'Special Report' Panel Previews President Obama's Health Care Speech

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from September 9, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The speech is to make sure that the American peopl e are clear exactly what it is that we're proposing, to make sure that Democrats and Republicans understand that I'm open to new ideas, that we're not being rigid and ideological about this thing. But we do intend to get something done this year.


BRET BAIER, HOST: President Obama on ABC today. In his speech tonight, we are told he will say again that if health care reform is not passed this year, more Americans will die as a result. Well, here's the latest polling out from Associated Press today about the health care — his handling of health care. You can see now 52 percent disapprove of how the president is handling health care as opposed to 43 percent in July.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio.

Steve, what do you expect tonight and how far he will go to kind of tiptoe through the tulips with all the subjects we are dealing with.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, and tiptoeing is exactly the right way to put it.

We have seen today a profusion speech previews and some excerpts and things, and what strikes me, at least so far, is the lack of detail in these things. This will be I think his 29th speech on health care, and, as of right now, it doesn't seem like he's going to be adding a kind of granularity that his advisers have been promising for the last week.

BAIER: Although in 45 minutes, there has to something in there.

HAYES: There does. One would think there has to be something.

One of the things I would expect him to say is he will talk about the country basically being confused and not fully understanding what he has been trying to convey with his proposals, or the proposals of Congress that he is sort of adopting.

I think that fundamentally misunderstands the problem. I think people actually do understand more or less what he is proposing, and they don't like it.

He is going to talk about three different things that Congress or that these kinds of proposals have to have. He wants to cover more people. He wants it to cost less for the people who are currently covered and improve their care. And overall, he wants to lower the cost of health care.

I think people rightly understand. They look at those three goals and say, look, those are not compatible.

BAIER: A.B., we heard from the White House today through a reporting of Major Garrett that he will offer support for the public option.


BAIER: Conditional support. I mean, how does that move the ball?

STODDARD: They just couldn't dump it before tonight. I mean, the feel something that they need to come out and say, as he said before, it's a nice egg in the basket of options...

BAIER: The government-run health insurance.

STODDARD: The public plan is a way to bring choice and competition. It's not the only way. That's what they continue to say.

And you saw in the ABC interview this morning and in many interviews with his staff the same language being use, that there they are not drawing a line in the sand is what they're saying in so many words. It is not the only way.

I think he should come out today — tonight and press not only the right, as I'm sure he will, but press the left, and say, you know, these all or nothing threats really have to stop here. We have to move forward. If we can't get a public option — we might want one, but we can't get one and we have to move forward with some kind of consumer protection bill anyway.

I doubt that he will say that, but the sense that the White House is giving is that he will try to continue to try to straddle support for the public option even if it can't pass.

BAIER: Juan, the excerpts look like more of the soaring rhetoric, as Steve mentioned. Do you think that there is a game changer in these 45 minutes tonight?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: The only game changer that I can see is the idea of having a demonstration district in which you would try to somehow limit tort reform, you know, try tort reform. Malpractice suits would somehow be constrained so that that added cost to health care would be limited, and to see if that goes somewhere.

It's a game changer in this sense...

BAIER: So embrace the tort reform issue?

WILLIAMS: It's a game changer to Republicans. It's saying to Republicans, I'm listening to you, I'm working with you. In fact, they make the point that this came out, that is was originally a Bush administration idea.

BAIER: So what about the argument that it opens the door to another constituency that would oppose this effort, namely trial lawyers?

WILLIAMS: I think they're willing to incur that kind of wrath for the moment and take that on. They would like to make sure that they can get some Republican support for. They have not given up on the bipartisanship whole scale.

They are looking at the main senators, Olympia Snowe and others. Potentially down the line they could look at Voinovich and the like. But they are looking to somehow get that. But the key thing that I would differ with Steve on is this — that they don't believe that the American people understand what has been said, that the president will speak tonight — I was over at the White House today, and what his advisors are saying is most Americans wanted health care reform, and when they are asked about Obama's plan, it is a push to a negative. But tonight it will not be the caricature. Tonight they will actually hear the facts, what President Obama is proposing. And that is the game changer that they want.

BAIER: Because there hasn't been an Obama plan. Steve, if the tort reform, whatever it becomes — it is a little vague in the reporting now — is not in the bill in language in whatever comes out of Congress, is it anything that can attract Republicans?

HAYES: No, I don't think so.

The president does this, and he usually does this very effectively. I saw him do this on the stump in Iowa in December of 2007 where he sort of pitched his hat to Republicans or conservatives, people who might disagree with him, and he says, look, you have valid points. You're making valid points here. I'm just going to go about getting there my own way.

I think if he doesn't put this in the bill or if it's not some serious tort reform, I think Republicans are going to look at it as a gimmick, and I think they will be right.

WILLIAMS: Yes, but what will the public look at? The public will say he is trying. And again, it comes back to siding with the president saying, you know, the president is going to say now is the time for action. And so who gets to bear the brunt of the blame if nothing happens?

