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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Major Shift on Health Care; Fighting the Flames; Health Care in Cuba

Aired September 2, 2009 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LISA SYLVESTER, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Suzanne.

Tonight new signs that President Obama may abandon a major part of his health care agenda -- is the public option now dead? Also Americans on both sides of the health care debate vent their outrage and their anger.

And firefighters, they're making major progress in the deadly wildfires that's now burned 140,000 acres near Los Angeles. Tonight, we have stunning new information on the possible cause of those fires.

But first, breaking news in the health care debate -- President Obama tonight announcing a major speech on health care -- the president will address a joint section of Congress next Wednesday. The move comes as the White House sends strong signals that it may be ready to abandon the public option, a government-run health care insurance company that would compete with private insurers.

It is one of the key issues in the health care standoff and tonight it looks like the president is backing off of it. We have full coverage tonight with reports from Brianna Keilar and Jessica Yellin. But, first, we want to begin with Ed Henry -- he's at the White House with the president's new strategy. Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lisa, a dramatic move by this president scheduling a joint speech -- joint session of Congress next Wednesday night in prime time. This is one of the many tools at his disposal to try to turn this debate around. And how he plans to do it we're told by top White House aides is to be a lot more specific than he has been in this debate.

He's faced a lot of criticism that he hasn't really put a plan on the table. A short time ago, I spoke to senior adviser David Axelrod who also signaled that a public option may be coming off the table.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: So why this speech? Did it feel like the debate was slipping away from him?

DAVID AXELROD, PRES. OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: No, I think that we've gone through months and months of debate and discussion. All the ideas are on the table now. It's a new season. It's a new phase of this debate and it seems appropriate as we enter the final weeks for the president to address the nation and talk about how we're going to provide stability and security to people who have health insurance and help those who can't afford insurance get the coverage they need.

HENRY: How specific will he get?

AXELROD: I don't think anybody will leave the speech without a strong sense of how the president feels we believe -- he believes we should proceed. I think that's going to be...

HENRY: But will he spell out five, six points where he -- this is what has to be in the final?

AXELROD: Again, I think it's going to be very, very clear by the time the speech is done that he sees a clear path to how we can provide stability and security to people who have insurance. And how he can help those who don't have insurance get the coverage they need.

HENRY: Can you clear up, where's the public option? Is it still on the table? Or is it off?

AXELROD: The president embraced the public option because he believes that we need to have competition and choice in the insurance system, in this pool that will be created for uninsured workers and small businesses who can't afford insurance now to buy it. And he believes that will be a boon for consumers, help them get the best deal, keep the insurance companies honest. He still believes that competition and choice is important.

HENRY: But does that mean the public option is still alive?

AXELROD: I'm not going to deal with the details of the president's speech otherwise there would be no point in giving it. But it's fair to say that he believes strongly in the notion of competition and choice to keep the insurance companies honest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: But two sources familiar with the talks have told my colleague Dana Bash and I that the president and his top aides have really stepped up in recent days, very serious talks with a moderate Republican senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine on a bipartisan health reform bill that would not include a public option.

Instead, what it would have would be a so-called trigger that basically would give insurance companies a defined period of time to make some serious changes. If those changes were not made, then what would be triggered would be a public option, to in the words of the supporters of this, keep the insurance companies honest, so all signs are pointing towards this White House moving away from a public option, Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yeah, indeed, Ed, I like the way that you pressed him on that issue and continued to press him even when he was not giving you a straight answer on this. Is your sense though Ed that there is desperation -- that they feel like they've lost the momentum, that somehow it's gotten away from them and they're really trying to turn the page with this -- with this address? HENRY: I think desperation is too strong a word and here's why. If you look at CNN's own polling in the last 24 hours when we asked people about what they want to see -- whether they want to see Congress make dramatic changes to what's on the table, minor changes or no changes at all, only about 20 percent of the American public is telling us that they want Congress to basically close the books on this and go home without doing anything.

Only 20 percent -- about 76 percent are saying they want health reform but just with some change -- either minor or major change. So the White House has to take some comfort in the fact that a vast majority of the public is saying they do want this system reform. However, what the president has put on the table yet, they are not in favor of, so he has to make some dramatic changes and we'll see whether he does that in the next week. But the public does right now have an appetite of reform, just not the kind of reform the president has pushed yet, Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yes, exactly, they have to reform their reform plan. All right, thanks, Ed Henry. Thanks very much from reporting from the White House.

HENRY: Thank you.

SYLVESTER: Well, President Obama will also have some major work to do persuading his own party leaders. Listen to this from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I support what the president has said. He said that he believes that the public option is the best way to keep the insurance companies honest, to increase competition, in order to forego lower costs, improve quality, expand coverage and retain choice. He has also said, if you have a better way of doing it, put it on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: The president will also have a chance to make his case personally to Democratic leaders next week. He will be hosting Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White House before his address to Congress.

