Senator Specter and Representative Ryan on "Fox News Sunday"

Senator Specter and Representative Ryan on "Fox News Sunday"

By Fox News Sunday - August 23, 2009

CHRIS WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News in Washington. We're going to do something different here today. Usually, we discuss the news, but today we're going to tell you about something you may never have heard about, what critics are calling the "death book."

It's a 52-page pamphlet the Department of Veterans Affairs is using right now in end-of-life counseling for the nation's 24 million veterans.

We're going to talk with Jim Towey, former director of faith- based initiatives in the Bush administration, who broke this story. And then we'll turn to Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of veterans affairs. Miss Duckworth insisted on being interviewed separately.

Mr. Towey, welcome to "FOX News Sunday."

TOWEY: Great to be with you.

WALLACE: Let's start with an overview. What's wrong with this material, "Your Life, Your Choices," that the V.A. is using for end- of-life counseling right now?

In the article that you wrote in the Wall Street Journal in which you disclosed this, you say the message is clear, hurry up and die.

TOWEY: Well, the message that they want to communicate, I think, is if you have a stroke or if you have a coma situation that somehow your life has lost a little value and it may not be worth living anymore.

My problem with the document, Chris, is that the author of it is a proponent of assisted suicide. He's way out there on that issue. And the V.A. has been using this. A new directive just came out in July, urging providers to refer patients to it. So in my view, there should be a balanced treatment. And this is a slippery slope that kind of makes people -- when you look at the document, it makes people feel like they're a burden and that they should do the decent thing and die.

WALLACE: All right. We're going to get to the specifics in this book in a second, but I want to ask you another general question.

President Obama calls talk of a government-run "death panel" a, quote, "extraordinary lie," but I want to put up what you said in your Wall Street Journal article this week.

You said the following, "When the government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for themselves that life is not worth living, who needs a death panel?" Explain.

TOWEY: Well, I think the fear that Americans have is that somehow when they are fragile and they're vulnerable, and they're facing serious illness, that a discussion they're going to have with the doctor is going to be biased or tilted in some fashion.

Here you have the government that has a financial stake in the answers that they give, and I think a lot of people are afraid that somehow they're going to be steered toward a denial of care.

And I think that whole right to die movement, which Dr. Perlman has written about -- I think that whole right to die movement means that the right to die is a right the poor will get. And I think a lot of people are afraid about it.

So whether there's "death panel" written in a law or not, the real issue is why would the V.A. be promoting a document written by an assisted suicide advocate that has such a -- kind of an obsession with death and with pushing people, I think, in a direction to deny care.

WALLACE: All right. You are especially critical of this worksheet on page 21 of the book.

TOWEY: Right.

WALLACE: And I'm going to first tell the audience what's in it and then I'll talk to you about it.

Let's put up this page 21. It's called "What makes your life worth living?" and it asks the veteran to check off whether a variety of situations are difficult but acceptable, worth living but just barely, or not worth living.

And here are some of the situations. "I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair." "I live in a nursing home." "I am a severe financial burden on my family." "I cannot seem to shake the blues."

Mr. Towey, what's wrong with that?

TOWEY: The biggest problem is that when you go beyond those questions to the boxes you check, the first option you have, "it's difficult but acceptable," a lot of people with disabilities, a lot of people who have family members with stroke, find life beautiful. There's meaning and purpose. Sure, they're suffering, but their life hasn't been diminished by that illness.

I think there -- if you were trying to be biased and fair, you'd have a box that starts off that says "My life is beautiful. Yes, I suffer, but I find meaning in it."

And I think the problem with this document, and it permeates the whole thing, is there's a bias toward a depression. And so when you see the one that says, for example, "I can't shake the blues," you can actually check the box that says "My life's not worth living."

Another one said if I can't go outside on my own, so you check a box, life's not worth living.

WALLACE: I guess one of the questions I have about it is why would those even be in a document about end of life? Usually people don't even contemplate end of life until they're in an irreversible coma.

Why would being in a nursing home or having to live in a wheelchair be a not-worth-living option?

TOWEY: Good question. I think advanced care planning's important. And there are a lot of great V.A. doctors and nurses out there providing superior care. So families need to talk about these issues well in advance of a deep decline in health.

My problem is when you treat individuals like their life has less worth because they have dementia, for example, I think that that's a dangerous slippery slope.

And when government has a financial stake in it, they shouldn't be talking about quality of life and kind of pushing people toward a predetermined conclusion.

WALLACE: You're also upset about another question in the booklet, and I want to put that up. "Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘If I'm a vegetable, pull the plug?'"

TOWEY: Yeah. I think the word vegetable's demeaning. It's used three times in the document. And it kind of communicates somebody that's not human.

This is why I think the document is so fundamentally flawed that the V.A. ought to throw it out. They've had it out there kind of as a research tool, and then a few years ago they tried to push it and promote it -- two years ago tried to push it and promote it, and now they're at it again, a July directive telling health care providers to refer patients to it.

WALLACE: All right. We're -- you mentioned earlier one of the primary authors of the workbook, and this is a fellow named Dr. Robert Perlman. He's a member of the V.A. Center for Ethics in Health Care, and he's the -- listed as the prime author in the document. Who is Dr. Perlman?

TOWEY: Well, that's a good question. A lot of Americans have never heard of him, and yet he's influenced the course of V.A. health care. He's written this document and he's an adviser.

I think he got the initial research grant with tax dollars to write this document, and -- and I -- and he's been an advocate for assisted suicide both in a U.S. Supreme Court case where he filed an amicus brief but in other writings where he was a contributor to a book about physician-aided killing.

