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Senators Stabenow, Specter, Alexander & Bond on "Fox News Sunday"

Senators Stabenow, Specter, Alexander & Bond on "Fox News Sunday"

By Fox News Sunday - November 22, 2009

CHRIS WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News in Washington. Well, on Saturday night the Senate voted along party lines 60-39 to bring the Democratic health care reform plan to the floor for weeks of debate. Now the tough part begins, actually passing a bill. We're joined by four Senate leaders.

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

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

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

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

WALLACE: But do you...

ALEXANDER: ... all along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WALLACE: OK.

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

WALLACE: But I -- would you...

STABENOW: ... 3.5 million jobs.

WALLACE: ... answer my question, please?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STABENOW: You know, I need to...

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

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

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

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

WALLACE: Yes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WALLACE: Senator...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WALLACE: And would you accept that?

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

WALLACE: Senator...

STABENOW: And what happened in the House changes that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

STABENOW: Right.

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

STABENOW: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STABENOW: Chris...

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

STABENOW: If I could just say to...

BOND: The jobs -- the jobs that... STABENOW: ... my good friend Kit, first of all...

BOND: ... the jobs...

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

BOND: I'll let you...

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

BOND: You started too many things, Debbie.

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

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

STABENOW: Congressional Budget Office says...

WALLACE: You know what?

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

WALLACE: Senator?

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

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

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

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

STABENOW: OK.

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

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STABENOW: Absolutely.

BOND: Thank you.

SPECTER: Nice to be with you.

WALLACE: Thanks.

Up next, two cancer studies released this week bring controversy and confusion. We'll try to separate fact from fiction with a leading expert on women's health right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: In the fight over health care reform this week, two new cancer screening studies became part of the argument.

First, a government task force recommended women delay starting routine mammograms from age 40 to age 50. And then an association of medical experts said women could delay their first screening for cervical cancer until age 21 and then be re-screened less often.

Joining us now to sort through this is Dr. Bernadine Healy, the first woman to head the National Institutes of Health. She is now health editor for U.S. News & World Report, and she comes to us from Cleveland.

Dr. Healy, let's start with some practical advice for women, many of whom, I'm sure, are understandably confused at the end of this week. What would you tell a woman patient with no particular history of breast cancer what she should do about getting mammograms?

HEALY: I think she should stick with the existing guidelines that come out of the medical professional organizations and have been in place for a long time, which is start your screening at age 40; if you are concerned about a risk, maybe a baseline of 35; and then -- and then have it done every year in your 40s. You might go to every other year in your 50s.

And you and your doctor will decide for how much longer it should go.

WALLACE: So basically you're saying ignore the Preventative Task Force recommendations this week.

HEALY: Oh, I'm saying very powerfully ignore them, because unequivocally -- and they agreed with this -- this will increase the number of women dying of breast cancer. Women in their 40s have a very aggressive kind of breast cancer. They tend to progress fast. And to not screen women in that age group is astounding to me, and it goes against the bulk of individuals who are actually caring for patients. You may save some money, Chris, but you're not going to save lives.

WALLACE: And what would you tell a young woman about when she should start getting Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer?

HEALY: I think I -- I think the new recommendations that came out of the ACOG, or the American society of OB-GYNs, is very responsible and reasonable, because we understand cervical cancer.

We know when it starts. It's a sexually transmitted disease. It takes a while to turn into cancer. You don't just get that infection and suddenly get cancer. It usually takes about 10, sometimes 20 years, unless you're immunosuppressed.

So I think that to spread it out to two years instead of one year, to wait until you're 18 or 21 -- I think it should be up to the doctor, but you don't have to do it every year.

And this is important because this infection causes some very nasty looking cells on a Pap smear, and sometimes that does lead to aggressive treatment that's not needed because this infection in 90 percent of women clears up -- clears up -- in a matter of about two years, one to two years.

WALLACE: Doctor, you say that this use of task forces to say what should and shouldn't be covered by government and private health insurance plans is a, quote, "sneaky kind of rationing."

But look, this was an independent group. Its members were appointed by President Bush, not President Obama. And they say that they were making decisions based on medicine, not on cost.

HEALY: Well, they were -- they -- I think you could get the answer you want and the orientation you want depending upon who was on the task force.

This particular task force has been in existence for about 25 years and its focus is on public health, modeling of health policy and economics.

It does not have people who are experts in hands-on patient care, for the most part, and on oncology or even in breast cancer or cervical cancer. It gets information from those groups, but it ultimately comes up with models.