Well, the president's popularity has taken a serious hit during the battle over health care. But the latest polling shows there is still support for some sort of health care overall. Jessica Yellin has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You've heard the noise around health care reform...

(CROSSTALK) YELLIN: ... how much of a difference has it made? The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll shows it has not killed Americans' appetite for some kind of reform. According to our polling, 53 percent of Americans want Congress to continue working on the bills they started before recess. Compare that to 25 percent who want Congress to start from scratch, and 20 percent who want no reform at all.

As for the president's reform plans? Forty-eight percent like them, that's down only two points since early August before the town halls began. But it's no longer a majority. Most of those polled say the town halls had no effect on their views about health care reform at all. Now, it's not all good news for the White House. Most say they would feel more secure with a current system than with the president's plan. And the numbers are worse among seniors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop bureaucrats from getting between seniors and their doctor.

YELLIN: According to CNN's polling, a majority of senior citizens, 60 percent oppose the president's reform proposals. There is real concern that Medicare recipients will be worse off if the current reform is passed. Perhaps the best sign for the Democrats is this message seems to be penetrating.

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Without real reform, the burdens on America's families and businesses will continue to multiply.

YELLIN: Sixty-five percent say problems with the current health care system will eventually affect most Americans. And almost all Americans believe some reform is necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Something else to note, Lisa, recently CBS News released a poll showing that Americans are confused about what's in the health care bill. Well when we polled, we asked if people understand the major points in Obama's proposals and a majority say they do understand. So it looks like the bottom line is, folks are confused about the details but they get the general thrust of the health care debate -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: OK, Jessica Yellin reporting. Thank you very much.

Well, Congress is also taking a hit in the polls. A new Pew survey shows the congressional approval rating -- take a look at this -- it's down to 37 percent. And it looks bad for the Democratic Party also. If the congressional elections were held today, the new survey says 44 percent are leaning Republican.

That's an increase of seven points since June of last year. Well, the polling only hits -- hints at the anger aimed at members of Congress. Some of that anger spilled over at a health care forum hosted by one of the top Democratic leaders in the House. Brianna Keilar has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The line for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's health care town hall meeting wrapped around much of the high school where it was held, opinions covering the spectrum.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I think it should pass. I think everybody should have affordable health care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I don't know all the ins and outs, and I'm afraid I might lose what I have.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)

KEILAR: Once inside, there were desperate pleas for a government-run insurance plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't afford it. The doctor won't even take me now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son pays $800 a month and has a $5,000 deductible. We need a public option.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: I support a public option. It would bring down premiums for all of us.

KEILAR: But in this conservative district, many people were concerned the Democratic plan to overhaul health care will drive the country further into debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see how the government can provide all...

(AUDIO GAP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and still say they're going to save money. It doesn't make ordinary, common sense.

KEILAR: Despite assurances from Hoyer...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's not paid for, I'm not going to vote for it.

KEILAR: ... critics remain skeptical, convinced the health care system is broken, but just as certain, a government-run insurance plan is not the fix.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am for health care reform but I'm not for government-run health care reform.

(APPLAUSE)

KEILAR: Speaking to CNN after the meet, Hoyer reaffirmed his support for the so-called public option, but stopped short of saying House Democrats will vote down a bill if it doesn't include one. HOYER: There are many other aspects of this bill that are very good and will make a real difference in terms of a cost to individuals and families, access to affordable quality health care. All of those are very important as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: The reality is while a government-run public option is in all three versions of the House health care reform bill, and one bill in the Senate that's made it out of committee in the Senate, centrist Democrats have expressed enough opposition to this public plan that its passage there seems entirely -- or I should say extremely unlikely, Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yeah and that's the difficulty and so hence, we see the president coming forward. Do you think when it's all said and done this public option is going to be kept in there? Or do you think -- we're reading the tea leaves here -- do you think they're going to have to get rid of this?

KEILAR: I think it's going to be very difficult for them to keep it in there. I mean you're listening to Steny Hoyer -- he's the number two to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and while she has been insisting that there is going to be this so-called public option, even Steny Hoyer there saying that House Democrats will not turn their backs essentially on a bill that does not include a public option. So we still have yet to see, but we've known for quite some time, Lisa, it was going to be very much a heavy lift for this to include a public option because of the Senate.

SYLVESTER: OK, thanks Brianna for that report.

And still ahead, more on the health care battle. Is a compromise health overhaul better than nothing at all? That's our "Face Off" debate tonight.