So I think -- I think the problem is in America there's a lot of people that wrestle with care-giving issues and with serious illness. We should be encouraging people to have a hopeful vision.

When a veteran comes back from Iraq, they shouldn't be given a book like this. They should be encouraged to talk about their preferences on how they can maintain their dignity, because that's what I think America owes them.

WALLACE: Now, in fairness, the book also offers other ideas and statements for veterans to consider, and let's put those on the screen. "My life should be prolonged as long as it can, no matter what its quality and using any means possible."

And then there's this. "I believe that it is always wrong to withhold, not start, treatments that could keep me alive." Mr. Towey, aren't both sides presented?

TOWEY: There's -- There are lines like that in the book, but if -- a fair reading of the book -- just looking at the cases they give as examples, where the woman that has the stroke says, "I don't want to live if I can't take care of myself," and -- and then when you look in the back of the book, Chris, who do they refer you to?

The 2007 edition said go to Compassion Choices. That's the Hemlock Society. The 1997 version referred you to an organization that was the American Euthanasia Society. I think the bias of the document's clear. Why would Americans be given such a poor document, a poor planning tool, on a subject so important?

WALLACE: Now, we need to point out that those references which were in the ‘97 edition and the 2007 edition are not in the edition that is currently being circulated at the Veterans Administration.

TOWEY: That's right. They pulled that page after we raised concerns about it, and I think it wasn't just aging with dignity. It was a lot of individuals in America that I think when they saw that in the V.A. system, they're thinking, "Why are they referring me to the Hemlock Society?"

WALLACE: All right. You were instrumental, as you point out, back in 2007 -- you had left the Bush White House by then. You'd been the head of faith-based initiative for four years.

But in 2007, the V.A. tried to put this out and make this a tool that was widely distributed to veterans. You were instrumental in getting it stopped and put up on a shelf. What happened?

TOWEY: Well, I think that President Bush was -- and his administration were very surprised to hear that this document has moved so far through the V.A. chain of command and was about to be approved. The secretary there didn't even know about it.

That's the fear Americans have, of course, is these bureaucracies have a way of getting something out there like this that people don't even know about, Congress never heard of.

So when I raised it with the Bush White House, they said, "This isn't a vision of life. People have their dignity. They're endowed with that. It's not lost when they get dementia or stroke," and so they pulled it.

WALLACE: So after President Bush suspended the use of this document, why did the Obama administration last month reinstate it?

TOWEY: Good question. I don't fault President Obama on this yet, because I suspect he was like President Bush and knew nothing about it. The question is why hasn't it been pulled from their Web site now.

To put a statement up after the Wall Street Journal piece came out that says this document is currently being revised -- that just tells me they're in a damage control mode. What they should be doing is pulling the document and then revise this -- this order that told physicians to refer patients to it.

WALLACE: Finally, you have been involved with end-of-life issues for years. You worked in an AIDS home back in the ‘80s. You have written an end-of-life document yourself called "Five Wishes," which is widely used around the country.

In the course of this controversy in the last couple of days, V.A. officials are suggesting that you want the government to buy and use your book.

TOWEY: They can if they want. Millions of Americans do. But that's not what this is about. That's a not-for-profit, Aging With Dignity.

I want Americans to have access to a document that treats their life with respect, that's not pushing them to hurry up and die, that's not guilt-tripping them, that's not saying that if you can't shake the blues maybe your life's not worth living.

It's the pressure, Chris, and it's wrong for government to do it. There's so many documents out there that help families plan for and discuss end-of-life care.

People should access the one they're comfortable with, but the government should not be pushing exclusively this approach, and I think it's wrong, and I think to have an author of the assisted -- that supports assisted suicide doing it is terribly wrong.

WALLACE: Mr. Towey, we want to thank you for coming in today and discussing this issue with us.

TOWEY: Thank you.

WALLACE: For the Obama administration's response, we're joined now by Tammy Duckworth, an assistant secretary at the V.A. who knows all about veterans issues. She lost both legs during a mission as a helicopter pilot in Iraq.

And, Secretary Duckworth, welcome to "FOX News Sunday."

DUCKWORTH: Thanks for having me on, Chris.

WALLACE: I want to ask you about the worksheet, page 21 in the V.A. booklet. You're a hero who, despite severe injuries, lives a full life, but you have to get around some of the time in a wheelchair yourself.

Do you have any problem with the V.A. asking elderly veterans whether life is worth living if they have a disability, if they live in a nursing home, if they're unable to shake the blues?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I have to say, Chris, that this is a really important discussion because when I was in Iraq and I was injured, thank goodness I had an advanced directive, that I had both a living will and a medical power of attorney that my husband was able to use to really execute my wishes.

And I don't think that anybody values life more than somebody such as myself or those of us who work at V.A. who've been in combat, who knows what it's like to be given a second choice.

I think that any worksheet that any veteran wants to use that helps him make those decisions in advance for his family members so that they know what your wishes are, that you do want your life prolonged, that you do want to be resuscitated -- those are all important.

And V.A. is very happy for veterans to use any booklet that they would like. This booklet was used throughout the Bush administration under two secretaries. But if veterans want to go out and -- and we provide it free of charge. There are many other free-of-charge booklets that are out there.

If they want to go and spend $5 apiece and buy Mr. Towey's book, they are welcome to do that. And that all falls under V.A.'s advanced directive policy which was...

WALLACE: But -- but...

DUCKWORTH: ... put in place by President Bush.

