition to Obama Stimulus Package

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from January 29, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. KENT CONRAD, D-N.D.: I think there is general agreement there has to b e a substantial economic recovery package. But what came over from the House can be substantially improved.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's safe to say we didn't presume we would get 100 percent of anything. We probably won't get 100 percent of a prop osal, and we won't 100 percent support from either Republicans or Democrats.

Again, that doesn't stop the president's effort to push forward.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT, R-UTAH: I'm going to vote against this package because it's not going to work.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: I don't think the American people like this. I don't think they know how much is being spent, and where it's all going to be spent.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Democrats and Republicans weighing in today on the economic stimulus package as the battle now goes to the U.S. Senate.

You heard Senator Sessions there talking about the American public. The latest FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll shows some interesting numbers -- all there, 50 percent favored cutting taxes to 29 percent increasing spending. And you can see the breakdown by party and independents there.

What about all this? Some analytical observations now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer -- FOX News contributors all.

Fred, do you find the poll interesting?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I do find the poll interesting. And there is another one, a Rasmussen poll, that shows that the support for the stimulus package has dropped to 42 percent, and for the obvious reasons that people are learning what's in the bill, that there is a lot of pork, that Democrats are putting so many things in there that have nothing to do with stimulating the economy.

The spending on infrastructure, which I think people do support, because it will create jobs, is only a small part, five percent of the whole package. And I think that was Senator Conrad who said changes will have to be made in the Senate, and may be.

I think he is right about that. This is a test of, one, of President Barack Obama. He praised the House bill in which there was no bipartisanship whatsoever. Republicans were completely shutout.

Is that what he wants, or does he want a bill where Republicans will get some things in the bill -- and they will all be tax cuts, which is what the public wants -- or not? It is up to President Obama, because he can tell the Senate Democrats what to do. I know Harry Reid says he doesn't work for Barack Obama. Yes, he does.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Look, I think the Republicans have done a very effective job of highlighting the pork that's in this bill. And what I think Obama should do is exercise what amounts to a line item veto in advance by taking the junk out -- taking out the aid for honey bee research, and the sexually transmitted diseases, and the stuff for Florida yacht makers, and all that kind of stuff. Get it out of there. Make this a clean bill that he can really defend. And, secondly, I think he ought to revert to his promise to go to 40 percent tax cuts. And, for sure, he ought to say we will not raise taxes in the middle of a recession. That is for sure what he should do.

And then beyond that, you have this big ideological fight that's been going on forever over whether tax cuts or spending is better for an economy, and especially to lift it out of a recession.

And, you know, the Democrats got elected, right? The Republicans had their chance with their tax cuts for eight years. Now it's the Democrats' turn. They believe in spending. We're going to have spending.

And I think the Republicans ought to go along with some spending just because that's the way the election came out.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think Mort's suggestion that Obama clean it up and take out the junk in it points to the original error in this -- he let it out of his control.

Had it been written in the White House, we might have had a clean bill. Instead, it was written by the House, by Pelosi, and it is one of the ugliest ever produced by an American legislature.

It has got pork. It is a 40-year wish list. It has all the stuff that you heard about. It's novel length -- a late Norman Mailer novel long. You throw a dart at it and you will have on any page six items which are outrageous.

Now, what's ironic about all this is that Obama ran as the man who would redo our politics, who would eliminate the lobbying and the special interests and the earmarks.

This is the largest earmark bill - earmark, but without stealth, just out in the open -- of special interests, favors, parochial interests, in American history. And it is under his aegis.

I think it contradicts his idea of the new politics, but he's stuck with it. And all he can do now is strip out the stuff that's in it. But I think it's impossible. It's -- more than half of it that is all of this small stuff.


KRAUTHAMMER: Let me give you one example -- the community reconstruction stuff, which is supposed to be state and local government. Now it includes non-profits, like ACORN. This is payoff to all of these constituency, small level, small board, and --

KONDRACKE: But that stuff is not half the bill. I will bet you that the junk is five percent of the bill, 10 percent of the bill.


KONDRACKE: State and local governments, that is different.

KRAUTHAMMER: Unrestricted, uncontrolled spending.