And we'll go live to southern California where that deadly wildfire has now burned through 140,000 acres of land -- tonight, stunning new information on the possible cause of those devastating fires.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: California firefighters today made progress in the battle against the massive wildfire burning north of Los Angeles. A change in weather conditions worked to slow the spread, but the fire is still mostly out of control. And fire officials have concluded the fire was human-caused. Sandra Endo is in Tujunga Canyon and she joins us now with the very latest. Sandra, what can you tell us?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lisa, I'm at the command center where fire officials are plotting their plan of attack to really tackle this massive fire. They're using these giant maps behind me to kind of chart the behavior of this wildfire and still at this hour, it's only 22 percent contained, but they say firefighters are making some headway. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO (voice-over): Fire captain Keith Richards (ph) returns from his shift, fighting a fire, he says, is unlike any other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's off the hook. It's -- you know, it's just -- I mean, you just don't get -- you don't see this often. You know, this much acreage -- these kind of conditions.

ENDO: This is base camp where firefighters eat, sleep in tents, get deployed and then repeat the cycle. Emergency personnel from as far away as West Virginia have come to battle the blaze which has scorched more than 140,000 acres of land. Still firefighters like Captain Mike Harris (ph) are winning small victories and hope to turn things around.

CAPT. MIKE HARRIS, CAL. FIRE SANTA CRUZ: It didn't have quite the intensity of fire yesterday that it had and a few days before that.

ENDO: Officials are committed to making sure firefighters have what they need to continue their progress and contain the fire, no matter what the cost.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: First and foremost, we have to thank god and nature, but also our firefighters.

ENDO: But it's an issue for the cash-strapped state of California which budgeted nearly $180 million for emergencies like this one.

CHIEF DEL WALTERS, CAL. FIRE: We've already spent over half of that two months into the fiscal year, so that is an absolute caution sign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO: Lisa, the price tag is expected to go up because fire officials say they don't expect this blaze to be extinguished until a couple of weeks. Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Yes, Sandra, this fire is truly just amazing. It has burned an area more than an area greater than the size of the city of Philadelphia. You can tell us a little more -- we've got pictures there that you can see it just burning away. Can you tell us more about a possible cause? We're hearing that this might have been human-caused?

ENDO: Well, Lisa, I can tell you, they're gearing up for their official evening press conference. You can see the podium being put in place. All day long, though, we've been questioning fire officials as to the reports of what caused this massive blaze. They are officially saying that the cause of the fire is still unknown. The investigation is ongoing. They have pinpointed where it started, but not officially how -- Lisa?

SYLVESTER: OK, thank you very much, Sandra, for that update.

Well, more than 4,000 firefighters and support personnel have been battling the wildfires. Specialized strike teams are on the front lines of the fire ready to rescue trapped civilians or protect property all at a moment's notice. Brian Todd is on the fire line with a strike team, and he has this amazing report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Constantly shifting directions, threatening homes and highways, this temperamental wildfires has formidable adversaries. They're called strike teams, special units of fire fighters that take on any tactical maneuver needed in an instant.

(on camera): This is the front lines of what a strike team really has to do. This is the station fire coming down Tujunga Canyon just a few yards from us, threatening the residents. Look over here -- these guys are supposed to hold this line right along here, because it's threatening the residents just over to our left. These guys are doing it with shovels and they've got a tanker here. They think they can hold the fire off if it comes right here.

(voice-over): As this swath of flame creeps closer to the property, I approach strike team member Wykin Harris (ph).

(on camera): What's been the toughest part of this so far in this fire?

WYKIN HARRIS, STRIKE TEAM MEMBER: The heat -- the heat is drying out the vegetation and it's a lot of vegetation has been stacked up for years, so it's burning through it and it's keeping itself going, so that's been the toughest part for me.

(SOUNDS)

TODD (voice-over) Harris is part of a force of more than 80 strike teams fighting this fire, they do a little of everything -- confronting fires head on, steering the flames into areas where they're less threatening, often battling the unexpected.

(on camera): This strike team is on its way to a fire in Challail (ph), California several miles away. This is typical of what they encounter though. A burnt down tree falling on the side of the road -- they've got to chop it down, but here's an added problem. Take a look. The tree is burning from the inside. You can see it smoldering there from inside the trunk.

(voice-over): A few minutes later they slice through. Smoke billows out of the tree because they have to clear it from the road to get to the next crisis. Strike teams are combined forces, sometimes with bulldozer operators, hot-shot teams that take on the blazes at close range and tankers.

They have to be flexible but one of their main jobs structure protection sometimes involves spraying a house, digging in and waiting. I talk about that with Chief Randy May (ph) who's been a strike team leader for a decade.