WALLACE: ... if -- if I -- if I may, Ms. Duckworth, because we have limited time here...

DUCKWORTH: Sure. WALLACE: ... why would a question -- I can understand questions about if you're in an irreversible coma, do you want us to pull the plug. But why -- as I asked Mr. Towey, why would you even have a question in a -- in an end-of-life counseling book about if you're in a wheelchair, if you're living in a nursing home, does that make life worth living?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I know that before I was injured, I certainly let my husband know that, you know, being in a wheelchair was something that I feared and I was afraid for, but that I also wanted my life prolonged.

This is a tool. This is a simple tool that was put into place, as I said, under Secretary Nicholson. It was something that was used throughout.

And let me make a correction. We've not used it since 2007 when, under the Bush administration, we decided to go ahead and revise it.

This checklist is still under revision on a timetable according to a program that was actually decided on under the previous administration, because I know that President Bush and Secretary Nicholson and Secretary Peake all valued life. And that's what we're doing is we're revising it.

WALLACE: But -- but ...

DUCKWORTH: It will be out in 2010. It's not yet out. So Mr. Towey was not correct.

WALLACE: That's a -- Secretary Duckworth...


WALLACE: ... that's just not true. The VHA put out a directive on July 2nd, 2009, and I want to put up two pages from that directive. The first one, page 8, "Primary care practitioners are responsible for giving patients pertinent educational materials, e.g. refer patients to the ‘Your Life, Your Choices' module."

And on page 9 it says, "If they request more information, patients may be directed to the exercises in ‘Your Life, Your Choices.'"

So as of July 2nd, 2009, last month, more than a month ago, V.A. health practitioners were told to refer all veterans, not just end-of- life veterans but all 24 million veterans, to this document, "Your Life, Your Choices."

DUCKWORTH: Let me make a correction there, Chris. What our practitioners were told is to refer patients to any type of a tool. They can use Mr. Towey's if they want to spend the $5 apiece.

V.A. simply was not willing to buy his booklet at $5 per veteran at the time. This is a decision that was made...

WALLACE: But -- but how do you explain...

DUCKWORTH: ... by the previous administration.

WALLACE: It doesn't -- it doesn't say give them -- give them access to anything. I mean, in the specific V.A. booklet -- it's only 15 pages long -- it specifically refers to this booklet twice.

DUCKWORTH: The only directive that is out there is actually left over from -- I believe it was the beginning of 2007, which our advanced planning directive put into place, and it is actually very clear in saying that we need to provide veterans with information that they can make on how they want their care.

You know, this ultimately is about the care and health care for veterans, and we're actually expanding benefits for veterans. We're actually trying to get more priority aid veterans to sign up for V.A. benefits. We estimate that there'll be another 500,000 veterans coming in for benefits.

We are expanding V.A. benefits to veterans. It is in our best interest to make sure that every veteran out there receives the care and access to the treatments and everything that he needs, because, after all, these are the men and women who fought for us and fought -- and they deserve nothing less than the best care.

WALLACE: Secretary -- well, we certainly agree on that. Secretary Duckworth, when you look at the workbook now on your Web site, as you point out, there's a disclaimer there. We're going to put the disclaimer that is now on the Web site if you go to the -- to the "Your Life, Your Choices" link.

And it says, "The document is currently undergoing revision for release in V.A. The revised version will be available soon." But when the V.A. first reinstated the document a month ago -- six weeks ago...


WALLACE: ... it sent veterans directly there, as you can see in the screen grab. I guess the question I have is why, Secretary Duckworth, did the disclaimer about the book only appear this week after Mr. Towey's article appeared in the Wall Street Journal?

DUCKWORTH: Actually, that disclaimer has been there since 2007 when we pulled...

WALLACE: Well, it wasn't -- it wasn't...

DUCKWORTH: ... when we pulled...

WALLACE: ... there before August 20th of -- between July 20th -- July 2nd and August 20th, the disclaimer was not on the Web site, because we checked. DUCKWORTH: Chris, the disclaimer has been at the beginning of the "Your Life, Your Choice" booklet since 2007 when the Bush administration decided to pull it off and revise it on an -- on an established time schedule.

WALLACE: The record doesn't show that.

DUCKWORTH: But it -- you can go on the Web site now. We have many things on our Web site. They're up there because they receive federal dollars. They're public research grants. We have to keep them on our Web site.

But I will tell you that this booklet has not been in use. It was pulled off the shelves in 2007. We very clearly told all of our medical practitioners not to use it because it was under revision...

WALLACE: I don't...

DUCKWORTH: ... and this is ultimately -- again, let's bring this back to...

WALLACE: Miss Duckworth, that just -- Miss Duckworth, I don't want to -- I don't want to argue with you, but -- but the...


WALLACE: ... but the facts are that it wasn't in use from 2007 until July 2nd of 2009 when, in the VHA handbook, you specifically reinstated it and specifically told health care practitioners to refer veterans to it.

DUCKWORTH: Chris, it has not been reinstated. Let me make it clear. The only advanced directive that we have is dated February of 2007. And it actually encourages veterans to use any type of tool or checklist they would like to.

There are many, many good ones out there. This "Your Life, Your Choice" is widely used out there, not just within V.A. There are many others that are out there. And veterans are free to use whatever they would like to use.

WALLACE: I -- and let -- let me -- I mean, I...

DUCKWORTH: We just urge them to use some...

WALLACE: I just -- I have a problem here. And too often on these shows we say one person said, and another person said.

