Transcript: Senate Power Players on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the November 22, 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: On Saturday night the Senate voted along party lines 60-39 to bring the Democratic health care reform plan to the floor for weeks of debate. Now the tough part begins, actually passing a bill. We're joined by four Senate leaders.

And welcome back, all of you, to "Fox News Sunday," and let's get right to it.

Senator Alexander, now that the Democrats' plan is on the Senate floor, what is your plan to beat it? Will you try to fix the bill, or will you urge all your members to vote against all the amendments?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN.: Well, our goal is to let the American people know what it -- what it does for them and to them, that it has higher premiums, higher taxes, Medicare cuts, puts 15 million more low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid.

And we think if the American people know that, the bill will collapse of its own weight. And we can get then started on going step by step toward reducing costs, which is what we've been trying to do...

WALLACE: But do you...

ALEXANDER: ... all along.

WALLACE: Specifically, is the plan to vote against all amendments?

ALEXANDER: Well, it depends on the amendment. But our -- the bill is fundamentally flawed. I mean, we -- if you expect Mitch McConnell to roll in a wheelbarrow with a Republican 2,000-page bill, it's not going to happen. But we do have proposals to let small businesses to pool their resources, to reduce junk lawsuits, to let people buy insurance across state lines.

And I think most people would be much more comfortable with us biting off what we could chew instead of this arrogance of thinking we can fix the whole system all at once.

WALLACE: Senator Stabenow, there were several people voted yesterday for the bill to bring it to the floor who made it very clear -- probably four or five -- that they would vote against this bill on final passage because there are certain aspects that they cannot accept.

My question, I guess, is since any amendment on the public option, or abortion or any of the other key issues needs 60 votes, how does the Democratic caucus -- how do you decide what you can accept, which may pick up two votes here but lose two votes here? How do you keep your super majority together?

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, D-MICH.: Well, first of all, let me say we all agree that the status quo is not working, and my Republican friends had six years of total control of the Congress and the White House, did nothing about making sure that small businesses and individuals without insurance who are seeing their premiums skyrocket actually saw any improvement.

And so we're all together on the fact that doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing means that businesses will see their costs double in 10 years...


STABENOW: ... and we'll lose another...

WALLACE: But I -- would you...

STABENOW: ... 3.5 million jobs.

WALLACE: ... answer my question, please?

STABENOW: I will. But I want to start from that premise. Secondly, we all agree that this is about saving lives, saving money, protecting Medicare.

So there are some differences, as you know, as to how we move forward to get competition with private insurance companies. I support a public insurance option.

WALLACE: So how do you -- so how do you keep the super...

STABENOW: We will keep working. We're working on a number of different options that will bring us together. And I believe at the end of the day we will be together because we know that we can't afford not to act, whether it's saving lives, saving money.

And I have to get in here that AARP is supporting what we did last night because it, in fact, protects and strengthens Medicare.

WALLACE: Senator Bond, one issue that gained new traction this week was this question of rationing, especially with that task force releasing its recommendations about mammograms. But Health Secretary Sebelius said that's not going to make any change in government health insurance coverage for mammograms.

SEN. KIT BOND, R-MO.: Well, the Preventive Services Task Force that came up with the recommendation is empowered to make those proposals. And I think everybody is rightfully worried when they said -- when they said you shouldn't have mammograms for women under 50.

Now, I know and have talked with a number of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer well before 50. And one very close friend lost her mother to breast cancer at 48.

And the fact that they are playing around with excessive government control -- and this administration and, regrettably, this Congress has been all about more government control, more government intrusion.

The 2,000-plus-page bill has lots of musts, shalls and empowerment to a whole range of people, and Medicare is not going to be protected when you cut a half a trillion dollars out of it or, actually, over a full 10 years, $1.1 trillion out of Medicare. There's no way that the seniors are not going to lose care when you cut Medicare.

STABENOW: You know, I need to...

WALLACE: Let me -- let me, if I may -- I'd like to...

STABENOW: ... I need to jump in, though, only to say, as a woman...

WALLACE: I've got to bring in -- I've got to bring in Senator Specter.

STABENOW: But I have to say, as a woman -- as the only woman on this panel, let me...