CHIEF RANDY MAY, MANTECA, CALIFORNIA: Stand by the house, they wait for the fire to come and they want to make sure that the fuel burns up all the way, but they want to be able to protect the house so it doesn't catch fire.

TODD (on camera): So is that call kind of a defensive posture?

MAY: Yes, it is.

TODD: And why take a defensive posture rather than an offensive posture?

MAY: Because, when you take an offensive, we may leave unburned fuel and we may have a rekindle and we don't want to have to come back to that house again. We want to get rid of all of the fuel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now the conditions that these teams operate in is consistently just brutal -- very steep terrain, bone-dry conditions, searing heat. But they have made a lot of progress in containing the fires and in protecting homes, so much progress in fact that fire officials tell us they hope to release some of these strike teams from duty very soon -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Brian and it's not only those conditions, but also the incredibly long hours. These guys have been working around the clock, haven't they?

TODD: They certainly have. The strike team leader that we spoke to just at the end of that piece, Randy May, said they're slated for 12-hour shifts, but realistically, it's a lot longer than that. They're into 16, 17 hour shifts every day. Fatigue is a huge issue and that's what some of the officials here are going to be looking out for in the days ahead. They really have to try to stagger these -- the teams and their schedules but it's not easy.

SYLVESTER: Our hats off to them -- all right, thanks, Brian Todd, for that report.

Coming up, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, we will share with you what could be his possible political ambitions.

Also, health care, the economy, Afghanistan, many believe President Obama's agenda may be stalled.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: We continue with our series of reports on health care systems around the world -- tonight, the state-run health care system of communist Cuba. Cuba provides medical care for everyone that lives on the island nation. Life expectancy there is 78 years. But there are some key reasons Cuba's system isn't a model for health care in the United States. Brooke Baldwin has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cuba, an improvised Caribbean nation facing major shortages in food, drugs and jobs. Still, the health care system in this third-world nation is producing some world-class results.

ASSOC. PROF. MARK SAWYER, UCLA: Cuba has the longest life expectancy of any country in Latin America.

BALDWIN: And with an average of 78 years, Cuba's life expectancy equals that of the United States. Cuba's health care system is socialized -- the goal that everyone gets equal and free access to treatment. Cuba is strongly committed to primary care with a doctor and walk-in clinic in every neighborhood.

In 1999, the World Health Organization reported there was one doctor for 171 people. But that was before Cuba sent thousands of doctors to Venezuela. In the U.S. the figure is one for every 416. One sign of success according to the WHO, figures in 2005 showed Cuba had the lowest incidents of HIV in all of The Americas.

ASST. PROF. ARACHU CASTRO, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: They were able to build a response on a very strong primary health network that already existed.

BALDWIN: In an effort to avoid costly procedures, prevention is key in Cuba.

GAIL REED, FILMMAKER: They concentrate on bringing services closer to people's homes so that the big-ticket items don't really take up, don't sponge up all that small budget they have.

BALDWIN: Cuba spends seven percent of its GDP on health care every year and $363 per person while the United States spends 16 percent of its yearly GDP and $7,290 per capita every year. Critics point to abysmal hospital conditions and an acute shortage of modern equipment and doctors are paid an average of $15 a month. But the biggest challenge, the U.S. trade embargo which makes it difficult and costly to buy the best medicines on the market.

SAWYER: But that's more -- that's less the health care system. That's more the broader economy and their ability to buy drugs and medical devices on the open market.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: The difficulty in gaining access to certain medicines and treatments in Cuba has led to a growing black market economy or what they call (INAUDIBLE) and there are reports of doctors charging patients under the table for better, quicker care, Lisa, and it's interesting looking at all these different countries -- we're talking about Russia tomorrow -- and it very much so happens today, you know giving doctors vodka and chocolate. It's a cultural thing and partially really under the table thing.

SYLVESTER: Yeah, Brooke, you know when I think of Cuba and their health care system, don't they have foreigners going there actually for medical services?

BALDWIN: They do and I think a lot of people don't realize that necessarily, but there are people who come from Europe, from other parts of Latin America. There's a famous Argentina football soccer player who went to Cuba for treatment because of the specialists that are very popular and very good in Cuba. In fact, it's part of what is funding their system in place.

SYLVESTER: All right, Brooke Baldwin, thank you very much for that report.

Well still ahead, our "Face Off" debate -- is a compromise health care overhaul better than no change at all?

Hurricane Jimena is pounding Mexico's Baja Peninsula. We will have the very latest.

And a former Red Sox star -- he's considering a bid to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: LOU DOBBS TONIGHT continues.

SYLVESTER: The president appears to be moving away from the public option in an attempt to save his health care plan. But is a compromise health care bill better than no plan at all?

Joining me now are Anne Kim, director of economic program at Third Way. She thinks it's important for the plan to go forward even without a public option. And Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future. He says the bill must not be watered down and must include a public option.