Secretary Duckworth, I don't know if we're able in the control room to put up the first -- the full screen of the VHA directive, but I'd like you to put up the first full screen, if you can.

In the VHA directive of July 2nd, 2009, it says the following on page 8, "Primary care practitioners are responsible for giving patients pertinent educational materials, e.g. refer patients to the ‘Your Life, Your Choices' module." I mean, it's just there in black and white on the VHA directive of July 2nd.

DUCKWORTH: Chris, I -- I'm sorry, I can't see that on the monitor in here. I will tell you that I know for a fact that the only directive signed by Secretary Shinseki -- I mean, signed by a V.A. secretary was actually signed by Secretary Nicholson, and it's dated February of 2007.

What you're looking at may not actually be a directive, so I -- since I can't see it...

WALLACE: Well, we'll...

DUCKWORTH: ... I'd be happy to come back and discuss it with you, but let's talk about what V.A. is trying to do.

We have the largest increase in our budget in over 30 years. We are going to be expanding access to veterans. We are working with the new G.I. bill for the 21st century. We are fighting to end homelessness. And we are doing quite a lot for veterans.

And I don't think that there's anybody that understands better the importance and value of life than those of us who have worn the uniform and faced combat.

WALLACE: I apologize. We're running out of time.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, I'm sorry.

WALLACE: I want to ask you one last question. If you feel...


WALLACE: ... so strongly about the value of life, although the disclaimer is on there, this document, "Your Life, Your Choices," is still on the V.A. Web site.

Secretary Duckworth, while it's supposedly being revised, it's still up there. Can you promise us that this will be taken down today?

DUCKWORTH: It is still up there with the disclaimer that it's under revision and do not use it. It cannot...

WALLACE: It doesn't say don't use it.

DUCKWORTH: Let me, Chris...

WALLACE: But why have it up there at all? Why not just say...


WALLACE: ... we're going to take it down?

DUCKWORTH: Because we are bound by federal law. It was developed with federal research grant monies, and most of our -- all of our programs that were results of federal research grants are online for people to use for research purposes.

But we very clearly tell all of our veterans, "Please use any type of a tool that is most suitable for you and your loved ones," and you can certainly -- there are many great ones out there, including Mr. Towey's, if they want to go spend the $5 for it apiece.

V.A. makes ours available for free. The checklist that we're actually using is a completely different checklist from this one, because this one has been taken off for revision.

WALLACE: Well, it hasn't been taken off. It's being revised, but it's still on the Web site.

Secretary Duckworth, we want to thank you. We want to thank you for giving us the V.A.'s response. And we also personally want to thank you for your service to our nation.

DUCKWORTH: It was my pleasure to be here. Thank you.

WALLACE: If you want to read the V.A. book for yourself, you'll find a link at our blog, And we will stay on this story of end-of-life counseling for our veterans.

Up next, the president's health care plan loses ground with Republicans and Democrats. We'll talk with two congressional leaders right after the break.


WALLACE: Here now to give us the latest on where the president's push for health care reform stands are two leading members of Congress.

Senator Arlen Specter , newly converted Democrat from Pennsylvania, has held four town hall meetings on health care.

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is the top Republican on the House Budget Committee.

I want to start with the debate that you just heard about end-of- life counseling at the V.A., gentlemen.

Senator Specter, as a member -- and you are -- of the Veterans Committee, do you have any problems with this booklet being used for end-of-life counseling for veterans?

SPECTER: I sure do. Preliminarily, let me say, Chris, that that was a tough interrogation. You're good at that. But Secretary Duckworth held her own. You can see why she's a distinguished veteran.

I start with the proposition that there's no indication that that kind of a document would be in any health care plan. And as Mr. Towey said, President Obama probably doesn't know anything about it. The document itself raises a lot of questions. And when Secretary Duckworth challenges the issue that it really is not supposed to be up there, I think consideration ought to be given right now to suspending it pending hearings before the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Senate, where I serve. And I'm going to call for those hearings first thing tomorrow.

And I wouldn't want to decide the question on a Sunday talk show, but I think we ought to have hearings, and I think Mr. Towey's exactly right. There ought not to be suggestions to encourage people to make decisions to end life, and that as between what we've heard about the current V.A. document and what Mr. Towey says, I think Mr. Towey is on a lot stronger ground.

But bear this in mind. There's no proposition now to use the V.A. document in any health care reform plan, and there is no proposition for anything resembling "death panels."

WALLACE: Congressman Ryan, I want to get on to other subjects, but briefly, your reaction to what Jim Towey calls "the death book for veterans."

RYAN: Well, look. These are important issues for people and their families to discuss. The question is should this be something that government's involved in.

Let's put this in the perspective of what's going on today. The Congress is about to rush through a sweeping health care overhaul which inevitably puts the government in charge of our health care sector.

And when things like this happen with government agencies, it raises all sorts of questions as to what direction we're going with health care in America, and that's why this conversation is especially relevant.

WALLACE: Let's turn to where the overall health care reform plan, to the degree that there is a plan, and there -- but there's a -- general outlines of one, where health care reform stands now.

I want to put up a Washington Post poll this week that found that 50 percent now disapprove of the way the president is handling health care, while 46 percent approve. In April, 57 percent approved while just 29 percent disapproved.

Senator Specter, why do you think public support for the president's handling of health care is dropping so sharply? And where do you think health care reform stands right now?

SPECTER: It is dropping because of so much misinformation. People are hearing talk about "death panels" and that would be wrong, and people don't like it.