You know, Chris, there's really been no new information here. It is a different way of looking at the same problem. Their perspective is if you can cut in half the money we're spending on screening for breast cancer and lose only, you know, maybe 10 percent, 20 percent of the benefit, that's a good tradeoff.

A doctor who is responsible ethically for their individual patient would not make that tradeoff.

WALLACE: But, Doctor...

HEALY: You know, we're doing just fine.

WALLACE: But, Doctor -- and it certainly may be possible that this particular recommendation is a bad recommendation, but how are we ever -- everybody agrees that health care costs are out of control.

How are we ever going to control health care costs if here you have an independent group making decisions on what it says is evidence-based medicine, and as soon as the politicians get some heat -- and they got a lot of heat on the mammogram study -- they run away?

HEALY: I agree with you, Chris, because there will be a lot of other decisions that people won't know about that will -- that will get through, and they could be harmful.

The issue here is that we are listening to one voice. And unlike what the secretary said and Senator Stabenow just said, this is not just a recommendation. This is codified in law that this is the group that will be providing information.

This is not the voice that medicine has used that focuses on the individual patient rather than the good of society. And even if they included the other groups, like the obstetricians and gynecologists, and the oncologists, and the cancer society, that would be fine, but they didn't.

What doctors have had up until now is a choice. They've had a number of different guidelines from very responsible groups, and it gives them and their patient some choice within some narrow limits.

WALLACE: So in about...

HEALY: None of these...

WALLACE: ... in about 15 seconds, Dr. Healy, because we're out of time...

HEALY: Yes. OK.

WALLACE: .. are you saying that you're worried about government rationing in the Democratic health care plan?

HEALY: Hidden government rationing, pretending it's coming from experts and that it's going to be for your health and well being. These guidelines are not. We're going to see more people die of breast cancer. And breast cancer is 25 percent of the cancers that are out there.

WALLACE: Dr. Healy, we want to thank you so much for clearing up some of the confusion. Thanks again.

HEALY: Thank you, Chris. WALLACE: And check out our blog at foxnewssunday.com where we'll have a Web exclusive with Dr. Healy, plus links to both of those controversial studies.

Well, coming up, our Sunday panel discusses growing criticism of the way the White House is managing the economy as well as the battle over health care reform. Back in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN BRADY: For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TREASURY SECRETARY TIM GEITHNER: You gave this president an economy falling off the cliff, values of Americans savings cut almost in half.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Well, it's still just a brush fire, but we started hearing a few calls this week from members of both parties for Treasury Secretary Geithner to step down.

To sort it out, let's bring in our Sunday group -- Brit Hume, Fox News senior political analyst, Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, and Anne Kornblut from the Washington Post.

Brit, it's not just Geithner. There are calls now to audit the Federal Reserve. There's a growing anxiety among congressional Democrats about this high unemployment. How big a problem for this president?

HUME: Well, it's a huge political problem for those members of Congress up for re-election next year, particularly, you know, the third of the Senate and all of the House.

And these -- this caterwauling that we heard up there this week was not unexpected -- indeed, it was inevitable -- and there will be more of it.

Now, it's not as if these members of Congress have alternative ideas -- or at least in the case of the Democrats -- as to what should have been done. They don't. And if they did, that's what we would have heard instead of calls for resignations and calls for auditing of the Fed and so on.

So you know, for the president, I don't know how great a problem it is. His hands are really kind of tied on further stimulus because of the size of the deficit. He doesn't have any money to spend. He's probably not going to try to adopt any Republican ideas -- tax cuts and so on -- of the kind that have been recommended. So he's -- I think he's a bit checkmated. So this is the outlet valve for it. There's really nowhere to go legislatively, so they're -- so they're squeaking and squawking.

WALLACE: And caterwauling.

HUME: Exactly.

LIASSON: Well, I agree that this is the outlet valve. Certainly, Geithner has become the punching bag for this, for all the populist anger out there, but I disagree with Brit that there's nothing the president can do.

There is some unused stimulus money that still could be redirected into tax credits for hiring -- that's certainly one thing the administration is looking at -- maybe a payroll tax holiday, maybe -- certainly, they're going to extend unemployment benefits, and maybe some other kind of "cash for clunker" program, like "cash for caulkers" -- you know, weatherization of your house. That's something they could do.

They're looking at all these things, and I think that as soon as health care is out of the way and probably even before then, you're going to hear this administration talking about nothing but jobs between now and the next election.

WALLACE: Let me -- and I...

HUME: Let him talk.

WALLACE: Yeah, I was going to say I can already see Bill's skepticism on that, because the president sent two messages this week. He's talking -- he's already talking a lot about jobs and the job summit, and we're going to do something about it, but he also, as you saw in the interview with Major Garrett in China -- he's beginning to talk more about the deficit and debt and the danger that that provides.

How do you do something about stimulating the economy and something about the deficit at the same time?

KRISTOL: You talk. That's what he's going to do. He's going to have a jobs summit. I think it's very unfair of Brit to say that the administration isn't doing anything. They're talking. That's what this president thinks his job is a lot of the time.

And they'll have a jobs summit while they're trying to push through a health care bill that unambiguously -- whether you're a liberal economist or conservative economist -- unambiguously is a burden on job creation.

It taxes employers. It has a new mandate for employers. It raises taxes on people in middle and upper income brackets, who are people who tend to hire other people. This health care bill is a job killer. And he's going to have a jobs summit at the same time.

So he'll talk about jobs. But legislatively, there's no job agenda. Extending unemployment insurance may be good to do for the unemployed. It doesn't help create jobs, you know?

"Cash for clunkers" -- the evidence is in on that. It moved car sales from one month to another month and did nothing on that to help the economy.

WALLACE: Anne?

KORNBLUT: Well, on the question of the deficit, they're going to use this to continue the argument on health care. They refer to the CBO numbers. They say, "This is it. This is why we have to pass it."

When it comes to jobs, we're going to hear nothing but this job summit for the next few weeks. And I think there are going to be people who are going to make fun of the jobs summit as, you know, maybe a task force enhanced, but that's all they're going to focus on, and health care, in the next few weeks.

KRISTOL: Do you really think, Anne -- I mean, Anne was with the president in Asia. Do they really think that having a jobs summit is an answer to the fact that we -- that joblessness is going up? I mean, there's no policy with it. It's really crazy of them.

LIASSON: That's not the only thing they're going to do.

KORNBLUT: Well, no. Certainly, in the -- in the House they're looking at a number of bills. No, that's not the only -- but yes, they actually do. They think if they can draw attention to it, get the bully pulpit back on this, that they...

HUME: Look, the one thing they might be able to do is to at least get people to think that they're not unmindful of it.

We can all remember president George H.W. Bush in the early phases of the 1992 campaign being attacked for seeming not to care. I remember up in New Hampshire, you know, where the motto is "live free or die" -- it always has been until the economy gets bad, and then it's "where's Bush?"

And he suffered terribly for the perception that he didn't really recognize how much people were hurting out there in what was, you know, by today's standards a rather modest downturn. But nonetheless, it was politically lethal for him.

And it was probably going to -- probably going to knock him off anyway, but it would have been a little better, perhaps, if he had seemed to care more. So message, "I care," is what this is. It's a repeat of that.

WALLACE: Mara, let's turn -- because there was a big event last night in Washington, or what counts as a big event here in Washington, which is the Senate took a big step voting to begin floor debate on health care reform. Where does the package stand as they begin the debate right after Thanksgiving? And what are the prospects and what are the problems?

LIASSON: Well, it overcame another one of these hurdles. It keeps on moving forward. Of course, there are tremendous hurdles ahead. I think that what it looks like is it's going to have to move and change probably more to accommodate the moderate and centrist Democrats who say very clearly, "I'm going to vote for this bill to get to the floor, but I'm not going to vote for it if it has a public option in it."

There are other problems with abortion. This bill is going to have to change. I think in the end it's going to have to have something like Stupak amendment, the amendment that the house put in -- maybe not the exact same language, but it's going to have to have something to satisfy the pro-life votes in the Senate. It's going to have to have...

WALLACE: And basically, that would make it even harder for anybody who gets a subsidy or anybody...

LIASSON: Yes.

WALLACE: ... Who's using a health exchange...

LIASSON: Yes.

WALLACE: ... to get an abortion.

LIASSON: And I think it's going to have to have some kind of a different public option than the opt-out plan that Harry Reid put in it -- maybe a trigger to get Olympia Snowe, and you're going to need her, because you're going to lose Joe Lieberman. He says he'll -- he won't vote for a bill with any form of public option, even a trigger.

There are negotiations about to start on some kind of a co-op alternative to private insurance.

WALLACE: But -- so...

LIASSON: That's where it's going to head.

WALLACE: ... without getting too deeply in the weeds, you're saying it's going to move to the right, and you...

LIASSON: I think so.

WALLACE: ... think all the liberals are just going to...

LIASSON: Yes. You mean in the end, do I think liberals will kill health care reform because they didn't get the kind of public option or the kind of abortion language they wanted in it? Yes, I do not think they will kill the bill because of that.

WALLACE: Yes, she does not think that.

(LAUGHTER)

KRISTOL: You know, and your discussion with the senators was very interesting, actually. The senators were more interesting than usual.

Senator Specter you pushed on -- well, what about these Medicare cuts -- I mean, that's key to their claim that it balances -- that it does not increase the deficit.

WALLACE: By a half a trillion dollars.

KRISTOL: Half a trillion dollars of Medicare cuts. And you said, "Well, the Congress never lets those go through." And he said, "Well, that's why we have this he independent commission." So he let the cat out of the bag.

The reason they -- the independent commission is going to cut Medicare. This legislation is going to cut Medicare, and Republicans are going to spend the next three or four weeks saying, "So let me get this straight, we're raising taxes, we're cutting Medicare. Why? We're going to expand -- we're going to extend -- we're going to cover some of the uninsured, not all of them -- about half the uninsured -- over the next 10 years, and for that we're going to cut Medicare, raise taxes and raise premiums."

I think it's a very tough message to carry through, and I think one interesting question -- Lamar Alexander , in your discussion with him, said it could be like immigration. Immigration was defeated by a popular uprising out in the country. They had 64 votes to proceed to the bill on immigration.

What happens this week will be interesting before the Senate comes back. What happens when these guys go home for Thanksgiving? What is the reaction in Louisiana and Arkansas and Colorado and Nebraska to this bill?

And I think especially the Medicare cuts, this independent commission -- they are -- the Republicans can't decide whether they want to say, "It cuts Medicare," or, "They're not going to cut Medicare, they're deceiving you." But I think the truth is this independent commission is what's going to cut Medicare.

WALLACE: Anne?

KORNBLUT: I was going to say and let's not lose sight of the bigger picture in all of this, which is for the first time this week the president's approval ratings, according to a Gallup poll, came down under 50 percent for the first time. So as they go back to their home states during the Thanksgiving break, that's the backdrop against which all this is playing out.

WALLACE: All right. We have to take a break here.

But up next, the president and the world -- what are we learning about foreign policy in the age of Obama? Some answers when we come right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: On this day in 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas. The president was 46 years old and served in office less than three years.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: That was President Obama during his trip to Asia expressing optimism about long-term prospects for China.

And we're back now with our Sunday group.

So, Anne -- and I feel for you -- you traveled with the president. I hope you're recovering from your jet lag. The view, I think, here in Washington was that he didn't get much in terms of trade relations with China, in terms of sanctions against Iran and also about -- on climate change. Do you think that's fair?

KORNBLUT: I think, unfortunately for the White House, that that is fair. They went on this trip really not expecting much, certainly not saying they were going to deliver much, and at the end of the day they didn't deliver much.

And in fact, there were some unfortunate images for them, I can say, having been on the trip -- you know, holding a press conference that involved no questions in China, holding a town hall meeting with Chinese students in Shanghai that then was blocked from being broadcast.

So I think in certain respects, you could look at the trip and say they came away with less than they started out with.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, because oftentimes there's this tug -- and previous presidents have insisted that they're going to meet with human rights people, or they say, "Look, if you're not going to broadcast our speech or our town hall meeting, we're not going to do it, and that will be embarrassing to you." Why did this White House not push as hard as others have?

KORNBLUT: They would argue that they did push and that they argued for having a freewheeling discussion in Shanghai. But I can tell you, I was there in 2002 with President Bush and he and Jiang Zemin did hold a press conference where the Chinese president refused to actually answer any questions.

They chose not to do this this time. They chose to...

WALLACE: But -- but Bush did answer questions.

KORNBLUT: Bush answered questions. The Chinese president didn't. President Obama chose not even to go that far on this trip. You know, our suspicion all along during this trip was that because we are in this instance beholden to the Chinese over the economy -- but they said they did.

And certainly, in Shanghai he argued for greater Internet access. That was their big moment, they hoped.

WALLACE: Let's talk about that point that Anne brings up, Brit, because especially in China, there was a sense of a diminished U.S. role in the world. The Chinese were lecturing us when it came to economic policy and basically ignoring the president when it came to human rights.

HUME: Look, the president is in a weaker position than he might have been, not least because his policies have contributed mightily to the immense amount of new borrowing that's being done, much of it from the Chinese.

So now you have the Chinese even worried about the size of the health care plan. That is unfortunate.

But this president seems quite willing to embrace weakness as a position for the United States. I mean, the bowing and scraping that we see -- Saudi Arabia we saw it. We saw it on this trip in Japan. These kind of gestures -- they wouldn't mean anything if they didn't seem to be of a piece with the general approach that the president has taken.

I think that he thinks that if he is such a -- he is a nice man, with a magnetic personality, and if he can reason with these people and not try to throw his weight around, that they will respond to him. That's exactly backward.

The United States has some weight to throw around still with the Chinese. They need our market as much as we need their money to borrow. And he's not in as weak a position as he behaves. And I don't think it helps for him to do what he did on this trip.

WALLACE: Mara, is the...

HUME: And the results bear that out.

WALLACE: ... is the president embracing weakness?

LIASSON: I don't -- I wouldn't say he's embracing weakness. I think that the image that you get is of a president who feels that he has little leverage, that -- and I think you can say he has a relatively weak hand because China is such a big creditor of ours.

On the other hand, he has to figure out how to do, I don't know, the diplomatic equivalent of asymmetrical warfare. I mean, he has to figure out where he can push.

And I think, you know, other presidents have managed to negotiate with our adversaries, at the same time reaching out to dissidents. And I was surprised the president didn't find a way to do that in China. I think maybe a high-profile meeting very soon with the Dalai Lama could go a long way to correcting that impression.

WALLACE: Go ahead. I can tell you're dying to get into this conversation.

KRISTOL: We're not weak. We're not weak. And Obama's making us weaker than we should be. He disdains our allies and tries to placate adversaries.

Anne's account of what happened in China -- it really is startling. I mean, President Clinton went to China and had a freewheeling town hall meeting and had an argument with the Chinese president at a press conference. President Bush did the same.

The idea that the Obama administration could not have said, "Are you kidding? You're going to give us a town hall meeting that's stacked with Communist Youth League members, and you're not going to show it on TV, and we're going to have a press conference without taking questions," that Obama couldn't have insisted that that not be the case -- that's ridiculous.

They're preemptively capitulating, I think, to a government like China, and it's little stuff, but it does have symbolic effect.

I was with a bunch of -- some Europeans and people from...

WALLACE: Let -- let...

KRISTOL: ... the Middle East yesterday and the degree to which people look at that and think, "Is President Obama serious about U.S. leadership or is he just going to placate adversaries" -- I think that's really a problem.

WALLACE: Let's turn to Iran, because the news wasn't particularly good about that this week.

It appears almost certain now, Anne, that it's going to back out of this deal to send its uranium overseas to be enriched, and the Chinese and the Russians on this trip showed no interest at all in getting tough with Iran.

So what does all that say for the president's policy of engagement?

KORNBLUT: Well, I guess not much at this point. He's had nothing to show for it. Of course, he ran -- and ran as the anti-Bush and has tried to -- all of this is part of trying to be the opposite of Bush. And so far he has very little to show for it.

Now, the White House would say that this is a long-term process, that behind the scenes there were conversations with the Russians, with the Chinese, that haven't borne fruit yet necessarily, and that there will be tough sanctions, this packet of sanctions against Iran that we have yet to see. We don't know what the timing is yet.

But it's all -- in their view, this is part of changing the tone, and yet it just hasn't worked for them yet. WALLACE: You know, it's interesting, Brit, when the president or the State Department announced that they were going to change their policy about an antimissile defense in Europe, the thought was, "Well, down the line the Russians are going to come along and they're going to go -- they're going to come with us and impose sanctions on the Iranians."

We keep waiting for this policy of engagement to pay off.

HUME: America is not what's wrong with the world. And a strong America, assertive in foreign policy, showing its strength, is good for the world, and it has a lot better effect on allies and enemies alike than what we're seeing now, this policy of almost determined weakness on the part of President Obama.

Now, look. That decision you mentioned with the missile defense in Europe is militarily defensible. But it looked to all the world, and must have looked in the Kremlin, as if this was a capitulation. And these kinds of things add up over time.

And the president may think that because they think he's -- his -- the people love him, and he's a big rock star and a nice guy, and he's all respectful and bows to the -- bows from the waist to all of them, and that's all going to end up producing some result. It hasn't produced any, and I predict it will not produce any.

LIASSON: Well, I think the question is the -- the engagement policy was, I think, a worthy experiment. Try something different. See if it gets you better results.

The question is at what point do you move to Plan B. And I think the -- in Iran, that point is coming up pretty soon. He's always said he wasn't going to do this open-endedly.

WALLACE: He's basically talked about the end of the year.

LIASSON: He was going to wait till the end of the year. OK. Well, what happens after the end of the year? It's pretty clear Iran isn't going to budge. Russia and china are not going to help us. So what is Plan B?

I think that's the question that's going to confront the administration pretty soon. This approach was different. He tried it. How long do you keep on pushing it?

WALLACE: But you're saying that now the returns are coming in and it's...

LIASSON: Well, I think that especially on Iran -- I mean, his own deadline is coming up, and he's going to have to try something different. He's always said there would be tough sanctions after that.

Well, he's going to have to get our allies, minus China and Russia, to do that.

WALLACE: So, Bill, are we about to see Mr. Obama no more Mr. Nice Guy?

KRISTOL: I hope so. But on Afghanistan, as you pointed out with the senators, even if you believe we're going to have to get out in three or four or five years, even if you believe you want to kind of end this and have an exit strategy, do you say ahead of time, "The one thing I'm really concerned about is not handing this off to the next president, the only thing I'm really concerned about is getting out of there?"

That just undercuts the surge even before he announces it, or it risks undercutting the surge before he announces it.

WALLACE: All right. Thank you, panel. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. See you next week. And we hope that the president has a very nice Thanksgiving, if he watched the show. I'm not sure he will.

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

Up next, our Power Player of the Week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: As the battle for the future of the Republican Party continues, there's one group that is having a surprising impact, and it's led by our Power Player of the Week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHOCOLA: We're looking for champions of economic freedom, people who believe in limiting government, who believe in fiscal responsibility, individual responsibility.

WALLACE: Chris Chocola is president of the Club for Growth, a political advocacy group that supports lower taxes, less spending and fewer regulations. But what gives the group clout is its ability to get its 40,000 members to back candidates the club endorses.

CHOCOLA: We kind of act like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for conservative, pro-growth, free-market-oriented candidates. And so our members respond.

WALLACE: You're not looking for someone who fudges the differences.

CHOCOLA: We're not looking for people who stick their finger up in the wind and try to determine what's popular.

WALLACE: During the 2008 election cycle, the club raised $24 million for politicians and issue ads. But it was the $1 million it spent for a special election this month in upstate New York that shook Washington.

The club backed conservative Doug Hoffman against the Republican nominee. Both lost to the Democrat, but the real loser may have been the national GOP.

CHOCOLA: I think a message was delivered, and I think that there was some things that came out of that investment that were great.

WALLACE: The Republican Senate Campaign Committee announced it will stop endorsing candidates in primaries, leaving the choice to voters.

Do you think that the party establishment here in Washington is out of touch with the real grassroots feeling around the country?

CHOCOLA: I'm not sure that the Republicans have learned the lessons of 2006 and 2008 yet. They're really looking for people they think can win rather than people that stand for something and, I think, really reflect the mood of the voters today.

WALLACE: Case in point, the Florida senate race. The club is backing conservative Marco Rubio against Governor Charlie Crist , who was already endorsed by the national GOP.

CHOCOLA: We have great concerns about Charlie Crist . One day he says he supports the stimulus package. And then, you know, recently he said, "I never endorsed that," when clearly he did.

And people say, "Well, there's a civil war in the Republican Party." Well, I think the Republican Party really needs to stop and think and reevaluate their position and understand...

WALLACE: One thing that struck us was what wasn't mentioned.

Where is the club on social issue?

CHOCOLA: We don't get involved in social issues at all. That's not our focus. It's not a litmus test.

WALLACE: Abortion?

CHOCOLA: We never ask...

WALLACE: Gay rights?

CHOCOLA: No...

WALLACE: Chris Chocola ran a farm equipment business before selling it to Warren Buffett. He then served two terms as a congressman from Indiana. But he says it's his business background that is most valuable.

CHOCOLA: I do think that it's an advantage to have people that wake up every day and say, "How do I serve my customers better today than I did yesterday?" And that's part of the problem with government. It's a monopoly. It's too big. It's, in fact, too big to succeed. You know, we talk about too big to fail, but the government is too big to succeed.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALLACE: While the Club for Growth is directing much of its fire at Republicans these days, don't get the wrong impression. Chocola says they are nonpartisan, but the club has endorsed only one Democrat in its history.

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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