HAYES: But he will are to turn around public opinion on this right now. The public isn't voting on this this fall. The Congress presumably is.

BAIER: The good thing is we have another panel on health care.


The Democrats' top negotiator in the Senate now says the government- run insurance option will not pass the Senate. The FOX all-stars weigh in on that and whatever else is left on the table after the break.



REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO: They don't want this massive government takeover of our health care system. But it appears that the president is going to double down tonight and try to put lipstick on this pig and call it something else.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-MT: SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think, frankly, with increasing conviction that a public option cannot pass the Senate.


BAIER: Well, that last statement by Senator Max Baucus, he is the head of the Senate Finance Committee, he is leading the discussion in the Gang of Six. This is the group of senators, Republicans and Democrats, who you see here, who are trying to get some bipartisan bill out of the Senate Finance Committee, but Senator Baucus saying a public option, a government- run option doesn't look likely, not in his committee.

But he will pass something, he says, in two weeks with or without Republican support.

We are back with our panel. A.B., it is kind of newsy.

STODDARD: Not much news came out of Baucus' gang of six tonight.

BAIER: Well, he will pass something in two weeks.

STODDARD: Well, I think we knew that a few days ago, which is on September 21 he is going to take a bill to his committee to mark up with or without Republicans. And that has been the thinking from Democratic leadership.

BAIER: He hasn't said it, though.

STODDARD: You're right, he hasn't.

The interesting thing about these meetings is that they don't poll, he doesn't poll the other five members, and there is no consensus. It just ends, and it is a circular discussion. It was described to me as kind of like a health care symposium.

And so they all five came today with their additions to his mark that he presented earlier this week, and they left, and there is no consensus, no bipartisan agreement. And he is going to bring something, unless lightning strikes, to his committee on September 21.

This is going to be tough. It will be a partisan bill. He has problems on the left of his committee. You already see John Rockefeller, Senator from West Virginia, saying there's no public option, I'm not onboard.

After all of these months and all of these broken deadlines, the finance committee has not driven this debate and gotten this to where the president and the Democratic Party would like to be, which is a bill they can pass in six to eight weeks.

BAIER: Even Olympia Snowe, Steve, who is the Republican from Maine, who the administration has talked about because she put forth this trigger option that essentially would trigger a public option, a government run option if health insurance companies couldn't meet a certain bar, even she is saying I don't want to be the lone Republican. I don't want to be the only voice, and I don't want to go it alone.

She is kind of having reservations even today.

HAYES: Well, I don't blame her. But I think the president is likely to praise her, perhaps by name tonight, and I think that he ends up probably adopting something along the lines of what she is proposing in this trigger mechanism.

It is the most obvious potential point for compromise on a very practical and substantive level.

And two, I think it gives him the best selling point. It enables him to say, however disingenuously, look, I went to Republicans. I asked for their ideas. I came back. Olympia Snowe has been pushing this. This sounds like a reasonable compromise. I'm for it.

Now, he has rejected or ignored numerous other Republican proposals from across the spectrum, but this at least allows him to say I'm listening and I'm trying to be bipartisan.

BAIER: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn says the trigger may be the only way to save the public option on the Democratic side. Is seems like this may be where we're heading, isn't it, Juan?

WILLIAMS: It could be. I mean, there are lots of trigger discussions today. As I was saying, at the White House they are talking about triggers that would stop this deal from going forward if by 2013 it is not deficit neutral, they don't have the financing worked out.

Now we're talking in the short term here as we approach something coming out of the House and the Senate and some kind of compromise. They're looking at October, that's their deadline date now, October to get something done, that this trigger would kick that you're talking about as a way to buy in some Republican support. But I think that in general, they're looking at few Republicans. They do not expect that Republicans view themselves as having political interest in the president's success here.

BAIER: And A.B., explain to folks out there the tough part about a trigger.


STODDARD: So we can't actually say what the Snowe trigger is, if it is a stronger one or a weaker one on the table.

There was a trigger passed in the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. We have never triggered anything, though. It didn't come to pass. The skepticism will remain on the right and in the middle about whether or not because this leadership in the Congress, the Democratic Party, and the White House have supported a public option, whether or not it is truly a hair trigger designed to trigger a government health care program. You will see serious opposition to any triggered public option program. Steve is right. It might be a way to bring in people on the left, but they will fight about the trigger and how to design it for weeks and months to come. And I would add one thing about timing. There is — there are two gubernatorial elections that look like the Democrats could lose in states Obama won less than two months from now. That is a serious timeline. You will see very scared Democrats if those Democrats go down in those elections.

BAIER: Down the road, does he turn the tide tonight? Does he change the debate?

WILLIAMS: That's the whole key for them. And the way they're thinking is something Ronald Reagan once said to me. I was interviewing him in the White House, and he said "You guys hear me say this stuff time and time again. When you hear it for the tenth time, Juan, that is the first time the public is hearing it."

And that's what the Obama White House is counting on tonight to change the parameters of this debate.

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