People are hearing that they can't keep their current health plan, insurance reform plan, and they think that that is bad. People are worried about adding to the deficit and national debt, which is understandable, and the president has said that he's not going to sign a bill which adds to the deficit.

And in my four town meetings, I said I would not vote for a plan that adds to the national debt.

WALLACE: So how much trouble, Senator, do you think...

SPECTER: What I...

WALLACE: ... health care reform is in right now?

SPECTER: Well, I do not think it is in trouble. I think it is in a period of analysis and re-analysis.

Your program today, Chris, is enormously helpful to clarify an important issue, and I think that the town meetings we've had -- the ones that I held were very vituperative. But I think they were organized, not that I disagree with people organizing. They have a right to do that in a democracy.

But let's not necessarily conclude that they are representative as to how people feel. Senator Casey had a town meeting on Thursday, and a lot of emotion had already been vetted, and his town meeting was very calm, very civil and constructive.

So let's proceed for the balance of the month, come back to Washington, and I think we have a good chance to get a bipartisan plan yet.

WALLACE: Let me bring Congressman Ryan in.

Why do you think that the president's health care reform -- or support, public support, for his health care reform plan is dropping so sharply? And how much trouble do you think it's in?

RYAN: Well, quite simply, it's dropping so sharply because people are actually reading the legislation. They're actually seeing the details of this.

And they're seeing that the rhetoric that was used to sell this plan is completely disconnected and contrary to the substance of the plan.

And so when you put this in the context of what's happened this year -- bank bailouts, government takeovers of auto companies, massive borrowing and deficits, and now a huge takeover of our health care sector which makes our fiscal situation worse, not better -- that's not my words; those are according to the Congressional Budget Office -- that's what has people up in arms.

That's what has people coming to our town hall meetings worried about this legislation that is being rushed through Congress.

I mean, they're talking about employing a new procedural tactic in the Senate to rush this through with 50 votes and no more than 35 hours of debate, and so that's what people are concerned about, which is they will lose the kind of health care they've got, the government will be in a primary role of running our health care system, and this will add to our national debt, this will add to our fiscal problems.

And that is what has people up in arms.

WALLACE: The big issue now is how are Democrats going to get some measure passed. And as both of you gentlemen know, one idea is to pass health care reform under budget rules, especially in the Senate, that would require a simple majority of 51 votes and not a super majority of 60 votes.

Senator Specter, back in May, you said this, and let's put it up on the screen. "I voted against the budget because the budget has a way to pass health care with 51 votes, which undermines a basic Senate institution to require 60 votes to impose cloture on key issues."

Senator, does that mean that you will oppose splitting the bill and that you will oppose passing any of the health care reform measure under the budget reconciliation procedure?

SPECTER: Chris, I think the vastly preferable way is to go the 60 route. And with 60 Democratic senators, I think that can be done. I think the 51 approach is not desirable. As a very last, last, last resort, if you can't get anything else, I would consider it. But I think that is undesirable.

Let me comment one sentence about what Congressman Ryan said. He said care is -- support is falling because people are reading the bill. Well, that's not true. There's no bill in the Senate. There's no bill on the House floor. A couple of house committees have considered it.

But let us -- give us an opportunity to present a bill before people start to attribute things to a bill where there is no bill and no reason to criticize.

WALLACE: Congressman Ryan?

RYAN: The bill number is H.R.3200. It's come out of three committees and it's poised to go on the floor when we return from our August recess.

But let's -- let's just take another point here. The concern here is where this is all heading. And the problem is if you use what we call reconciliation, that is really sort of denying democracy.

I think Senator Specter was right in May to protest that procedure, one that is usually resolved -- used for reducing deficit and debt, not for expanding the growth of government in these kinds of programs.

And so what's the shame of all of this, Chris, is -- you know, what? We could fix what's broken in health care. We could probably, in a bipartisan consensus basis, make sure that people who are uninsured get health insurance, make sure that people with pre- existing conditions get affordable care. Fix what's broken. Don't break what's working.

Unfortunately, the president and his party have chosen a different path which is a path that involves a huge takeover of our health care system by our government. And they're saying that they're going to do this with the one-party rule, which they have.

Now, obviously, elections have consequences. They have the votes to do this. And that is what has people very concerned, because this is being moved so fast without real consultation with the American people, without people understanding the consequences of what is going to take place here.

And it compounds our fiscal problems in America. We're already going bankrupt largely because of the other health care programs we have in place today. A new health care entitlement...

WALLACE: Gentlemen, we've got a little over a minute left, and I want to get to one last issue, so I'm going to ask you both to be brief on this.

Congressman Ryan, you pushed a measure in the House that if Congress passes a public option that all members of Congress, senators and congressmen, should have to go on it. What kind of support are you getting from your colleagues? RYAN: Well, I brought this up as an amendment with Dean Heller of Nevada in the Ways and Means Committee. All but two Democrats voted against it. So it largely failed on a party-line vote.

My point is if we're going to put this on everybody else in America, we in Congress ought to be in the same plan with them. Unfortunately, that amendment has been denied every time it's been brought up in our committees.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, as you well know from your town halls, this is one of the issues a lot of doubters are asking, so let me put it directly to you. You support the public option. If it passes, will you, Arlen Specter , go on it?

SPECTER: I will consider it. I think members of the House and Senate ought to have exactly the same plans, the same options, as any citizen.

Bear in mind, Chris, the public option is an option. It is one choice you can make. And I think my situation ought to be the same as any other citizen.