As you both well, know, President Obama is scheduled to address Congress next week to lay out a more specific vision of what he wants in the plan.

Roger, let me start with you. Should that include a public option and why?

ROGER HICKEY, CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA'S FUTURE: Well, Lisa, we need a public option to keep the insurance industry honest. One of the deals that Congress and the president have cut with the insurance industry is to mandate that everyone buy health insurance.

If you're going to ask everybody in America to buy health insurance, you sure as well better give them a lot of good choices, including an affordable choice like a public option.

So I think we need a public option. And all over the country, this week, our citizen groups, advocates of health care reform, are sending Congress back to work with a mandate to get it done.

SYLVESTER: Anne, look, there is a certain political reality here in that there may not be support for a public option. So if it comes down to no bill at all or no bill with a public option, Anne, where do you come down?

ANNE KIM, ECONOMIC PROGRAM, THIRD WAY: Well, I think that calling what we have now on the table already as a compromise really undersells what had already been achieved. Now once health insurance reform passes with what's already agreed to, without public option, it's going to be against the law for an insurance to deny anyone coverage just because they've had a heart attack or have diabetes or hypertension.

It's going to be against the law for the insurance companies to charge someone more than their neighbors simply because they have a preexisting condition. That's really historic for the middle class. We're giving them stability and security that they don't already have.

And they undersells what's already been achieved to call this watered down or to call it a compromise or a plan b or half a loaf.

SYLVESTER: OK.

KIM: So, yes, we should definitely move forward.

SYLVESTER: All right. Roger, and this may -- it may come down to this. Do you think that Democrats, should they try to charge ahead, move ahead with this, without Republican support? Or you know, that Senator Lamar Alexander, he's among those, he said this would be a disaster for our health care system and it's a disaster for the Democratic Party if they try to ram this through?

HICKEY: Listen, it's very, very clear that the Republican Party has walked away from any kind of compromise and any kind of joint reform. The president, and Senator Baucus, has been very, very patiently trying to negotiate a deal with Senator Grassley and others in the Finance Committee.

All the other committees of the Congress have already enacted bills with a public insurance option. So the new context in which the president speaks next week when the Congress comes back is that the Democrats need to forge a health care plan on their own, without significant Republican help.

They can do it and the Republicans have made it clear that we can't waste any more time hoping that a large number of Republicans are going to support what we do.

SYLVESTER: Anne, do you agree? Or do you think if they try it that way that this thing is dead on arrival?

KIM: I agree with Roger that we have to try it that way. But one thing that has to happen is that the Democratic bill has to be more moderate, more centrist, and more reasonable. The real audience out there is the American middle class. A majority of whom have insurance and are happy with it.

And they need to know what's in it for them. It's not about, you know, what's happening in Congress so much as what's happening out there. They are the audience we have to satisfy. SYLVESTER: You know, so many people, though, they take a look at this -- the proposals that have been put forth and we realized there's not a bill. But they are concerned about the cost of this thing. There are Americans who are concerned that their coverage will be reduced.

They are concerned that their personal out-of-pocket medical costs will increase. So how do you address this, Roger, and in light of this public option -- I mean, will it make it -- will it expand coverage, will it do all the things, bring down costs as they say that it will?

HICKEY: Lisa, those are all good questions, but the public option is not expensive. It's going to bring down costs. It's going to make money. It's going to compete with the private insurance industry. So without the public option, you might see much more increases in premiums.

It's an important debate that we're going to have, the important role of competition in the private health insurance industry. And most people, when you ask them in the polls, say that the option of choosing something like Medicare, instead of a private insurance company, they have lots of experience with those companies, that that option ought to be available.

Not for everybody but for those who want it. And that's a very popular idea with the American public.

SYLVESTER: And there is a lot of pressure on Democrats to try to get this done, particularly with President Obama. But with the midterm elections coming up, do you think if they don't get -- if Congress doesn't get anything done on health care, is that going to hurt Democrats on Capitol Hill?

KIM: Unfortunately, it is. It's going to have some ramifications that extend far beyond health care -- the energy reform, financial services reform. Democrats may very well pay the price in November if we can't deliver a homerun, you know, or at least a triple by the end of this year on health care reform. It really is going to set the stage for the midterm legislation.

SYLVESTER: All right. Anne Kim, Roger Hickey, thank you very much for joining us on that debate. We appreciate your time.

And Brooke Baldwin, she now gives us an update on the other stories that we are following tonight.

Brooke, what do you have for us?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lisa, new developments tonight in the horrific multiple murder in Georgia. Guy Heinze Jr. who was arrested after making a frantic 911 call was granted bond today. Heinze Jr. returned to his mobile home Saturday to find his family, quote, "beaten to death."