STABENOW: ... say, first of all, I don't agree with that recommendation, and thank goodness it's not going to have any impact. It was only a recommendation.

But the bigger issue here for us is the fact that what we're doing is for the first time making sure that women have maternity care and actually have mammograms covered. That's what's in basic plan.

WALLACE: All right. If I may bring Senator Specter in, because you have had a battle, a personal battle, with cancer yourself for years, sir.

While the mammograms study set off a political storm and Health Secretary Sebelius backed away from it, the fact is both in the House bill and in the Senate bill it repeatedly refers to this Preventative Services Task Force and says that it will determine what services, what tests, screening, are covered and aren't covered. Isn't that going to be government rationing?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, D-PA.: The legislation pending specifically provides for testing. The report made on mammograms and Pap tests is not binding on us in any way. The bill provides for testing just as I had an MRI which was very, very beneficial to me.

Listen, Chris, the real issue here is whether we're going to have governance. We have the opposition refusing to admit that there's any problem with health care, refusing to admit that there's any problem with global warming, refusing to take a stand on the economic crisis.

And we had a case of 200,000 people not covered by unemployment compensation, and for weeks it was held up by procedural moves, by a filibuster, and finally it was passed 98-0 with everybody voting for it.

So the question really here is let's take up the amendments one at a time. We -- if the amendments offered by anyone are good -- but the one option which is not present in my judgment is the option of doing nothing.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, let me bring up another issue for you, which is cost. According to the Congressional -- and that's the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office -- and let's put it up on the screen -- federal outlays for health care would increase during the 2010- 2019 period, and the government-run health insurance plan would typically have premiums that were somewhat higher than the average premiums for the private plan.

So here's the question. The Democratic plan, by the CBO's own scoring, fails to bend the all -- the famous health care cost curve at all over the course of these 10 years. And could you name a single Congress that has ever cut Medicare by half a trillion dollars as this legislation would?

SPECTER: Well, the overall cost and saving is the factor. CBO, Congressional Budget Office, said the $848 billion plan would save $130 billion in the first 10 years and projected to have $650 billion saved in the second 10 years. But bear this in mind. AARP has supported moving ahead with this plan.

WALLACE: But if I may press my question, sir, can you name any Congress that has ever cut Medicare as this promises to do -- and that's the way it gets to these savings -- by half a trillion dollars? Some people question whether or not Congress will actually do that.

SPECTER: No, I can't. But this bill provides a provision to -- has something in it to cure that. We are going to have a commission set up, very much like the base closing commission. When you say Congress doesn't have the political will, I think it's right.

But listen, I'm committed not to vote for a health care package that adds to the deficit. And in setting up this commission to deal with the Medicare costs, we will be -- we will be taking it out of the hands of Congress with no political will.

And bear again in mind, Chris, that AARP supported the action taken by the Democrats last night.

WALLACE: Senator Alexander, according to the CBO, as Senator Specter rightly points out, this Senate health care -- the Democratic plan would cut the deficit by $130 billion over 10 years.

ALEXANDER: I don't think one out of 10 Americans believe that. In fact, David Broder wrote a great column about the Quinnipiac poll that -- recently that said that that's -- that that's true. Look, it raises premiums. It raises taxes. It cuts Medicare. It puts big costs onto states.

You saw about the big 32 percent tuition increase out in California the other day. That's happening in all the states because states can't control Medicaid spending, and now we're putting more on it.

Chris, this feels more and more to me like the immigration debate of 2007. We got 64 votes to get on the floor. The people didn't like the bill. They weighed in on it. The bill collapsed of its own weight. What we need to do is to go back to step-by-step efforts to reduce costs.

WALLACE: Senator Stabenow, one other issue on the health care debate that's certainly going to become very important is abortion.

The Senate bill allows people getting government subsidies or using these publicly funded insurance exchanges to buy abortions using their own money -- the Senate bill does. But that goes far -- it's too permissive for a lot of moderates in the Senate and dozens in the House. How do you resolve the abortion issue?

STABENOW: Well, we all agree that 30 years of settled law that says that federal funds should not be used to pay for abortions should remain intact, and that's exactly what we did. Those of us on both sides of that issue have agreed, no federal funding, and that's exactly what it does.