Before you end, Chris, on this business about what the V.A. has, I think that there is good reason to suspend it or at least consider suspending it based on what Secretary Duckworth said.

But I think we ought to have hearings on it, and if it works out as I think it will, I would introduce legislation to prohibit the Veterans Administration from using any format, such as the one we've heard about today, which pushes pulling the plug.

WALLACE: Senator Specter, Congressman Ryan, I want to thank you both. Thanks for joining us today. And, gentlemen, please come back.

SPECTER: Nice being with you.

RYAN: Thank you, Chris.

SPECTER: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Up next, two political insiders join our Sunday panel, and we'll ask them where the president has gone wrong in selling health care reform. Back in a moment.



OBAMA: There's something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-wee'd up.


I don't know what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP) C. WALLACE: That was President Obama blaming all the speculation about where he's gone wrong on health care reform on the summer doldrums.

And if you're wondering, and we were, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs clarified "all wee-wee'd up" means wetting your bed.

And with that out of the way, it's time for our Sunday group, and we've added a couple of political insiders.

Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

Tad Devine, former advisor to the Kerry and Gore campaigns.

Nicolle Wallace, former adviser to the McCain campaign and communications director in the Bush White House.

And Juan Williams of National Public Radio.

Well, let's take advantage of our two insiders.

Nicolle, forget policy, forget your political leanings, as someone who has rolled out initiatives, just as a -- as a professional in this area, what has the Obama White House done wrong? How have they lost control of this narrative?

N. WALLACE: They have made all the same mistakes that we made when we rolled out and fought for Social Security reform. They left all the details to the Congress. They've got very vocal opponents who -- when they try to calmly and in a very detailed manner explain that they won't necessarily be impacted, they don't have the credibility need to quiet their opposition. And you know, now their credibility is being questioned.

So I think they've made a lot -- you know, they claim that they are students of the mistakes of the Bush White House, but they really failed to learn the lessons of the failed effort to reform Social Security.

C. WALLACE: Tad, anything to add to that?

DEVINE: Yes. I think our side has not really explained that health care costs are crushing American families. It made that the focus of health care reform. And I think if we do that, we're going to be heard.

C. WALLACE: You say if you -- if you fail to do that...

DEVINE: No, I think that's the problem right now. All the noises out there -- we're hearing about "death panels." We're hearing about, you know, all of these issues which are really extraordinary issues...

C. WALLACE: But we've also had the president talk about bending the curve, and then the CBO said that's not true. He's talked about health insurance reform at one point. Now he's talking about the moral obligation.

Is the problem that if you've got three messages, you don't have one message?

DEVINE: Well, no. I think the problem is there's a lot of noise on the other side, and our side is not focused enough.

And I think if they begin to talk about families who have a diabetic child and can't get health insurance because of that child, we're going to start winning this debate very quickly.

C. WALLACE: Bill, late this week the president blamed his problems on the Republican Party, which he says is trying to repeat the defeat of "Hillarycare" in 1993 and ‘94. How much of his problem is the GOP and how much of it is the Democratic Party, his own party?

KRISTOL: I think the Republican Party has done a pretty good job of pointing out the problems with President Obama's plan. I think conservative policy analysts have done a pretty good job.

But the American public has been ahead of the Republican Party in objecting to this plan. This plan is failing on the merits. It's not failing because President Obama isn't being clever enough in making the right arguments, or because Republicans have suddenly got an injection of political genius and have -- you know, after -- six months after being written off for dead have turned out to be fantastically able political operators.

People don't want the plan. It's not -- you know, if he were -- it's just a mistake to think that because there's a financial crisis that he had -- and he won an election because President Bush was unpopular that he had a mandate to entirely overhaul the health care system in the United States.


WILLIAMS: You couldn't be more wrong. I mean, the fact is that even with all of the...

C. WALLACE: Welcome to the panel, guys.


WILLIAMS: ... all of the scare tactics that have been used by the Republicans, 52 percent in the latest Washington Post poll say they still want public option.

If you listen to the discussion this time, you would think public option was in such disregard that nobody in their right mind would ever think about a public option. Fifty-two percent of Americans still want it.

So I don't know how the -- how you can say, Bill, that somehow the American people are ahead of the Republicans. What the Republicans are all about is what you said in your famous quote, "Kill it. Just stop it. We don't want to give anything to President Obama or to the American people when it comes to health care."

KRISTOL: I -- I...

WILLIAMS: And that's why when you get people like Charles Grassley, you know, who's a responsible, thoughtful senator from Iowa, saying, "You know, I can't do anything without all my Republican colleagues coming on, I'm not going to vote for anything despite my negotiations in good faith with my Democrats," you just think to yourself, "What is going on? Why are Republicans behaving in such a way on a key issue of our day?"

C. WALLACE: Let me bring Nicolle back into this, because the president and a number of his top advisers are taking this week off to rest and to retool their message.

You're in the Obama White House. I know it's a mind meld, but try to consider it.

N. WALLACE: Go with you?

C. WALLACE: Go with -- go with me.

N. WALLACE: Got it.

C. WALLACE: What should they do now?

N. WALLACE: Well, listen. I disagree with you, Juan, and I usually don't, but I -- I do this time.

C. WALLACE: Oh, yes, you do.

N. WALLACE: But he is weakened as president because Democrats oppose his policies. He's not, you know, falling in the polls because Republicans have, you know, as Bill said, finally, you know, got their groove back and are -- and are communicating.

This really is a grassroots opposition to increased government control over health care, and it is Democrats who are wary of what Obama has proposed.

