Transcript: Key Senators React to Airline Attack

The following is a rush transcript of the December 27, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now to talk about the failed attack and more are four key senators, and let's get right to it.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, you've heard our reporting and the comments from the congressman and the senator. Do you have anything to add about the specific incident or what we need to do in the fight in the War on Terror?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, D-PA.: The full-body examining device is with us and it should have been used. There could be a simple pat-down and this fellow could have been detected.

We've got to sharpen up our procedures all around to figure out, when we get notice from a man's father and the embassy knows, what is pursued.

Senator Lieberman tosses out a fascinating idea when he talks about preemptive action. That's a big, complex subject but one we ought to be considering.

WALLACE: Senator Menendez, your thoughts both about this specific incident and what it says about the larger war on terror, especially in what Senator Lieberman identifies as perhaps the future war, the next war, Yemen?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: Well, I'm glad to see the Obama administration has been paying attention to Yemen. I do think that we need to be one step ahead of the terrorists.

They only — they need to be successful only once. We have to be successful 100 percent of the time. So we've got to be thinking ahead of the curve — what are all of the potential scenarios in which we could be attacked, in terms of what vehicles could be used, what instruments could be used against us?

Secondly, and clearly, the question is, "Is there real in-time use of this intelligence? Should this person not have been elevated based upon the family's presentation to our embassy in Nigeria?" And so those are some of the questions that have to be answered in the upcoming hearings.

WALLACE: Senator Shelby?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, R-ALA.: I believe this is a jolt for us. This is probably more than a wake-up call, noticing what's happened — what happened at Fort Hood and others. We have come a long way since 9/11, but we've got a long way to go. We've got to — we've got to believe — I believe, get better at sharing information between the State Department, people who issue visas, and the law enforcement, homeland security, FBI and so forth, that track these people.

We can do better, but this — this war is going to go on 50 years. We better wake up again.

WALLACE: And, Senator DeMint, you heard Congressman Hoekstra just say that the Obama administration had downplayed the war on terror, had not done as good a job as it should have in connecting the dots. Your thoughts?

SEN. JIM DEMINT, R-S.C.: Well, Chris, I am concerned because it's related to another issue that we're dealing with now in the Senate.

The administration is intent on unionizing and submitting our airport security to union bosses, collective bargaining, and this is at a time, as Senator Lieberman says, that we've got to use our imagination.

We've got to — we have to be constantly flexible. We have to out- think the terrorists. And when we formed the airport security system, we realized we could not use collective bargaining and unionization because of that need to be flexible. Yet that appears to be the top priority now of the administration.

And this whole thing should remind us, Chris, that the soft talk about engagement, closing Gitmo — these things are not going to appease the terrorists. They're going to keep coming after us, and we can't have politics as usual in Washington. And I'm afraid that's what we've got right now with airport security.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, let's turn to what we thought was going to be the big story this weekend, and that, of course, is health care reform.

Senator Menendez, as a member of the Democratic leadership in the Senate, will the House basically have to accept the Senate compromise, given the fact that you passed your version without a vote to spare?

MENENDEZ: Well, I'm sure the conference will yield some changes, but the reality is, having served in the House and its leadership, I understand sometimes its frustrations with the Senate, but if we are going to have a final law, it will look a lot more like the Senate version than the House version.

And I'm sure there'll be some compromises, but at the end of the day, I would expect that it will look very much like the Senate version.

WALLACE: Senate Shelby, there are big differences, obviously, as we know, between the House version and the Senate version. Let me run through perhaps the three biggest of them.

The House bill includes a public option. The Senate does not. The House bill has a surtax on people who make more than $500,000 a year. The Senate taxes high-premium insurance plans and raises payroll taxes on high earners. And the House bill is more restrictive than the Senate on banning abortion.

Senator Shelby, how will Republicans in both the House and Senate try to exploit those differences to block health care reform?

SHELBY: Well, I'm not in the House anymore, but I can tell you I'm proud of a lot of the House members who fought hard against the original House version and now will have to be definitely involved in this conference.

I don't know what's going to happen, but there are some — as you pointed out, some big differences between the two bills. I think both of them are bad bills. I hope that something happens that we don't see either one come out of a conference, but I'm afraid we will.

WALLACE: Senator DeMint, you have raised questions about whether or not either of these bills are constitutional. Do you plan to file a lawsuit if something is passed to block the enactment of health care reform?

DEMINT: Chris, this fight is not over right now, and the only thing worse than the policy itself has been the process that the Democrats have followed to get this passed.

We all heard last week about vote buying and different things going on in secret. So there are a lot of problems with this bill. Whether — who files a suit or what happens if they pass it is one thing.

But my hope now is as we reveal to the American people what's actually in this bill, what it will cost them, what it will do to our Medicare and health care system, that we'll get a few Democrats to stand up in the House that maybe didn't before and help us stop this thing.

It is really bad, and it — and it is not the answer. It doesn't meet the goals of the president. We need every American to have a health insurance plan they can afford and own and keep. This bill doesn't accomplish that.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, as our legal expert here — not to diminish in any case any of the other senators that are appearing — are there constitutional issues here? And let me ask you specifically about one. How can the government mandate that every individual has to buy health insurance?

SPECTER: I do not think there are serious constitutional issues. The mandate provision is very similar to what was done in Massachusetts when they had mandatory reform.

I'd like to pick up on what Senator DeMint says about the process. I think the process was very bad, but the process is really caused in large measure by the refusal of the Republicans to deal in any way.

Senator DeMint is the author of the famous statement that this is going to be President Obama's Waterloo, that this ought to be used to break the president, so that before the ink was dry on the oath of office — and I know this because I was in the caucus — the Republicans were already plotting ways to beat President Obama in 2012.

Now, effective government in a democracy relies upon some bipartisanship, but there simply isn't any. And the process which was used was not good. The lead story today in the Washington Post is that after you reform health care, you ought to reform the Senate. And I would start with the process.

And if some of the Republicans would come forward with suggestions, offer a vote or two, or three or four, to take away the need to have every last one of the 60 Democrats, you'd have a much better bill in accordance with the tradition of the Congress, especially the Senate, on bipartisanship.

WALLACE: Well, let me bring in Senator DeMint as a matter of personal privilege. You get 30 seconds to respond, sir.

DEMINT: Well, thank — thank you, Chris. I never wanted to break the president. We just wanted to break his momentum as he took over more and more of our economy and created more and more of our debt.

The reason the Republicans didn't have any ideas in the bill is that the Democrats didn't allow it, Chris. There was nothing that they would consider other than a government takeover of health care. Whatever words were used, that was their intent.

The Republicans have a number of bills, Chris, that would allow insurance to be more available and affordable to every American, but that was not the goal of the Democrats here. They want the government to run it. They want 80 or 90 percent of Americans on government health care. That's not a good thing for our country.

WALLACE: Let me — let me — let me...

SPECTER: Twenty — twenty — twenty — 20 seconds...

WALLACE: Gentlemen...

SPECTER: ... 20 seconds in reply?

WALLACE: No, no.

SPECTER: Twenty seconds in reply?

WALLACE: Senator Specter, no, because, in fairness, I've got to bring in your two other colleagues, and I know you wouldn't want to take time from them.

Let's turn briefly in the time that we have left to the question of the agenda for next year.

Senator Menendez, the White House talks about making a hard pivot after health care to jobs and to trying to reduce the deficit, but how do you reduce the deficit at a time when you keep spending trillions of dollars?

MENENDEZ: Well, Chris, first of all, let's put some things here in perspective. You know, this president inherited over $2 trillion of both tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country, unpaid for; two wars raging abroad, unpaid for; and a spending spree of the last eight years, and people seem to forget that...

WALLACE: No, but wait — wait a minute. Wait a minute.

MENENDEZ: ... in very short...

WALLACE: ... Senator Menendez...

MENENDEZ: ... in very short order.

WALLACE: ... and we are — we are almost out of time, and forgive me for interrupting, but you've got a $787 billion stimulus. That was an Obama plan. You've got...

MENENDEZ: Of course. Of course.

WALLACE: You've got health care, which is...

MENENDEZ: Of course, but let's put it...

WALLACE: ... going to be more than a trillion dollars once the whole program starts. You've got a $174 billion jobs program. I mean, yes...


WALLACE: ... I agree, you inherited a lot...

MENENDEZ: Chris...

WALLACE: ... but you're also spending a lot.

MENENDEZ: Well, Chris, first of all, the reason that we ended up with a stimulus package is that we were on the abyss. You know, the chairman of the Federal Reserve said we were going to have a global economic meltdown, so we needed to move away from that.

And every indication shows us that GDP growth is growing and that we are getting back on track in terms of jobs. Look, this will be focus number one, jobs and the economy.

But in terms of reducing the deficit, the Congressional Budget Office says that the health care package that we will pass will reduce that deficit by $132 billion in the first 10 years, by $1.2 trillion in the next 10 years.

And I would simply say to my Republican friends what are they going to campaign on, that they're going to repeal 30 million people who have health insurance under this package, that they're going to repeal closing the gap on Medicare...

WALLACE: But let me — let me...

MENENDEZ: ... prescription drug coverage that...


WALLACE: ... Let me bring in Senator Shelby.

MENENDEZ: That's what — that's what they'll have to run on.

WALLACE: Senator Menendez, I've got — I've got to bring in Senator Shelby, because we've only got about 30 seconds left.

How credible are the president and Democrats when they talk about reducing the deficit?

SHELBY: They're not credible at all. As a matter of fact, even our record as Republicans wasn't the best, but they're making us look good each year.

We're on a financial disaster path. Make no mistake about it. We keep going that way, we're — we're ruining — ruining our country. We're going to destroy our economy and we're going to have no growth.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, I want to thank you all so much. Sorry I had to cut you off a bit, but obviously we're also covering the breaking news today. Thank you for coming in on your holiday weekend, and we wish you all a happy new year.

SPECTER: Good to be with you. Thank you.

DEMINT: Thank you, Chris.

SHELBY: Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

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