KONDRACKE: Just a minute. State and local governments are forced to be little Herbert Hoovers. Every governor has to balance a budget in the middle of a recession.

KRAUTHAMMER: Not any more.

KONDRACKE: Yes, they do! They need help, for heaven's sake.

BARNES: Mort, then you are just moving money from one pot to another pot.

The economist Alice Rivlin, who's a Democrat, had a pretty good idea. Let's have two bills. Let's have a bill that a stimulus bill, where things that actually have a passable chance of stimulating the economy, and separate all the stuff that Democrats have put out in their hundreds of billions of dollars, Mort, that is just to get programs they like in place but have nothing to do with the stimulus.

Do the stimulus first, and then get back to the other later.

BAIER: One quick question, Mort. All the things that you said the White House should do, do you think they will do them?

KONDRACKE: If they don't do it, they will be behind the curve on this. They will get this bill passed. But if he wants to be on the high side of this, he should do it, and he should make Democrats mad.

BAIER: So are Republicans starting to toughen up with their opposition to this plan? The panel weighs in on that after the break.



ED GILLESPIE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: More voters thought that President Obama would be more likely to cut their taxes than Senator McCain would be. When Republicans are losing on fiscal discipline and tax cuts, that's a problem.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Every so often there comes a time when a political party has to reexamine itself. For Republicans, now is such a time.

For some, the work might seem daunting. It shouldn't, because there are signs already, my friends, that a revival is beginning to take place.


BAIER: There you see former White House counselor Ed Gillespie and the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about the future of the Republican Party.

What about the vote in the House, a unanimous vote against the plan? Was it a galvanizing moment for the GOP, or could it back fire? We're back with the panel -- Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, when you're in power, it's hard to maintain your principles. The temptations of power are rather strong.

The Republicans are now out of power and have an opportunity to actually act on principle. If they stand for anything, it's discipline, fiscal discipline.

Now, you can argue that it's hypocrisy because in the Bush years they spent promiscuously, and it did. But, look, hypocrisy will be a charge that will be around no matter what. You might as well start with a virtue today, and I think opposing the bill, which is essentially an abomination, is a good way to start.

Look, the politics of this are going to hinge, in the end, on whether the bill succeeds or not. If the economy is revived in a year or so, all of these arguments will be moot, and Obama will get the credit, and Republicans will get the blame for oppositionism.

If, on the other hand, the stimulus is, as it appears, a lot of pork and payback and is not going to help the economy, Republicans will benefit.

But I think you should at least stand on principle and act on what you believe. And the majority of Republicans think it's an ugly, bad bill.

KONDRACKE: Look, I think that the country voted for both candidates in the last election who said that they are going to change the tone of things in Washington. The public is fed up with old style partisanship. I don't think there is any question about that.

So the question is, if Obama continues to reach out and reach out and reach out, and reaches out substantively as well as in form, not just holding meetings and coffees and cocktail parties, but actually reaches out to the Republicans and gives them something, and they keep batting his hand away again and again and again and again -- if this thing does work, I think the Republicans are going to be isolated as they are now down to the Rush Limbaugh base.

The conservatives amount to 33 percent of the country. If Republicans want to be 33 percent of the country for the rest of the foreseeable future, this is a good way to start.

KONDRACKE: Mort, this is the bill that is the cherished product of liberal interest groups. Liberals are about half the number of conservatives. So, I don't think that's a very good argument. You have to think of another one.

Look, Republicans are going to lose the vote, but they are winning the argument. Everybody knows that there is no bipartisanship here. Everybody knows that support for this bill is shrinking, particularly among serious economists.

You notice Mort has not Martin Feldstein. Mort talked about him for days and days because he was for a big stimulus.

KONDRACKE: He is still for a big stimulus.

BARNES: He is still for a big stimulus, but not this one, because he says it won't stimulate the economy. I think people are beginning to understand that.

Republicans have made some good arguments. And you have to give Eric Cantor some credit. He's the new Republican Whip in the House. In his first game he pitched a perfect game, got them all. That's amazing.

If there is significant concessions by Obama, he will get a lot of Republican votes.

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