And it is also a cumulative impact of the stimulus, which some Democrats were uncomfortable with, cap and trade. Some of these guys went home -- Democrats, not Republicans -- and got a lot of flack.

You know, I talked to a House member from South Florida this week, and he is cringing about having to go home and defend these policies. And you know, he is a die-hard, far left -- not far left, but hardcore Democrat, and he is nervous about having to defend Obama's policies.

C. WALLACE: Let me ask you about one aspect, Tad, of what you suggested. I think that's a reasonable argument -- "Hey, look, you know, there are a lot of things that are wrong with your health insurance. We're going to fix it."

DEVINE: Right. C. WALLACE: But you don't need this major overhaul of health care reform to do that. You can take out the pre-existing conditions. You can include portability and do a much more targeted health care insurance reform.

DEVINE: Chris, I think the president understands that he was elected to execute fundamental change in this country, and I applaud the fact that he's got the courage to take this challenge on.

There's a reason we haven't been able to reform health care for so long. There are powerful interests arrayed against it. Now, the president is trying to fundamentally change a system right now which is broken.

And I think as long as they keep that focus not on the 15 percent of people in this country who don't have health insurance, even though it's 47 million people, but on the 85 percent of Americans who do have health insurance and need that health insurance coverage changed fundamentally in order to afford it for themselves and their businesses. That's where we win the fight.

KRISTOL: Tad is the best of the Democrats and -- but in a way, what he said, therefore, is particularly revealing. The system is not broken.

The American public do not believe fundamentally that our health care system is radically broken. They think it's swollen in terms of costs, it's inefficient, it's difficult to deal with.

Most people know perfectly well that today we get health care much better than we got 20 or 30 years ago. People are living, and living good lives, in a way that they couldn't have 20, or 30, or 40 years ago.

So fix the particular problems in the system. Juan said I said to kill it. I do believe we should kill the Obama proposal, but I said kill it and start over. And there are plenty of proposals -- let people buy health insurance across state lines -- that he could get huge bipartisan majorities for.

That's the problem. People do not believe the health care system is fundamentally broken.

DEVINE: Well, listen. For 47 million Americans who don't have health insurance, it's broken. For businesses who can't afford it and are laying off people, it's broken. For a broad range of interests in this country, it's broken.

And I do believe they -- that the American people feel that. And that's why they're demanding reform. And I think they're going to get it, maybe without help for Republicans. They're going to get it from Democrats.

WILLIAMS: Well, the...

C. WALLACE: Juan, you get the last word. WILLIAMS: Well, the -- just to come back to something Nicolle said, she is exactly right that this is now a conversation among Democrats, and so what you get are Democrats like Kent Conrad who say, "You know what? The votes are not in the Senate for the public option, so let's look for cooperatives."

So he's trying to negotiate down and trying to somehow craft a compromise. That's the position among Democrats. So you're exactly right. But why is that, Nicolle? It's because Republicans aren't in the game.

In my opinion, they're missing in action again on this critical issue. They don't see any point of advantage in negotiating and trying to get something constructive done that would give a key victory to the Obama White House on a central...

N. WALLACE: Because the people don't want it.

C. WALLACE: Nicolle, 10 seconds.

N. WALLACE: Because the American people don't want it. Republicans...

WILLIAMS: The American people want it. The polls show overwhelmingly...

C. WALLACE: You'll understand you never get the last word.



C. WALLACE: All right. We have to step aside for a moment.

But when we come back, new allegations about the Bush White House possibly playing politics with the terror threat level. The charge now comes from a former Bush insider. Stay tuned.

WALLACE: On this day in 2004, President George W. Bush criticized the swift boat ads that accused John Kerry of inflating his own Vietnam War record. The president said the ads had no place in the race for the White House.

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



TOM RIDGE: We don't have to go to orange to take action in response either to these tapes or just general action to improve security around the country.


C. WALLACE: That was then-Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge just before the 2004 election saying there was no need to raise the terror alert level, even though Osama bin Laden had just released a videotaped threat.

But now, in a new book, Ridge says he came under what may have been political pressure to do just that.

And we're back now with Bill, Tad, Nicolle and Juan.

So in the new book, Ridge says that then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and then-Attorney General Ashcroft came to him, final week of the campaign, but just after Osama bin Laden had raised this -- had issued this threat, urged him to raise the terror alert level.

And then in the book Ridge says this, "I wondered, is this about security or politics? Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president's approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level."

Nicolle, Tom Ridge goes on to say that he was never directed to raise the threat level at any point but that this led him or furthered his determination to leave the administration.

N. WALLACE: Well, Tom Ridge is a good and decent man entitled to his impressions, but they're just that. And there are some facts that stand between Tom Ridge and a smoking gun.

One, he was part of a very vocal majority. People who were in the meeting describe Bob Muller, then-FBI director, still FBI director, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, as sharing his view that the alert level should not be raised.

And Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Ashcroft were duty-bound to share their opinions in this private meeting among principals, because...

C. WALLACE: And did they urge raising the alert level?

N. WALLACE: You know, I wasn't in there. I was campaign staff.

C. WALLACE: Well, wait a minute. You told us one half of the conversation.

N. WALLACE: Well, listen. They denied it, so -- they denied it, so you know, I think that Secretary...

C. WALLACE: Well, they denied the politics part of it. They didn't...

N. WALLACE: And that's the crux of this. We were both there. We were having a very political discussion about terrorism. 2004 was very much an election about who best could protect us from another terrorist attack.

But that is quite different from what he very, I think in a kind wussy way, alleges. I mean, this is not a very...