The real issue, as you said, is whether or not a woman with her own money should be able to purchase insurance that covers her complete health care needs, and so that's the question -- with your own money.

Right now, if I can go back to the fact that we have over -- almost 60 percent of the plans today don't offer basic maternity care, we don't see mammograms covered -- and so for -- women actually have more to gain with health care reform than men do, because we pay about 50 percent more in premiums for the very same policies, so...

WALLACE: Senator...

STABENOW: ... this is -- this is what we're focused on, more coverage for women, less costs for women, not changing abortion policy.

WALLACE: Senator Bond -- well, but there are some -- as you know, a lot of Democrats who want to change abortion policy on this, or...

STABENOW: We've agreed not to, though, Chris. This is...

WALLACE: Well, that's not what the House did.

STABENOW: ... very important. This is...

WALLACE: Would you accept the Stupak amendment that was passed in the House?

STABENOW: The -- you're right, the House did change 30 years of settled...

WALLACE: And would you accept that?

STABENOW: ... policy. No. This is something that I want to see changed, because I don't think we should change what we've been doing for 30 years.

WALLACE: Senator...

STABENOW: And what happened in the House changes that.

WALLACE: Senator Bond, if a person getting a subsidy or using a private exchange uses their own money separately to pay for an abortion, why isn't that enough?

BOND: Well, I think we're probably going to pass the Stupak amendment or try to pass it in the Senate.

But let me go back to the -- to the real -- the real fraud in this bill. This is something that Bernie Madoff would really -- would really envy. When they claim a saving of -- in the first 10 years, that's because they start collecting taxes in 2010, but they don't start spending money till 2014.

Any private -- or any publicly traded business that claimed it was making a profit because it booked revenue over 10 years but only booked expenses over six years would wind up in jail. That's what this bill does. That's just many of the frauds and hat tricks in this bill.

WALLACE: Let me -- let me change subjects on you. There's growing anger, I think you'd all agree, in the country about the economy and people losing their jobs -- growing anger not only in the country, but also among both parties.

Senator Stabenow, when unemployment in Michigan, your state, is over...


WALLACE: ... 15 percent, the highest in the country...


WALLACE: ... should this president and should this Congress be so focused on health care reform and cap-and-trade?

STABENOW: Absolutely, and I'll tell you why, because health care costs are costing us jobs in Michigan. If we do nothing over the next 10 years, business costs will double. We'll lose another 3.5 million jobs.

The reality is in our state businesses are now having to decide do they pay the skyrocketing premiums that our bill will bring under control, or do they lay off -- do they lay off people to pay for health care, or do they keep their health care -- do they let their health care go and keep their people employed.

Small businesses can't afford to keep the doors open and provide health insurance. That's why having a group pool to lower their costs will make a difference.

And the bottom line for all Americans is we're saying if you lose your job, you won't lose your health insurance, because families see those, Chris, as tied. They're tied together. And I appreciate the fact that the president understands that.

WALLACE: Senator Alexander, I'd like you to respond to that, but I'd also like you to respond to the fact that in an interview with Fox News in China, President Obama talked about the need for deficit reduction. Here he is:


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we keep on adding to the debt even in the midst of this recovery -- that at some point people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.


WALLACE: Senator Alexander, do you believe this president when he talks about cutting the deficit?

ALEXANDER: I believe he wants to do it, but he's not doing it. Senator McConnell in his first speech -- the Republican leader -- this year said I'll go to work with you on fixing Social Security. I don't think he's heard a word about that.

Senator Stabenow just talked about Michigan and jobs. The best job summit we could have is to beat the health care bill. I talked to a major employer yesterday who said the one thing that was certain about the bill in the Senate is it would take 15 percent of his profits, and I said, "Well, what does that mean to you?" He said, "That means that we won't be hiring any new people and we won't be building any new buildings any time soon."

As far as small business goes, I mentioned this step-by-step process Republicans would like to do. Republicans have a proposal that we've tried to bring up repeatedly, which the Democrats have blocked, which will allow small businesses to pool their resources and offer more insurance at lower costs and cut money from the federal government deficit. That is what the Congressional Budget Office has said.