After calling 911, Heinze Jr. was arrested for drug possession, evidence tampering and making false statements. He was granted a $20,000 and placed under house arrest. Heinze Jr. lived in that same mobile home. So it's still unknown as to whether he'll serve his house arrest there. He has not officially been a suspect but police are not ruling him out.

Hurricane Jimena pounding Mexico's Baja Peninsula with heavy rains and nearly 90-mile-per-hour winds. The resort town of Los Cabos suffered power outages and rough oceans but did not sustain major damage.

Jimena has weakened now to a category 1 storm but forecasters warn it could still cause some dangerous flooding as it moves northward through Mexico.

Meantime, tropical storm Erika has now formed in the Atlantic. The storm weaken as it approach the Leeward Islands but forecasters say it could regain strength sometime tomorrow.

And how about this story? Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling says he has, quote/unquote, "some interest," in running for the late Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat. Schilling said on his blog that he's interested in campaigning but that, quote, "Many things would have to align themselves for that to truly happen," end quote.

Schilling is registered as an independent but he did campaign for George W. Bush and Senator John McCain.

And those are some of the stories we are following tonight, Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Very intriguing.

BALDWIN: Indeed.

SYLVESTER: I want to see what happens with that.

Well, still ahead, President Obama's latest strategy to sell his health care plan. Will it work? And why the stimulus package isn't creating jobs in one key industry? We'll have that special report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: Tonight, we continue our series of reports, "Dobbs and Jobs Now." We're reporting on what government is or isn't doing to help millions of Americans get back to work.

In California, the unemployment rate is 11.9 percent. The construction industry there has just been devastated by job losses and bankruptcies. And there's little evidence the federal stimulus program is helping much, at least not yet.

Casey Wian reports from Rialto, California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Wynn is a construction technician in Abbot, California who hasn't had steady work in 15 months.

MICHAEL WYNN, CONSTRUCTION TECHNICIAN: Nobody wants to build. All the foreclosures and all.

WIAN: Wynn's unemployment checks ended six months ago and his wife was laid off last month. He's moved from a house to an apartment. His resume posting on Craigslist has attracted mostly scams. Despite 19 years of experience, Wynn is now relying on odd jobs and money from family to get by.

WYNN: Day to day. Day to day. Today, I'll make some maybe $20 to get me fuel to get to a job interview. Families are breaking up. They're winding up in shelters and things. So I got to -- you know, thank the Lord God that I'm not in that situation yet. But, you know, it's really tough out there for a lot of folks.

WIAN: Southern California's Inland Empire has been among the areas hit hardest by a nationwide slump in both residential and commercial construction. In the past year, this region has lost more than 20,000 construction jobs. A drop of 22 percent.

Two years ago, Fullmer Construction had 45 supervisors. And more new projects than it could handle. Today, it has nine crew bosses and just one new job in 10 months. Fullmer once had 400 employees, now just 60.

ROBERT FULLMER, PRES., FULLMER CONSTRUCTION: It's really horrible. It's been the worst experience of my lifetime. In my business career. We -- you know, the impact on lives is a real tragedy. But we've always taken pride in trying to help people find jobs as they leave our company, and there just are no jobs to go to.

WIAN: Nationwide, construction has been hammered by steep drops in retail, warehouse and hospitality investment, as well as by state budget cuts that have shelved many public projects.

STEPHEN SANDHERR, CEO, ASSOCIATED GEN. CONTRACTORS OF AMERICA: While the rest of the country is suffering through a recession, the construction industry, unfortunately, is suffering through a depression. We've had severe job losses. We've lost over a million jobs in the last year.

WIAN: The federal stimulus program is supposed to help, but so far, the money has been slow to create jobs. An industry trade group says stimulus programs could eventually account for more than 10 percent of construction employment.

(On camera): But for now, there's little evidence that the construction industry has hit bottom. The Association of General Contractors says it's preparing for an even more difficult year in 2010.

Casey Wian, CNN, Rialto, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER: California has lost more than 760,000 jobs in the last year. One in five of those jobs was in construction. Nearly 30 million Americans nationwide are either unemployed or underemployed. That includes people on the unemployment rolls, part-time workers looking for full-time jobs, and those who have been out of work so long that they have stopped looking for work.

Coming up, is President Obama losing his political clout? He is planning another major speech to gain support for health care legislation.

And a growing number of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan only months after President Obama approved a troop surge. All that and more next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: Joining meal now Republican strategist, former White House political director, and CNN contributor Ed Rollins, columnist for the "New York Daily News," also a CNN contributor, Errol Louis, and columnist for Forbes.com, Dan Gerstein.