C. WALLACE: This is Tom Ridge.

N. WALLACE: ... precise attack. This is -- he pondered and wondered if perhaps politics went into it. You know, it's very fishy to me.

C. WALLACE: Tad, is this, as Nicolle said, the smoking gun that explains why John Kerry lost in 2004?

DEVINE: No, no. And, Chris, I wish I could say I was shocked to hear this. You know, I feel a little bit like Captain Renault in the movie "Casablanca" when they said, you know, "I'm shocked that gambling is going on here at Rick's," you know, while they hand him his winnings.

I mean, everybody knew what was going on in 2004. The Bush campaign made a decision: 9/11 was going to be the centerpiece. That's why it was part of the first ad they broadcast in March of the general election.

And sometimes -- and, listen, as a -- it was a legitimate strategy, political strategy. What is not legitimate is when the attorney general of the United States and the secretary of defense pressure the secretary of homeland security to raise the alert level on the eve of the election. That is not legitimate.

And I'm glad -- I don't think he's wussy to expose this. I think he's shown a lot of courage, and I'm glad he did it.

N. WALLACE: But he hasn't...

KRISTOL: Can I -- can I mention one fact? They did not raise the alert level.

N. WALLACE: Right.

KRISTOL: I mean, people -- we've had this whole discussion without making that a little bit clearer.

The president of the United States and his homeland security adviser in the White House, Fran Townsend, a political appointee, chose not to raise the alert level. So, so much for the politicization of this. They didn't do what allegedly was in their political interest.

Incidentally, it wasn't crazy to worry about an Al Qaida attack right before the election. Bin Laden had released a videotape Friday night saying, "We're going to attack you," and Spain had been attacked two days before its election earlier that year.

Nonetheless, Fran Townsend said, "We don't think the evidence is there." They did not raise the alert level. They did not politicize it.

C. WALLACE: So why -- and we can argue about the use of the adjective "wussy" -- I'll be turning to you, Juan -- did Ridge write in the book, "Is this about security or politics?" It led him to wonder.

WILLIAMS: He's trying to sell a book. I don't think there's as much question -- I mean, to my mind, all these Bush administration officials are out there selling books at the moment, and this is the way that Tom Ridge was going to distinguish his book.

You know, without a doubt, raising the alert level -- the possibility of it was a political tool, and you can argue about it one way or the other. But why didn't he raise these concerns explicitly and speak out explicitly at the time if he felt that the politics were such that the national security was being put in a secondary position to whether or not President Bush defeated John Kerry ?

That would have been at the time the more courageous and more definitive act of a man who said, "I'm putting principle before politics."

C. WALLACE: So what -- so what you're suggesting we have to go -- is that we have now fallen into Tom Ridge's publisher's P.R. campaign by discussing this (inaudible).

WILLIAMS: Here we are.

C. WALLACE: I'm shocked.


Thank you, panel. See you next week.

And don't forget to check out the latest edition of "Panel Plus," where our group here continues the discussion on our Web site,, shortly after the show ends.

Up next, our Power Player of the Week.


C. WALLACE: We have been discussing today what we owe our veterans in terms of health care, but over Memorial Day weekend, we told you about a man who has found his own special way to honor Americans who died while serving in the military. He's our Power Player of the Week.


DAY: When you're playing it, it's only 24 notes, but it's so meaningful to that family.

C. WALLACE: Tom Day is talking about playing "Taps" at the funerals of military veterans, and he should know. He's the founder and president of an organization called Bugles Across America.

All told, how many funerals have you done since you started Bugles Across America?

DAY: Two hundred thousand.

C. WALLACE: Really?

DAY: In 10 years, right.

C. WALLACE: It started back in 2000 when Congress gave every vet the right to a funeral with military honors, including two uniformed officers to present a flag and play "Taps." The problem was the military only had 500 buglers.

So they sent someone to play a recorded "Taps" on a boom box or an electronic device inside a bugle. Tom Day, who played in the Marines in the ‘50s, didn't like it.

DAY: I call it stolen dignity that these veterans can't get live "Taps," when we are out there ready to perform live "Taps."

C. WALLACE: So he started his organization, recruiting 400 horn players within a year.

DAY: Now we have 6,270 horn players, and we're doing 2,200 funerals a month.

C. WALLACE: It's become quite an operation that Day runs out of his basement near Chicago. Families can go on his Web site to ask for a bugler. A message is sent to every horn player within 100 miles of the funeral.

Day gives away bugles and helps with uniforms. While he gets support from foundations, he runs a deficit every year.

How do you make up for the shortfall?

DAY: I kind of make it up myself.

C. WALLACE: Fifteen, $20,000 a year.

DAY: Probably 10. You finish the last of the 24 notes, you put the horn down, and the flag has been presented. Then the family comes over. The kisses, the handshakes from these families -- there is nothing -- no amount of money could ever buy the feeling that I get from the family once I finish the 24 notes.

C. WALLACE: With soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus 1,800 veterans of World War II dying every day, there is a flood of military funerals.

Day, who is 69, says he wants to keep going until he dies, then leave his organization in solid shape to carry on.

DAY: I want every family to have live "Taps" at that going-away presentation of their veteran. And it kind of tells the Marines who are guarding the gates in heaven, live "Taps," we're going to let this veteran right in.


C. WALLACE: After our story first ran in May, Tom Day says Fox viewers donated more than $100,000 to continue the program, and some 400 buglers signed up. If you want to contribute, go to

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.

Fox News Sunday

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter