Panel on the Health Care Push

Panel on the Health Care Push

By Special Report With Bret Baier - March 11, 2010


HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF: The March 18th is an interesting date. As I say our clock starts ticking when we get the final CBO report. We don't have the final yet, but we have a pretty good idea of where we are going on it.

GIBBS: If it takes a couple extra days after a year, it takes a couple of extra days.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY: Americans aren't in any rush to pass this or any other 2,700 page bill that poses as reform but actually raises the cost of health care. And members of Congress shouldn't be deceived by these theatrical attempts to create a sense of urgency about this legislation.


BAIER: A lot of talk today about the timeline and this deadline that the White House had of March 18th of trying to pass health care reform legislation, as you heard the White House essentially backing down off that deadline today.

But perhaps the biggest news came from Republicans saying that they talked to Senate parliamentarian Allen Frumin and that he has told them the House has to pass the existing Senate health care bill first, and President Obama has to sign it into law before they can move to fix it in reconciliation.

Now, we can't independently confirm this, this is what Republicans are saying. Frumin hasn't put out a statement. But, if true, that's really the biggest deal today.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, if it is so, then it's huge news. It means that the mountain that Pelosi has been looking at has become a cliff. And this is why - the House members don't like the Senate bill. They only want to approve it if they are guaranteed it will be amended.

But if the ruling that we heard is actually going to be - is actually the real one, that means they are going to have to accept the Senate bill as is, watch it signed into law, watch a procedure, a ceremony at the White House where the champagne is popped, the backs are slapped, hats are thrown in the air because the first time in 100 years you have achieved universal health care, and then expect that after that the Senate will go back and do a reconciliation which will tear the Senate apart, unusual procedure, extremely divisive, in order to introduce amendments that the Senate likes and then have to strip out in order to appease the House.

Now, if you believe all of that, you require suspension of disbelief about what I experience when I watched Peter Pan at the age of seven.

Now the majority of House members are not - are actually adults, and I don't believe any of them will believe that that's going to happen.

And there is only a single exit here. And that is if the vice president overrules the parliamentarian, which he can. But if he does that, that's not a nuclear option. That's a thermal nuclear option. That's Krakatoa. That's 100 megatons. That will be a catastrophe if it is seen that the bill is pushed through by overruling a ruling of the neutral parliamentarian and passing what would otherwise be illegal.

BAIER: Mort, it seems like the hurdles are stacking up. While Democrats talk about being confident, it seems like they are getting harder.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: It gets clear that March 18th is over as a deadline. It's not going to make it on March 18th, which was the White House deadline.

March 18th is when the president is going overseas. Now, the president's lobbying on this is absolutely crucial. This is his bill. It's not just Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer who have to do the lobbying. He has got to talk to them one on one. And if he is not around to talk to them one on one then this dribbles on into the Easter recess.

BAIER: Well there's nothing to say that the president couldn't say, you know what Indonesia, Australia, we are going to wait a little bit?

KONDRACKE: Yes, he could stick around and try to continue lobbying here. But the fundamental fact is that the House doesn't trust the Senate to be able to pass reconciliation. And why not? I mean, there are 10 to 12 conservative Democrats who are insisting on strong anti-abortion language. The Senate bill does not contain that.

If you try to fix abortion language under reconciliation, it can't be done because it doesn't have any budget effect, and everything in a reconciliation bill has got to cut spending. And the abortion language doesn't have any budget effect.

So this thing is just so wrapped - so tangled that I think the chances are less than 50-50 now that there is going to be a bill. And I know one clued-in Democratic lobbyist who thinks it's two to one against.

BAIER: Interesting. Steve, quickly, I want to something else, but go ahead.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: First on timing. I think the thing that Democrats need to avoid most is letting this bleed into the holiday recess. They do not want these wavering Democrats back in their districts where they get an earful from any number of constituents. They will lose if that happens.

BAIER: Let me ask you about this . Major Garrett had a major scoop last night after the show, getting a slide show that was shown to lawmakers by White House officials listing the messaging, the talking points that Democratic lawmakers should take back to their districts.

One of them was this one, and it says talking about the insurance - number three: "Brings down costs for everyone." Well, here is what Dick Durbin said on the Senate floor about this.


SENATE MAJORITY WHIP DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: Anyone who would stand before you and say, well, if you pass health care reform, next year's health care premiums are going down, I don't think is telling the truth. I think it is likely they would go up, but what we're trying to do is slow the rate of increase.


BAIER: So the messaging here, Steve, that doesn't help.

HAYES: Not on the same page, to say the least.

Look, I mean, at this point, if the White House is putting out talking points like, this they will have no effect. Now we are so far beyond what public opinion is on this. I don't think the White House believes public opinion is with them. That's why the president continues to say he is unsure about the politics of it but this is the right thing to do.

This is about a handful, maybe a dozen, maybe two dozen mostly moderate Democrats, pro-life Democrats, and getting them to vote for the bill.

Now, the other interesting development real quickly is that Henry Waxman today basically said that -

BAIER: Congressman from California.

HAYES: Right - that they were done dealing with the pro-life Democrats, that this was over.

And I talked to two people on Capitol Hill tonight who said that they think that he is speaking for Democratic leadership, that they are, in effect, saying to these pro-life Democrats who have these objections, we dare to you vote against the bill.

I think that's incredibly risky and increases the number of votes that Nancy Pelosi needs to flip, you know, by depending on the number, seven, 11, 14. It's a really risky strategy.

BAIER: Charles, we often talk about the pro-life Democrats and Bart Stupak and others, but there is a pro-choice caucus of Democrats who are very vibrant, as Steve talks about, and vocal about this.

KRAUTHAMMER: They are happy with the Senate language. They actually think that the Senate language on abortion is too strong, but they will accept it.

And as Mort indicates, the procedural problem here is insuperable. You cannot strip out or change the abortion language one way or the other in reconciliation. The only choice is to dare the Stupak 12 to defeat health care over this issue. And I'm not sure which way that goes.

BAIER: Your percentage right now.

KONDRACKE: My percentage is like 40 percent chance that it passes. I mean, I think it's less than 50/50.


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