All right. So President Obama is planning this joint address before Congress. Let me start with you, Ed. Is this a smart idea, a good strategy?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He certainly makes it serious by doing this. It's almost like OK, I want to start anew, new school year, new congressional. He certainly elevates it. Sometimes it's tough forum, though. It's -- you know, you have the Republicans, yelling and screaming at you and the Democrats cheering you on every word.

But if ever there's a place to carry it out, this is it. And it really makes it a very, very serious, serious speech.

SYLVESTER: You know, the thing that we keep hearing again and again is that this plan is -- it's not really a plan, it's several various proposals and that it's too vague and so forth. What kind of specifics does the president need to provide, Errol?

ERROR LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, he is already contemplating and this speech, I think, will be the first step in it, stepping more forward, and letting people know that he wants certain items, he doesn't want certain items, he's going to start favoring a bill.

I think in some ways they're still playing for a little bit of time. There's still a couple of weeks left in the allotment that Max Baucus has to try and get the Senate in line. At the end of that, I think you're going to really start seeing him step forward.

The key question of public option remains a bit of a mystery, but some of the other basics that there's got to be portability, they can't turn down people for prior medical conditions, the affordability, the cost savings, factors have got to be, you know, clear and explainable.

I think if he doesn't get a bill with that, he's not going to be very happy. But we are going to start to see the president, I think, step forward.

SYLVESTER: You know, one of the big things is that he has his work cut out for him. People think this thing is too big. They think that it is too expensive. In fact, we have a screen that we can share with our viewers where people were asked, it's a recent CNN poll.

People were asked get, you know, the effect of the Obama health care plan on your medical costs. Take a look at the screen that we have. Fifty-five percent of those people who were polled said that they thought -- there it is there -- 55 percent said that they thought their medical costs are going to increase under this Obama plan. Only 19 percent said they thought it would decrease, and 24 percent said that they think that it will remain the same.

People think this thing is too expensive and that it is going to mean out-of-pocket expenses for them.

DAN GERSTEIN, COLUMNIST, FORBES.COM: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head. There isn't one thing. There's five bills in Congress. The president didn't put forward a plan, and I think the result is we have mass confusion.

And that poll example is a perfect indictment of this process. It's that the public is not convinced that the central goal that the president laid out, that this is going to lower health care costs for the government, for business and for individuals, is going to be met.

And I think that is the chief challenge he has in the speech and whatever happens afterwards is he's got to put forward -- I think the facts matter more than the forum. He's got to be specific. He's got to say, this is what we're going to do. This is how it's going to affect you. This is how it's going to save money.

And then, I think, ultimately, he's got to challenge the Republicans to step up and say if you don't like this plan, put forward an alternative. Then becomes a choice, rather than just up- and-down referendum on the Obama plan.

SYLVESTER: You know, Ed, if the support is not there, people are skeptical, should Democrats try to ram this thing through without Republican support?

ROLLINS: Well, I don't think there's going to be any Republican support at the end of the day. It's too -- you know, if you have to put malpractice reform or tort reform in there, there may have been some things that, obviously, Republicans would have gone for. But, fundamentally, Republicans are posed to this premise.

I think the key thing here is you've got 80 percent of the country who have some sort of health care plus the Medicare. And if these people as these polls are showing feel that their health care is not going to be as good and more expensive, you've somehow got to convince them that's not true.

If you don't, then obviously, you can still shove something through because you probably have the votes to do that but you're going to have a very unhappy audience, particularly senior citizens and younger people who are now going to have pay something. Young people who don't have health insurance today, they're not getting free health insurance, they're going to have a mandated plan in which they've got to pay something every month. And that's going to alter their lives a little bit.

SYLVESTER: Now, Errol, in many ways, this is going to -- it could very well come down to a fight within the Democratic Party, where you basically have your Blue Dog Democrats on one hand, insisting you've got to drop this public option. On the other hand, you have Democrats like Pelosi, for instance, saying, no, it absolutely has to be in there for it to get through.

How do you -- how do they balance out those two interests? Two different sides of the party.

LOUIS: Well, it'll be a different kind of a fight. I mean the hard calculation, of course, is going to be, you know, which of the blue dogs are really in danger? Which are really seats that actually might flip Republican? If there are too many of them, obviously, that'll mean more than if there are not.

The progressive caucus has, in fact, haven't been heard from. And you know, when you have Anthony Wiener coming on and saying, I'm going to vote against this bill and I'll 99 of the Democrats with me, and will seek this thing if it doesn't have a public option, that's a real threat. And Nancy Pelosi is going to be very attentive to that, too.

I think it becomes a different kind of a fight, though, when it's a caucus fight. And that's where the president stepping in will mean a lot. That's when promises can be made. Look, you're in a marginal seat. I'll come to your district. I'll do a big rally at your local high school to make sure that you'll get re-elected if you're a blue dog Democrat.

We're going to start to see a lot of bargaining going on. It will happen a lot faster once Republicans are sort of out of the equation.

SYLVESTER: OK. We're going to have to take a pause here. But we will be back with our panel in just a moment. But first, sitting in for Campbell Brown at the top of the hour, John Roberts. John?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Lisa, thanks. Tonight, we've got an incredible story. A man survives after his heart stops for 45 minutes. I'll talk to the doctors who literally brought him back from the dead.

We're also taking a closer look at that story that you mentioned. Allegations of hazing and nude parties involving U.S. embassy contractors in Afghanistan. Plus, is Whitney Houston really ready to make her comeback? Everyone is talking about her big debut. We're going to have that in our "Mashup" of all the other day's news coming your way at the top of the hour.

Lisa, we will see you then.

SYLVESTER: And we'll have much more with our panel next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: And we are back now with our panel.

Dan, I want to turn to you, public option, does it have to be in there?

GERSTEIN: No. And I think the president's pretty much signaling right now that they're going to have to cut that out of whatever plan that he advocates. And then I think that whatever else they put forward instantly becomes viable. Not just with the Democratic caucus, I think they have a real potential to pick off some moderates Republicans, of course.

So I think, in a sense, he has two persuasion campaigns. One, as we talked about, he's going to have to commit to the American people that this is going to meet the goals of reducing costs and improving the quality of care they got. And then secondly, he's going to have to convince his base that a serious reform plan without the public option and some other mechanism to create more choice and competition is a major victory. And it is.

And so I think that's where he's going to have to exert some real leadership. And I think to a certain extent, this is not a health care debate anymore. It's going to become a leadership test for the president.

SYLVESTER: All right. I want to turn to Afghanistan right now. The opposition to the war in Afghanistan has really been picking up here. We have another graph that we could show -- a graphic that we can show -- share with our viewers.

Take a look at these numbers. Look at that. Opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, it's now 57 percent. Just in April, it was up 46 percent.

Ed, what do you make of this? I mean, this is a significant 11 percent increase.

ROLLINS: This is -- if the president plans on keeping our troops there, and he's going to have to add troops because obviously the troops aren't sufficient now, he's got to convince both his constituents, which are very anti-American war, that this is a long -- this is not a quick fix.

This is not a year or two years. If you're going to go in Afghanistan and trying to create stability, it's a long-term goal. And if you want to do that, the American public has to be with you. If not, we're going to see an erosion. Those the numbers will get a lot higher than they are today.

SYLVESTER: Yes, let me put up another graphic that we have in the time remaining because this is really telling, it's Democrats. Those are the folks who are opposed to this. Democrats now 73 percent. You have the number there, 73 percent now opposing a U.S. war in Afghanistan.

So Senator Russ Feingold, in fact, he was calling for a timetable for a withdrawal in Afghanistan. Could this become a bigger problem for the president long term and even health care, Errol?

LOUIS: I'll call it a challenge, I don't know if it's a problem. The reality is, just as Ed says, I mean, something like the Powell Doctrine, it's just the reality of it. If there's not an overwhelming amount of support, people are going to start to ask questions.

Why are we trying to build a nation here? Do we have the right people there? 22-year-olds with rifles are not the people to put together a functioning secular economy for the Afghan people. It's just not the right mix. It doesn't mean we withdraw our interests. It doesn't mean we stop trying to make things better there, but we may not have the right mix of trainers, troops and businesses to make something happen.

GERSTEIN: Well, I think what that poll doesn't really show is intensity. And I think that the good news for the president right now is I think he has a longer leash when it comes to Afghanistan than President Bush had on Iraq.

In large parts because American people still fundamentally believe that this is the good war. This is the place that attacked us on 9/11. This is where the Taliban is regaining strength. This is where al Qaeda is based. This is a real threat to us.

So I think he will have more of a caution politically, but at the same time, if...

SYLVESTER: Right.

GERSTEIN: ... the casualty count continues to rise, it is...

SYLVESTER: OK.

GERSTEIN: It's going to continue to be a problem.

SYLVESTER: All right, gentlemen.

GERSTEIN: Sorry.

SYLVESTER: We are out of time, Dan Gerstein, Ed Rollins, Errol Louis, thank you very much for joining us.

And a reminder to join Lou on the radio Monday through Friday for the "Lou Dobbs Radio Show". Go to Loudobbs.com to find local listings for "The Lou Dobbs Show" on the radio.

And thanks for being with us tonight. For all of us here, thanks for watching. Good night from New York. Next, sitting in for Campbell Brown, John Roberts.