Guests: Senators Conrad and Shelby

Guests: Senators Conrad and Shelby

By Fox News Sunday - August 16, 2009

WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News in Washington. The debate over health care reform continues to dominate the national conversation. Much of the argument is about philosophy -- what should government's role be?

But amid all the heated rhetoric, there's also the question: What's true and what's not? Well, today we bring together four experts for a fact check to try to sort out what's really in the various Democratic plans and what isn't.

Democratic senator Kent Conrad , who's part of the Gang of Six trying to negotiate a bipartisan compromise. He's in his home state of North Dakota.

Republican senator Richard Shelby, a leading critic of the president's plan, comes to us from Boston.

J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association, which supports the Obama plan.

And John Rother, executive vice president of the AARP, which has not endorsed any plan.

Gentlemen, let's start with a central question in this debate, and here is how President Obama framed it this week.


OBAMA: If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. This is not some government takeover. If you like your doctor, you can keep seeing your doctor. This is important.


WALLACE: And that's our first fact check. Will the Democrats' plan lead to a government takeover of health care?

Senator Shelby, health secretary Sebelius says today that perhaps the public option is not, quote, "essential" and that they might be willing to consider public nonprofit co-ops.

If they went that route, co-ops instead of the public option, would that persuade you that this was not a government takeover?

SHELBY: Well, that would be government involvement, but it would be a -- I believe a step in the right direction, away from a government takeover of our health care in this country.

I think that the Democratic administration, President Obama and his cabinet, have read the tea leaves that -- of America right now. They see that the American people are basically satisfied with their health insurance. They like their programs. They know it could be improved, but they don't want a government-run program.

WALLACE: Do you think, Senator Shelby, we need public co-ops at all?

SHELBY: Well, I think that's something we should look at. We already have a lot of those, or something like them, nonprofit, basically, that seem to work. I don't know if it will do everything people want, but we ought to look at it. I think it's a far cry from the original proposals.

WALLACE: Senator Conrad, you have been one of the Democrats who has been critical of the public option, and perhaps the leading Democrat in pushing the idea of a public co-op.

Explain briefly why the co-op would not be a government takeover and perhaps the public option would.

CONRAD: You know, Chris, I was given the responsibility to try to come up with something that would bridge the differences between those who are very much for a public option and those who are very much opposed to it. And what I came up with was a cooperative plan.

Co-ops are very prevalent in our society. They've been a very successful business model, of course. We have hundreds of them here in my home state of North Dakota. We have rural electric cooperatives in 47 states.

Land O'Lakes is a cooperative. Ace Hardware is a cooperative. The Associated Press is a cooperative. We have successful cooperatives in health care. Group Health in Seattle has 600,000 people and it's the most highly rated plan in the state of Washington.

So this is a model that works. It's not government-run and government-controlled. It's membership-run and membership-controlled. But it does provide a nonprofit competitor for the for-profit insurance companies, and that's why it has appeal on both sides. It's the only plan that has bipartisan support in the United States Senate.

WALLACE: All right. Let me bring in Dr. Rohack.

The AMA is supporting a public option, but can the president keep the promise that we just heard, under the public option, that if you like your health care plan, you like your doctor, you can keep it? I want to put up on the screen a study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which found that by 2016, 9 million people will no longer have their employer-based plan under health care reform because businesses would decide in many cases that it's cheaper simply to pay the penalty and push people into a public plan.

ROHACK: Well, we know that -- regardless of what's going to happen, we don't know what a final public option is. What the AMA wants to be sure is whatever comes out that we have affordable coverage for every American and the freedom that doctors and the patients can decide what's best for them.

Whether there's an interference right now with the private insurers, an interference right now with the government -- we want to get rid of that so that the patient is the one that decides, with the physician, what's best care for them and get it paid for.

WALLACE: Mr. Rother, instead of this massive overhaul, instead of a public option, or instead of even public co-ops, if you really want competition, why not remove the restriction which now says that if I live in Washington, D.C. I've got to buy a D.C. health plan, and instead create a national market for health care, so -- or health insurance, so that if there's a cheaper plan in Pennsylvania, I could buy in Pennsylvania?

ROTHER: Well, there are states and localities where health care is much less expensive than others, and if we allow people to buy all their insurance from those places, it will raise the rates there. And it's called risk selection.

It's a real problem, given the fact that health care costs can vary substantially from one place to another. So I think while the idea sounds appealing, the consequence would be it would make health care more expensive for those people who live in those low-cost areas.

WALLACE: Senator Conrad, as a practical matter, especially given what Secretary Sebelius says, is the public option dead?

CONRAD: Well, there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option. That's why I was asked to come up with an alternative. And I want to just make a tweak to what you've referred to as the cooperative plan.

You call it a public cooperative plan. It's not a public plan at all in the sense that government runs it. Government has nothing to do with it. Once it's established, it is run by the members. That's why it is appealing to some on the...

WALLACE: But it would -- it would put up some seed money, wouldn't it?

CONRAD: ... Republican side.

WALLACE: Senator, it would put up some of the seed money.

CONRAD: Yes. Yes, because there is a requirement to have reserves for any new health insurer, so the idea is the government would front-end some of the money, and we have yet to discuss whether all of that or some of that gets paid back. But there would be that amount of involvement.

But then it would be membership-run, membership-controlled. The government wouldn't have any ongoing obligation or any control.

WALLACE: And real quickly, Senator Conrad, because I want to move on to the next fact check, would the president be better off just taking the public option off the table right now?

CONRAD: Look, the fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option. There never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort.

WALLACE: All right. Let's move to the second issue, and here is how the president has discussed this.


OBAMA: I said I won't sign a bill that adds to the deficit or the national debt, okay? So this will have to be paid for.


WALLACE: And that's our second fact check. Will the plan add to the deficit? Will it cut health care costs?

Dr. Rohack, again, the CBO has been very clear about this. Let's put the facts up on the screen. It says that House Bill 3200 would increase the deficit by $239 billion over the next 10 years.

And given the fact that tax increases start in 2011 but the coverage doesn't start till 2013, House Republican staff says health care reform -- that the health care reform deficit will balloon to $760 billion by 2024. That doesn't seem to be paying for itself.

ROHACK: Well, we know that unnecessary costs are present in the American health care system, and defensive medicine is one example of large unnecessary costs.

Just to ignore it doesn't mean that that goes away. And so at least the House recognized that by amending the original proposed bill, by looking at some medical liability reform.

You know, physicians -- we're willing to reduce the variation in care. We're looking at medication reconciliation. We're looking at trying to make sure that when the patient goes home, they don't have to come back to the hospital.

The CBO doesn't score some of that. The CBO doesn't even score prevention. If a person stops smoking, the way the CBO looks at it, you've got a decrease in your tax revenue from cigarette tax. And while you've prevented health disease, they won't score it.

WALLACE: Yeah, but -- but, wait. Wait. There's a big argument, Doctor, about prevention, whether it actually saves money.

There was -- the CBO says that they think that, in fact, a big prevention program might actually add to costs because of the fact there's a lot of the people that you're preventing from having a disease are never going to get the disease in the first place.

And the journal "Circulation" found that if you were going to provide all kinds of vascular prevention and diabetes prevention, it would actually cost 10 -- it might be good medicine, but it would -- in terms of cost savings, cost 10 times as much as just letting the people get diabetes and deal with it.

ROHACK: Well, as a cardiologist, I take care of patients all the time. And if they take their statins and they take their aspirin, they're productive. They don't come into the hospital with heart disease.

And as a result of that, they are not a burden on society. They're a productive member of society. So we believe that, again, the CBO looks at things in a different way than we as doctors. We're here to take care of patients. We want to make sure that the patients are incented to keep themselves healthy. And clearly, diabetes is a risk that can be prevented when patients take care of themselves.

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

Does the Democrats' overall health care reform plan cut federal spending? Does it bend that famous curve of health care costs? And what about the point that Dr. Rohack mentioned? Would you actually save a lot more money if there was serious medical malpractice reform?

SHELBY: Well, first of all, just about any government plan I've ever known dealing with health care -- they always low-balled it as far as the numbers and they spiraled much higher.

I believe the costs will be very expensive. It will go into the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars down the road.

I think a lot of the proponents of this health care plan want to get the government involved one way or the other, want to ration this care one way or the other, and a lot of people don't want to do that.

You mentioned malpractice reform. I think that has to be part of any real reform. I do believe that letting small businesses access an individual -- access something like an insurance exchange to bring down the rates -- that would help.

There are a lot of things we could do. Chris, we have the best health care system in the world. We need to expand it, but we do not need to destroy it.

WALLACE: Mr. Rother, one of the things that the Gang of Six that Senator Conrad is a member of is considering is $500 billion in Medicare savings, including charging wealthy seniors more for their Medicare prescription drug benefit. Can AARP support that? ROTHER: Well, that's something that we've consistently opposed. But we've looked at all of the savings proposals in this legislation very carefully, and we're convinced that they actually do target efficiencies rather than beneficiaries.

So in our view, beneficiaries would not be harmed by these legislative changes. One example is many hospitals, when they discharge people, are not committed to follow-up care, and as a result people have to be re-hospitalized. If we did a better job on follow- up care, we could save money and improve health at the same time.

WALLACE: All right. Talk of cost and savings brings us to our next issue. Let's watch.


OBAMA: If a family care physician works with his or her patient to -- I recognize there's an underlying fear here that people somehow won't get the care they need. You will have not only the care you need, but also the care that right now is being denied to you.


WALLACE: And that's our third fact check. Will the plan lead to the rationing of care?

Mr. Rother, when we're talking about half a trillion dollars in Medicare savings, when the president talks about creating a Medicare panel, which may impose new restrictions, how can you guarantee to your AARP members that this won't end up as rationing of care?

ROTHER: I think the first thing to acknowledge is that many people, even on Medicare, can't afford the care available to them today, particularly, for instance, in prescription drugs, which once people hit the infamous doughnut hole, they have to pay full price.

WALLACE: Well, that's going to be fixed, supposedly.

ROTHER: Well, I hope so, so that this plan would actually make medicines more affordable to seniors and help them stay out of the hospital. So we don't see rationing in this plan. What we see are efficiencies that actually could improve care, not deny care.

WALLACE: But when you're cutting half a trillion dollars out, and you've got a government panel that's going to impose restrictions, how -- and I mean, when you've got on the one hand medical treatment, and on the other hand government spending and concerns about spending, doesn't something have to give, and couldn't that be treatment?

ROTHER: I don't think so. And if we had savings that were many times this, perhaps that would be the case. But this is actually a small percentage of the total that will be spent for Medicare over the coming 10 years.

And certainly, there's enough waste in the system that by smart savings we can save money and improve care at the same time, no question.

WALLACE: Senator Shelby, what about that argument that this isn't going to result in rationing of treatment for seniors and for all of us?

SHELBY: Well, I think rationing is underlying all of this. There's a lot of denial out there, but you look at the other plans -- you look at the Canadian plan, the British plan and so forth, and you have long lines.

People decide who's going to get treatment and when. That's rationing health care. If you don't get health care when you need it, you know, ultimately it's going to affect your life.

WALLACE: Dr. Rohack, I want to turn to the -- perhaps the most explosive charge about rationing, and that is that the Democrats, in these various plans, create death panels. They're going to pull the plug on seniors. Is there any truth to that?

ROHACK: That's absolutely wrong. It's a falsehood. You know, right now the law says that when a patient comes into the hospital, a clerk, a hospital clerk, has to give them the information on advance directives. Well, you know, we think that's crazy.

WALLACE: Advanced directives...

ROHACK: Meaning living wills.

WALLACE: ... living wills, do not resuscitate.

ROHACK: That's a decision that we as the AMA have been very forceful about. The decisions on what a patient needs should be between the patient and the physician. And it takes an act of Congress to get anything paid for.

We advocated for screening mammograms, and immunizations, and screening colonoscopies. This is another example where we have to go to Congress to say, "This ought to be paid for." The decision should be between the patient and the physician when the patient's healthy, not when they show up at the hospital.

WALLACE: And what about the argument, "Well, maybe now it's just a voluntary consultation, but when you've got all these cost considerations from the government, eventually it is going to lead to rationing, and perhaps saying in the last year of life that's just not something we're going to pay for?"

ROHACK: Well, there's a myth that rationing doesn't occur right now. In the United States, if a woman's pregnant and on the individual market tries to get health insurance, that's called a pre- existing condition and it's not paid for. That's why this bill's important.

It gets rid of some of the rationing that's occurring right now. And as far as end-of-life care, that's just so important to have a discussion with the patient and the family and the physician while the person's healthy.

Right now we're backwards. We're doing this when they hit the hospital. That's too late. We want to make it up front, when the patient can decide what do they want to do at their end of life.

WALLACE: Senator Shelby, for all of the criticism from your side of the aisle, the fact is that the 2003 Medicare bill, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President George w. Bush, had an end-of-life consultation provision in there. Is there some hypocrisy from the GOP on this issue?

SHELBY: Well, I'm sure that there are conflicting views on everything, but let's be honest. When you start rationing health care and you start counseling people too far in their advanced ages, I think you're going to create problems, and you've created a lot of fear in this country.

WALLACE: Let me bring Senator Conrad in, because one of your colleagues in the Gang -- the so-called Gang of Six -- and this is going to become quite famous by the end of this broadcast -- that's three Republicans, three Democrats on Senate Finance trying to come up with a bipartisan plan.

One of your colleagues, Republican senator Charles Grassley, says that you guys have already dropped the end-of-life consultation. That's no longer part of your discussion. Is that true?

CONRAD: That's correct. And, Chris, if I could go back to one other point on the cost issue, I didn't have a chance on that. I called a special hearing of the Senate Budget Committee to ask the Congressional Budget Office director are these other plans paid for and do they bend the cost curve in the right way.

And I think it's important to emphasize there really is no House plan. There's a House committee plan. There are several different committees in the House that have reported plans. The House itself has not.

The committee on which I serve has rejected the notion of any specific timetable. We think it's more important to get this right. And in terms of what we've submitted to the Congressional Budget Office, they have come back and said that our plan does bend the cost curve in the right way and is paid for.

So there is going to be an alternative out there for our colleagues that will be paid for, that will bend the cost curve in the right way, and it's the only plan that's been done on a bipartisan basis -- three Democrats, three Republicans, who have been given the responsibility to come up with a proposal for our colleagues.

WALLACE: Senator Conrad, I -- we've got to move along, but I do want to ask you a couple of questions. You said that there's no deadline. I thought that the president and Senator Baucus had agreed on a September 15th deadline, or the negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee end.

CONRAD: What we have agreed to is that we are going to be ready when we're ready. And we are working. We hope to be able to reach conclusion by the middle of September.

But we have agreed that if we still don't have all of the answers back from CBO that we will not be bound by any deadline, that the most important thing is to get this right.

This affects every American person. It affects one-sixth of the American economy. This is not something that should be held hostage to any specific deadline.

WALLACE: And let me ask you, Senator Conrad, just to button up the issue of end-of-life consultations, you say that you've dropped that. Is that, as far as your committee's concerned, dead? And would the president aid the overall process to drop that, to just end the controversy?

CONRAD: Look, what we have said -- that there should be no mandatory requirement for end-of-the-life -- end-of-life counseling. I just went through this with my sister-in-law, who just passed away two weeks ago of ovarian cancer.

End-of-life counseling was very, very valuable to the family, very important. The people at hospice were -- really treated her with loving care. But there should be no mandatory requirement. That should be...

WALLACE: Well, I don't think it is mandatory. CONRAD: ... a decision for the family.

WALLACE: I think it's voluntary in the House bill.

CONRAD: It is. But there are some who are asserting that there would be -- there could be -- mandatory requirements. There are not now and there will not be.

WALLACE: All right. Let me -- let me take up one final controversy about health care reform, and this is one that the president has largely ducked so far. Here it is.


OBAMA: I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this stage.


WALLACE: And this is our fourth fact check. Will the plan lead to taxpayer-funded abortions?

Senator Shelby, Democratic plans say that no public money will pay for abortions, that if you're getting an abortion through either a public plan or a private plan, you have to pay for it through your own private premium. Is that -- does that satisfy you?

SHELBY: Well, I believe that the taxpayers shouldn't be called upon to pay for abortions, period.

WALLACE: And as you read these Democratic plans, do you see the taxpayer as paying for abortions?

SHELBY: I'm not sure, because as Senator Conrad said, we don't know what plan is anywhere, because some people talk about the House plan. They talk about the committee plan. We talk about some of the plans in the Senate. Nothing's crystallized yet.

But I can tell you we better be careful in what we legislate and how we legislate. The American people have already, I believe, began to speak on this issue, and I hope the Congress is going to listen. I hope the president is, too.

WALLACE: Senator Conrad, let's try to clear this up, because if you've got a public plan, or if you've got a private plan but people are getting public subsidies to pay for that plan, can you really say there's a firewall?

If people end up getting an abortion through a public plan or through a private payment of their premium, part of their premium, to a private plan, doesn't that end up kind of blurring the lines on this question of taxpayer-funded abortions?

CONRAD: Look, I can only speak to the plan that we're working on in the Finance Committee. And the six of us, three Democrats, three Republicans, who have been given the responsibility to come up with a proposal for our colleagues have committed that there'll be no government funding of abortion.

We have a Hyde amendment that is in effect now that prevents federal funding of abortion. That will be continued in any plan that we come out with. We are working right now with a task force to try to make certain that we can deliver on that promise, on that commitment.

WALLACE: Let's try to sum up where we are at this point.

Dr. Rohack, could we achieve many of these same reforms much more cheaply and much more simply, make some reforms in health insurance, such as banning the practice of dropping people for pre-existing conditions, give the uninsured a government subsidy so that they can buy insurance, but don't overhaul the whole system the way the president and Democrats intend to?

ROHACK: Well, clearly, the AMA, because we represent physicians, have to deal with this every day, 24/7 -- is that we want to make sure that everyone has affordable quality health insurance, that they have the security if they have their health insurance they won't lose it if they lose their job.

And let's take a look at ways that we can reduce unnecessary cost. We think we can do this, and defensive medicine is one thing that we have to decide...

WALLACE: But could you do it with less of a drastic overhaul that leads people to think, "I'm going to lose my private health care, I'm going to be forced into a public health plan?" Couldn't this be done by -- in a sort of a rifle shot attacking specific problems?

ROHACK: There are some moving parts that if you just do one and you don't do the other, you're going to have unintended consequences.

That's why there has to be looking at all the parts that go into health care, so we don't have the problem where you've fixed just one thing and then the next thing becomes more of a problem down the road.

So that's why we have to sit down and say, "Do we need to do this?" And if the answer's yes, which we believe, and that's the reason why we're fighting for this, how do we do it so that everyone has -- the doctor, the patient making the decisions, and we get government and private insurance out of the problem of interfering with what's best for the patient.

WALLACE: Mr. Rother?

ROTHER: Well, I think we could all agree health care costs too much. There's too much waste. It's not -- we're not doing as good a job with the dollars we have.

To fix that problem, we do have to address health delivery as well as insurance coverage. And the two actually go together. We have to keep the system more efficient and at the same time bring more people in. That's what this legislation's trying to do.

WALLACE: Senator Conrad, we've obviously seen a real public furor at these town hall meetings over the last month. Is that going to make it harder for moderate Democrats to vote for health care reform? Could that move some votes away from the president's plan?

CONRAD: You know, in truth, there's not a president's plan. You know, the president has said to Congress, "You come up with the details." He's said, "Look, we want to expand coverage. I want to contain costs. I want to improve quality." But he has not provided a specific plan.

In terms of the meetings, I can speak to mine. I've had 14 meetings so far. They have been tremendous turnouts, people actively engaged, lots of questions. People want to know more. They are concerned because they know this affects every American person and affects one-sixth of the economy. They should be -- they should be actively engaged in this discussion, and they are.

I don't think that is going to change the fact that we simply cannot continue on the course we're on. It's unsustainable. It's not stable. We are spending twice as much per person as any other country in the world -- one in every six dollars in this economy.

And on the current trend line, we're headed for a circumstance in which we'll spend one in every three dollars on health care in this economy. That would be a disaster for our families, our businesses and the government itself.

WALLACE: And let me bring in Senator Shelby, because we've got about 30 seconds left.

Senator Shelby, how much trouble is -- and Senator Conrad's right, the president doesn't have a plan, but the Democrats have floated, certainly, some ideas and a couple of specific plans. How much trouble is health care reform in?

SHELBY: I think a lot of the proposals that the president's talked about and some of the Democrats have talked about are in deep trouble. The American people are figuring it out. They're speaking now, and I believe Congress is beginning to listen.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, I want to thank you all for helping us check some of the facts in health care reform and try to separate out what's true and what isn't. Thank you all, gentlemen.

Up next, we'll ask our Sunday panel if the town hall protests are shifting the debate over health care reform. And we'll be back in a moment.



(UNKNOWN): I'm only 35 years old. I have never been interested in politics. You have awakened a sleeping giant. (END VIDEO CLIP)


(UNKNOWN): Medicare is bankrupt. The post office is bankrupt. How am I, as a proud American, going to trust you people to do the right thing?


WALLACE: Some of the more intense examples of the continuing town hall turmoil over health care reform.

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And it's time now for our Sunday group -- Bill Sammon, Washington managing editor of Fox News; A.B. Stoddard of The Hill newspaper; syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer; and Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post.

So let's talk about how the town hall protests are affecting the debate over health care reform. And Gallup did an interesting poll this week. Let's put it up on the screen.

Thirty-four percent say that demonstrations at the town halls have made them more sympathetic to the protestors' views. Twenty-one percent say it's made them less sympathetic.

Bill Sammon, how important do you think that these town halls have been in building opposition to -- and it's interesting. I was going to say President Obama's plan, but I've been corrected by one of the leading Democratic negotiators in the Senate who says he doesn't have a plan.

SAMMON: Well, that's a telling piece of information. I think they've been a game-changer. I think they've been very important, because a couple weeks ago we wondered would these town halls build support for Obama's plan or would they undermine support for his plan.

The empirical evidence is starting to roll in -- Gallup, Fox. Everybody's poll is showing America is breaking against the health care plan.


STODDARD: I think it's -- you already see two freshmen members, Democrats who won Republican seats in Virginia and Maryland, already pronouncing in the middle of August -- not the end, not in September -- they're voting against. And I tracked down...

WALLACE: They're going to vote against the House Bill 3200.

STODDARD: Yes. And I tracked down a senior member of the Blue Dog coalition of House -- conservative House Democrats yesterday who told me that in conversations with his colleagues and his constituents, it's clear that the House bill is not going to be able to pass and that they're going to have to go back to the table. And the...

WALLACE: Not even going to be able to pass the House?

STODDARD: He does not think so. The Blue Dogs are peeling away as a result of what they're seeing in these town halls, as a result of what's happening at home.

Interesting to me is the fact that the Democratic leadership is not actually lobbying the conservative members anymore. They're not trying to bring the Blue Dogs home, which means you see these pleas from President Clinton, Senator Dick Durbin, a close ally of President Barack Obama , trying to speak to the liberal Democrats to say the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. I think they're talking to the liberals. I think they're trying to talk them down. I don't think there's going to be a public plan when they come home.

WALLACE: Charles, leave it to me to remind you that a week ago -- I love the way you look at me -- you said that these disruptions were playing into Democratic hands. They were changing the subject.

Were you wrong? Were Democratic leaders wrong? You had Nancy Pelosi in an op-ed in the -- in USA Today saying that these protesters are un-American. Were they wrong in thinking that there was something to be gained by going up against the protesters?

KRAUTHAMMER: Astonishingly, I was wrong, and the empirical evidence is in. Remarkably, the protests have had an effect of galvanizing opposition.

I would have thought with some of the images, and particularly the way the media have played it, as rowdies, as -- and portraying them essentially as a mob, that it would have a negative effect. In fact, it has had the opposite effect.

And I think the reason is that the Democrats in these town halls have had to defend the indefensible. They've been stuck with stuff in the bills like the public option that are not going to end up in the final analysis in any legislation.

But because it was already in the discussions and in committee and already out there, it had to be defended, even though it will be shed in -- at the end of the day.

So defending these extremely unpopular elements -- the public option and the end-of-life counseling as another example, which has already been jettisoned -- they have been stuck with defending proposals that are not going to be there in the end and that are really hurting them.

CONNOLLY: Well, I think that actually the problems, Chris, started before these town hall meetings. If you go back to the final few weeks in Congress when you had those intense negotiations with the Blue Dogs to get this bill through the Energy and Commerce Committee, you saw, as you were talking about earlier, some of those high scores from the Congressional Budget Office.

So they were kind of encountering this...

WALLACE: High scores meaning that the Congressional Budget Office said this is going to cost more than we've been told.

CONNOLLY: This is an expensive proposal, right, that they were caught off guard. They shouldn't have been. They should have known their numbers going in, but they didn't.

So the problems actually started before the recess, and then you had the town halls. And interestingly enough, you've seen this administration, for really the first time since he came into office, on defense, which is never where you want to be, especially when you're trying to sell a major legislative initiative like this.

On the other hand, I think we need to kind of take a deep breath and have a little perspective here. First of all, Nancy Pelosi , the speaker of the House, can afford to lose about 40 Democratic votes and still get this thing through the House.

So I think that the prospects in the House remain strong for passage because of pure math. And then the action really goes over to the Senate. You had Senator Conrad here today.

I think one of the more troubling things, if President Obama was listening to your interview today with senator Conrad, was when he said we're not bound by any timetable. That is not a good piece of news for the White House.

WALLACE: Because there had been this talk that the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus, had -- that he and the president had agreed -- Max Baucus -- that it was going to be a September 15th deadline, and here's Conrad saying... CONNOLLY: Exactly. If they let this just drag out for weeks and weeks and weeks over in that Senate Finance Committee...

SAMMON: And that's the -- that's the second deadline to slip, because there initially...

CONNOLLY: Absolutely.

SAMMON: ... was a deadline that -- Obama set explicitly, was he wanted it done before the August recess. That came and went. Now we're talking September 15th. That may come and go. Every day it goes on is worse for Obama because the air slowly goes out of the balloon.

WALLACE: But let me ask you, Bill, about the point that A.B. brought up, which is really, in the end, the key question. Are these town halls -- is the resistance, the blowback, that Democrats are encountering -- will it actually change votes when they get back here to Capitol Hill in September?

SAMMON: I think so, because as much as the Democrats like Obama's health care reform plan, they like being re-elected more. And they see these -- the anger there, and it's real.

The irony here, Chris, is that the Democrats and President Obama and the White House thought that by demonizing the demonstrators, by focusing on the real fringe guys, the couple guys that show up with the crazy signs and then sort of inflating their importance in trying to diminish the whole group of demonstrators, they overreached.

In other words, they were counting on the overreach of Republicans to undermine their argument, but by calling everybody a mob, by calling people un-American -- you know, Nancy Pelosi in 2006 in an anti-Iraq War event said, "I'm a big fan of disrupters." This week she puts out a USA today thing saying these disrupters are un- American.

The public sees through that and it's been a backlash.

KRAUTHAMMER: What the president -- I'm sorry, what the president is stuck with is that his plan is amorphous. There really isn't one. So you can't generate intensity in support.

On the other hand, all of these proposals out there are generating intense opposition, and it's that intensity that members of Congress are seeing and feeling, and that's what they understand would jeopardize re-election in 2010.

WALLACE: Ceci, the interesting thing about this -- and you made this point -- is that the White House seems to have been surprised by the opposition.

And I'm -- I guess I'm a little surprised they're surprised, because they seem to have studied the play book from 1993 and ‘4 with "Hillarycare" so carefully. And you know, we're not going to make those same mistakes. So what lesson -- what's the wrong lesson that they appear to have taken from the study of ‘93 and ‘4?

CONNOLLY: Well, it may not have been a wrong lesson. But you know, we often talk about generals who fight the last war, and there's a little of that element that I think has happened with this Obama team.

They were so focused on not writing a bill because that was a mistake that the Clintons clearly made, and they were so determined to neutralize all of those special interest and industry trade groups with the side deals...

WALLACE: Like big drugs, insurance, hospitals, AMA.

CONNOLLY: Exactly -- the AMA, AARP. They've all gone to the White House and done their photo-ops and blessed certain side deals along the way, figuring we've now neutralized that opposition that killed the effort 15 years ago. And they did a pretty good job of that.

But for some reason they didn't factor in this other element of discontent out there in the country, and I do think that it's also compounded by a still very serious recession out there. People are very nervous about their pocketbooks and government spending.

WALLACE: A.B., we've got about 30 seconds left. Are we, as Ceci suggested, perhaps overstating how much trouble the president's health care plan or a health care plan is in?

STODDARD: I think there's time if he wants to be a strong president and come in even behind the scenes -- if he doesn't declare the public option dead in public, come out and, behind the scenes, start speaking to the liberal members and say, "I want a bipartisan bill by September 15th. I want a reasonable incremental bill that will pass, that will not kill us in the next two elections. You need to stay with me on this." He needs to exert himself.

The problem is if they miss that deadline, as Ceci mentioned, then the Democrats -- the liberal wing is going to pile on and say, "Let's just go without them. Let's do a bill without the Republicans. Let's use reconciliation, have a public plan." And President Obama knows that's not -- it's politically just too perilous.

WALLACE: Okay. We have to step aside for a moment.

But when we come back, a big change of topics. Michael Vick returns to pro football. Should he be allowed back in the NFL? Would you want him playing for your team? We'll take a fair and balanced look. Stay tuned.



MICHAEL VICK: I've done some terrible things, made a horrible mistake, and now I want to be part of the solution and not the problem. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: That was Michael Vick on Friday expressing remorse for his involvement in dog fighting and gratitude at being allowed to play pro football again.

And we're back now with Bill, A.B., Charles and Ceci.

So, Bill, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Vick on Friday to be their backup quarterback just after he spent 18 months in prison for dog fighting, but that just, frankly, understates it -- torturing dogs, killing dogs. Should he be allowed back in the NFL?

SAMMON: Well, first of all, I'm the proud owner of two beagles, and yesterday outside of Michael Vick's practice, a woman held a sign saying "Hide your beagle, Vick's an Eagle," which I thought was particularly telling.

He paid his debt to society. He deserves a second chance. Americans believe in second chances. But I also think that the cruelty of the offense here has caused Americans to watch very skeptically to see if he is just going through the motions and saying, "I'm going to work with the humane society."

I mean, come on. He's not going to work with the humane society. He wants to be back into the millionaire ranks of NFL pampered, you know, pro sports players. So let's wait and see, give him a second chance.

I wouldn't want him on my team. But we're going to let him have the benefit of the doubt, see how he performs.

STODDARD: The Eagles are taking a very big chance here. It's not that he won't do right by them. He will attract a lot of controversy wherever they go. If he ends up actually working with the humane society that...

WALLACE: See, my guess is he will work with the humane society.

STODDARD: I think he...

WALLACE: That's a cheap and easy thing for him to do.

STODDARD: You know, redemption is a powerful thing. And I, too, am a dog lover, a passionate dog lover. I think he should work with the humane society for a few years and then rejoin the ranks of the NFL.

I know he wouldn't be a very good player. He'd be older. But I think it's a bad -- I think it's a bad message to young people that you get right back.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think we have two questions, a societal and a personal one. At the level of society, I think the rules that we have in our society is if you commit a crime, you do the time, and then it's over. We don't have double jeopardy. We don't have indefinite detentions.

And I don't think as a society or as an institution the NFL or any other institution ought to say, "You did a crime, you paid in prison, but now you will not practice your craft ever again." I think that's an extra penalty which is unwarranted.

However, as an individual, if I owned a team, I wouldn't hire this guy. I wouldn't want to be in a room with this guy. So I would say you have a right to associate anyone you want to associate with. I would not associate with him, with a man who committed these unspeakable acts of cruelty, but if others do, I would not have it as a rule that he could not ever have a -- exercise his livelihood again.

WALLACE: But what about the argument, Ceci -- Charles arguing that, you know, he should be allowed back into the NFL, but that being in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, that the NFL confers a certain status by making him part of it, and that he becomes something of a role model because he's in the NFL?

CONNOLLY: Right. That's one of the, I think, problematic things here. I certainly agree with Charles. He has done his time. This is the way that our society works. You're entitled then to come out and earn a living and return to work, although in some instances -- say, if you were a lawyer and convicted -- you wouldn't be able to return to practicing law. So it gets a little more complicated.

I think the difficult thing here, though, is when we get into our professional sports teams, there's a sense that we want to look up to those individuals in some way. We use the word role model. They don't always measure up to being role models.

But they certainly are making so much money and so in the public spotlight and really almost worshiped by a lot of children that that's the discomfort that I have.

SAMMON: Well, my kids went to Virginia Tech where Michael Vick played and his younger brother Marcus Vick played. By the way, Marcus Vick has shown his idea of sportsmanlike behavior is to flip off the fans and then stomp on the leg of one of his opponents. So I'm hoping Michael doesn't turn out like Marcus.

But you're right. This business that these sports guys are going to be role models -- I think that ship has sailed. This is about dollars. And that's why they hired him back.

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't want to be cynical, but the idea of a sports hero as a real hero is so 1950s. I mean, you've got NFL players who beat up their girlfriends, who get involved in all kinds of stuff, guys who shoot themselves in the thigh in a nightclub in the middle of the night.

The idea of these people as anything other than entrepreneurs who are entertainers I think is simply wrong.

WALLACE: Let me bring in, because you pointed out the fan who said hide your beagles, he's an Eagle -- the signing of Michael Vick has played better nationally than it has in Philadelphia.

Let me put up the front page on Friday morning of the Philadelphia Daily News, "Hide Your Dogs." On the other hand, Bill, the owner of the Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, who is, he says, a dog lover, says the decision to sign Vick took a lot of soul-searching and that the deal involves not just whether he plays on the team, but that he work actively off the field on the issue of animal cruelty and the humane society, says he could do a lot of good. He could raise -- you know, he could raise the issue.

SAMMON: You know, by the way, on the humane society, what would surprise me is not that he would volunteer to work for the humane society, because that's great P.R. What would surprise me is that the humane society would take him, because that -- you know, I mean, because PETA would never allow him to be involved with -- "Oh, I've now suddenly turned over a new leaf."

But I -- you know, again, let's take him at face value, at his word. Tony Dungy's involvement in this is a very encouraging sign, because this guy...

WALLACE: And explain who Tony Dungy is.

SAMMON: Tony Dungy is a coach who has written a book about, you know, leadership and fatherhood. And he's just a straight-up guy, and he seems like a genuine guy. For him to be involved in counseling this athlete is a very encouraging sign.

CONNOLLY: And in fact, the humane society, as I understand the reporting, was that they were deeply skeptical of this idea and resistant for quite some time.

You know, though, as I sort of looked at the clips from his news conference on Friday, I was not terribly moved. Now, maybe he's just not a very impressive public speaker, but to just say, "Now I want to be part of the solution," you know, "I was involved in a pointless activity," you know, it wasn't pointless. It was horrible. It was absolutely monstrous, not pointless.

KRAUTHAMMER: I heard you say that the owner had searched his soul before he made his decision. I'm surprised he didn't say, "I consulted with my dog before I decided to hire Vick." Look, this is all about the money.

WALLACE: What would your bloodhound have said?

KRAUTHAMMER: Money -- he would have said, "No. No go with this guys," or, "Let me at him if he starts to play. Put me on the defensive line. I'll take care of him."

WALLACE: you know, the interesting thing, Charles -- and this gets to the point about that's so 1950s -- Philadelphia made this decision after they lost their backup quarterback who just went down this last week. Is that a coincidence?

KRAUTHAMMER: It's about winning and money. It's not about, you know, redemption. It's about will this guy help our team, and we need him, and let's accept it as that and no more than that.

WALLACE: All right. Thank you, panel. See you all next week.

Up next, our Power Player of the Week.


WALLACE: On this day in 1977, the king, Elvis Presley, died at age 42 in his Memphis home, Graceland. Presley suffered a heart attack most likely brought on by his addiction to prescription pills.

Stay tuned for more from our panel and our Power Player of the Week.


WALLACE: Washington is a town of big events, and chances are if one is really important, she'll be there. She's not a politician or a made for T.V. celebrity.

No, as we first told you in April, she is D.C.'s very own diva and our Power Player of the Week.


DENYCE GRAVES: It was, I would say, the greatest honor of my career.

WALLACE: Denyce Graves was talking about singing at the Lincoln Memorial this Easter on the 70th anniversary of Marian Anderson's concert there after she was barred from Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin.


MARIAN ANDERSON: My country ‘tis of thee...



GRAVES: ... sweet land of liberty to thee we sing.


GRAVES: I don't think that many of those things would have happened had it not been for Marian Anderson. So she's sort of the grandmother for all these, you know, great African American opera singers.

WALLACE: Graves is not only a great singer...


GRAVES: ... of the brave.


WALLACE: ... she has become a national treasure. When the pope came to Washington, she sang for him.


GRAVES: We are one in the spirit, we are one...


WALLACE: When they held a national prayer service after 9/11, she was there.

GRAVES: I still get very, very nervous, whether I'm performing for the pope or if I'm performing for my mother's church. For me, the responsibility is the same.

WALLACE: Graves was raised by a church-going single mother near a sewage treatment plant in Washington.

What did you dare to allow yourself to dream back then?

She says her mother provided inspiration and encouragement.

GRAVES: When we were children, she'd read us a story and she wouldn't finish it. She'd say, "Okay, now, you finish -- you finish the ending." And she always told us that we could do whatever it is that we wanted to do, and we didn't -- we didn't know not to believe that. We just believed that.

WALLACE: Later, she would hear a recording of Leontyne Price. It was a revelation.

GRAVES: I thought I want to be just like her. And I didn't know that I couldn't do that.

WALLACE: By 2000, Graves was an international star when her vocal cords hemorrhaged and she had to have throat surgery.

How scared?

GRAVES: I was out of my mind. I mean, I thought that was it, that was just going to -- a death sentence, that was the end of it.

WALLACE: She spent months recovering, staying silent most of the time.

Wasn't one of your first big performances...

GRAVES: It was the first.

WALLACE: The national prayer service. You're going to be there before the entire world, and you don't know what's going to come...

GRAVES: I didn't know what was going to happen.


GRAVES: From sea to shining sea. (END VIDEO CLIP)

GRAVES: I consider myself to be fortunate in that I do something that I enjoy that I think makes me a better human being and that brings beauty into the lives of people. So I'm grateful to be living the life that I lead.


WALLACE: Since Denyce was our Power Player in April, she has married for the first of three times. Let me explain. There was a private wedding to renowned transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery. Now the two of them are headed to Kenya for a traditional Masai ceremony. And in September, the couple will say their vows once again at the National Cathedral here in Washington.

Up next, we'll hear from you.


WALLACE: Before we go, we want to read a few comments you posted on our new blog, "Wallace Watch." And it's no surprise health care reform was topic one.

Joe Farrell writes, "The goal of having a public option is to socialize the health care industry a la Canada and Britain. President Obama and other Democrats have publicly stated their preference for a single-payer system."

Gerald Schumacher posted this idea, "We do not need a government health care system. What we need is oversight on the costs of the current care and the abuses."

And Robert Redman offered this, "We may not have the best system, but it is far better than what is proposed."

Please keep your comments coming. You can find us at

And that's it for today. Have a great week and we'll see you next "FOX News Sunday."

For more visit the FOX News Sunday web page.

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