So this health care bill, by adding costs, will cut jobs.

STABENOW: Chris, I have to say that we're providing a small business tax credit. We are making sure that for the first time small businesses can get the same kind of deal big business can by...

BOND: Debbie, that -- that credit goes -- that credit goes in for two years and you take it away.

It's like the scam they're pulling on Medicaid.

STABENOW: Chris...

BOND: They expand Medicaid to 133 percent. They tell the states, "We'll pick it up for two years." Then they walk away. The states are hit with $25 billion worth of costs.

STABENOW: If I could just say to...

BOND: The jobs -- the jobs that...

STABENOW: ... my good friend Kit, first of all...

BOND: ... the jobs...

STABENOW: ... let me just say...

BOND: I'll let you...

STABENOW: ... if I might just complete -- first of all, let me say Congressional...

BOND: You started too many things, Debbie.

STABENOW: ... Budget Office -- I know.

WALLACE: Well, yeah. Yeah. Let -- let -- let...

STABENOW: Congressional Budget Office says...

WALLACE: You know what?

STABENOW: ... first of all, we're bringing down the debt. Secondly...

WALLACE: Senator?

STABENOW: ... let me just say...

WALLACE: Senator? You've -- you've -- you've said a lot. Can we -- can we cover one more area that I'd like to...

STABENOW: We can cover one more area, but...

WALLACE: That would be -- that would be great. Thank you.


WALLACE: I do want to talk about Afghanistan, because that's another very big decision the president is about to make.

Senator Bond, the latest word from the White House is that the president will announce his strategy and his troop levels for Afghanistan just after Thanksgiving. This week the president was talking a lot about an exit strategy. Let's watch.


OBAMA: This decision will put us on a path towards ending the war. My preference would be not to hand off anything to the next president.


WALLACE: Senator, does it bother you, at a time when the president is supposedly going to increase our commitment in Afghanistan, that he talks so much about off-ramps and exit strategies?

BOND: This is part of the problem that his dithering and delaying has caused since August when he had McChrystal's view on how to implement the strategy.

The president proposed last March a counterinsurgency strategy that I think is the right strategy. But this delay, announcing we're going in with a plan of getting out, tells not only our troops that we're unsure about support, but it tells the people of Afghanistan the United States doesn't have the will to stay.

That's -- that is the problem that we have. We've got to win the confidence of the people of Afghanistan by helping them build not only a stable, secure country, but one which -- where they can be profitable and have a strong economy.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, I was going to bring you in. Let me ask a question, if I may, first. You are now saying that you oppose sending any more troops to Afghanistan, if I have it correct.

But what about the danger that you're going to allow, if you do that, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the people that attacked us on 9/11, to regenerate?

SPECTER: Well, Chris, I thought you had forgotten I was on the program. I have made a floor statement that I do not believe we ought to add troops in Afghanistan unless it is indispensable in our war against Al Qaeda. If it is, then we have to do whatever it takes, because Al Qaeda is out to annihilate us.

But we can't succeed in Afghanistan unless we have a reliable government, and the Karzai government, with the vote frauds and the corruption and the narcotics, does not appear to be reliable.

And we also have to help -- have help from Pakistan. Now, more recently, they have -- they have been helpful, but there is great dissatisfaction, I find, with the American people -- had we known Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn't have gone into Iraq, and it is costing an enormous amount of money -- $1 million for each soldier for each year.

So unless it is really indispensable in our war against Al Qaeda, if they can organize as well in Yemen or Somalia or someplace else, then why fight in Afghanistan where no one has been successful for millennia?

WALLACE: Senator Alexander, we've got less than a minute. What should the president do on this and when should he do it?

ALEXANDER: He should show a sense of urgency and come on up to Congress and tell us exactly what he plans to do, not in an exit strategy, but in a success strategy, ask for bipartisan support, try to get the country to follow him in that mission all the way through to the end.

President Bush wasn't able to get that kind of bipartisan support. Iraq became Bush's war. President Obama wants to make sure, I would think, that this doesn't become Obama's war. That would not be good for the country.

WALLACE: Senators, we're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you all so much for coming in today after a late night. Please enjoy your Thanksgiving break. Thank you all.

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