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Sound of Sunday

Aired December 13, 2009 - 11:00   ET


KING: I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union."


KING (voice over): It's 11 a.m. Eastern, time for "State of the Union's" "Sound of Sunday."

Twelve government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say, top voices from the White House economic team, key lawmakers on Capitol Hill. We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to.

And we'll break it all down with Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett and the best political team on television. "State of the Union's" "Sound of Sunday" for December 13th.


KING (on camera): The president's top economic adviser says there's no question the worst is over and that the economy is finally growing again. But Larry Summers has a sober message for unemployed Americans wondering when the economy will start creating more jobs.


SUMMERS: Experience says that these things take -- it takes significant time. First GDP increases. We've seen that start to happen. Then firms ask the workers who are already with them to work more hours. That's starting to happen. Then net job creation starts to happen.


KING: Most Democrats remain optimistic they will pass major health care changes soon. At the same time, though, some say the leading Senate proposal, as it now stands, may not do enough to rein in health care spending.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-MO.: My statement, all along, is it has to slow down the increase of health care costs over time, and that is bending the cost curve; and secondly that it has to be deficit- neutral. We have to be saving more money for our government than we're spending. And if we're not saving more money for our government than we're spending, then not only will I not support it; the president said he won't support it.


KING: And as Congress moves belatedly, now, on legislation to help keep much of the government running, a member of the Senate GOP leadership says, sure, his party deserves some of the blame for big deficits, but he says President Obama and his fellow Democrats are making things much, much worse.


SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: Republicans share some of the blame. When we were in charge, we didn't control spending well enough, either. But we look like pipers compared to what's going on now.

I mean, you have a Democrat president, as you said, Democrat majority in the House, Democrat majority in the Senate. All of them have their foot on the pedal. I mean, this thing is -- they're driving this thing over the cliff, and somebody's got to put the breaks on. And what we're trying to say is, let's put the brakes on the spending side.


KING: As you can see, we've been watching all the other Sunday shows, so maybe you don't have to. Let's bring in the best political team on television, as we do every Sunday at this hour, and break down the issues, on the "Sound of Sunday."

Joining me here in Washington, senior White House correspondent Ed Henry, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, CNN political contributor and host of "Morning in American" Bill Bennett and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Good morning, all.

Let's begin with the assessment of the economy. This is a tough one for the administration. It does appear the economy is growing again. It does appear the worst is over. But they're not quite sure how to talk about this.

Now, you had Larry Summers, you just heard. He says the recession's over, but if you're looking for a lot of new jobs, it's going to take a little time. Listen to the somewhat different language his colleague, Christina Romer uses.


CHRISTINA D. ROMER, CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: The official definition, and that talks about just when do you turn the corner; when do you go from plummeting to finally starting to go back up?

And I think we have, at least in terms of GDP, reached that point. What I think the president's always said, and what I firmly believe, you're not recovered until all those people that want to work are back to work.

DAVID GREGORY, HOST, NBC's "MEET THE PRESS": So, in your mind, this recession is not over?

ROMER: Of course not.


KING: How do they handle the politics of that, Ed?


There are technical -- there are technical definitions that apply to recession. And most people believe we've met that definition, that the recession is over. But Christina Romer seems, maybe, more acute to the politics than Larry Summers, to agree that there are 12 million, 15 million Americans out there, saying, "My recession's not over."

HENRY: Right, because whether GDP growth or this other study or not is better, the American people are not feeling recovery yet. And that's the biggest problem for this president.

We can talk about health care; we can talk about Afghanistan, all the other issues, but it ultimately all comes down to the economy, as well for those congressional Democrats who are facing those midterm elections in November.

And that's why there's no accident that the president collects the Nobel Peace Prize but also, this week, you know, lays out a new economic recovery plan.

He goes on "60 Minutes" tonight and is going to start bashing the bankers. Tomorrow he's calling those bankers in; he's calling them on the carpet. I mean, it is very clear that this White House is extremely nervous that the economy is not turning around as quickly as they had hoped.

BORGER: You know, and I think, if they were to pass health care, the presumption was that they're going to get a huge political bounce out of health care reform. And now lots of folks are saying maybe they won't because people are so focused on jobs, and then they're also focused on the question of the deficit.

So while they want to claim credit for this, they, kind of, understand that they've got a real political problem out there until they get jobs back on track.

Now, they may be doing that. We saw unemployment tick down a touch to 10 percent, which is -- which is good for them. But they're not at a political moment where they can claim victory on what really, really matters to people right now. KING: And, Donna, on that point, I want you to listen to Larry Summers because Gloria notes they're starting to talk about the deficit because they're going to raise the federal debt ceiling this week and the numbers get incredibly high. Republicans are starting to say, you know, where's the fiscal discipline here?

And yet, if the you listen to Larry Summers, he seems convinced that they have a little more political space to make the case, that, in the short term, spending to help the economy is more important than reducing the deficit.


SUMMERS: We've got to do a lot more. There's no more important issue facing the country than job growth because, if we don't create jobs, we've got no prospect that the kind of budget deficits we want. If unemployment stays high, we're not going to have the strength in the world that we want, if unemployment stays high.


KING: They get away with that a bit longer?

BRAZILE: All the politics aside, the administration is walking a real tightrope between creating the jobs that the American people clearly want and trying to focus on the long-term fiscal health of the nation, the debt.

The Republicans raised the debt ceiling 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007. SO this is customary sometimes during a budget process, to raise it that way. But because of the additional spending that we have on the wars and other issues, we have to raise it again. That's a responsible thing that Congress needs to do.

On the other hand, I think the president is absolutely right to use some of the additional TARP money that will be utilized to pay down the deficit, but to use some of it to create jobs.

Now, hopefully, the private sector -- the president will be able to put some fire under the bankers tomorrow for them to start lending to small businesses so we don't have to continue this rate of government spending.

KING: What happens when the stimulus money stops? Is the economy, right now, being propped up by the government?

BENNETT: I don't know. And the problem as indicated by your two quotes. You said "somewhat different language."

Well, it was worse than that. Larry Summers said on your show, absolutely, the recession is over; everyone agrees. And she said, of course not, and in effect, everyone knows.

The question is, what do you do now? You can sometimes raise the debt ceiling. And that's been done by both administrations indeed. But a second stimulus? Remember the first stimulus was promised, in part, so that we wouldn't get past 8.5 percent unemployment. Well, we're at 10 percent now. And while raising the debt ceiling, do you really need to increase spending across the Cabinet departments by 10 percent or 12 percent for the overall budget? that seems really out of whack with what's going on in the country. I don't think that sits well.

In terms of whether the American people celebrate passage of health care, I don't think they will. In fact, I don't think they're going to get it. We'll talk about that later.


BENNETT: It's very unpopular.

KING: We'll talk more about health care. But to Bill's point about the spending bill that increases some 9 percent, some 10 percent, some as much as 12 percent spending on federal agencies, I want you to weigh in.

But first I want you to listen to the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, who is connecting those dots. He's saying, if you don't like the spending and you don't like the high unemployment rate, don't just blame the president. Democrats run Congress, too.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: This not going to be a jobless recovery. The economy will come back. The private sector will grow again. But it has been a jobless stimulus, and that's unfortunate because the president had an opportunity to focus on the economy, to create jobs. But instead Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid created something that -- that stimulated government.


KING: There's a guy thinking about the midterm elections.

BASH: And beyond.




BASH: Look, the reality is that -- I actually am surprised, in covering Congress and listening to at least some of the most vulnerable Democrats talk about, in the words of Blanche Lincoln, who is probably the most vulnerable Democrat, a quote/unquote, "orgy of spending" that they have been doing, and then watching them, later today, in a couple of hours go in and vote to pass, again, about a 10 percent increase in spending across the board.

It's actually quite surprising because, although Summers says there's running room, in terms of -- in terms of spending for the government, I don't think that there is, in listening to how nervous a lot of these Democrats are politically.

HENRY: If you think about it, at the beginning of the year, there was this massive spending bill as well. They call it the omnibus. And President Obama signed it into law, even though it had all kinds of earmarks, had all kinds of increases in spending, because he kept saying it was last year's business. It was left over from the Bush administration; we have to deal with this.

Well, this, now, is this year's business. So the president doesn't have to just be a bystander. He can veto this if he really wanted to. Now, it would create a big mess, but if he wants to get serious about spending, veto a Democratic spending...

BRAZILE: So veto the Veteran Administration bill and close those hospitals down?


BRAZILE: Veto those highway spending bills?


BRAZILE: But this is regular appropriation. This is regular appropriation. This is a regular appropriation process. This is not loose benefits. This is a regular keeping the government...

KING: Did Bill balance the budget to an irregular appropriations process?

BRAZILE: This is the regular spending process that wasn't completed on September 30th. That was an omnibus. So this is the spending bills for the rest of the fiscal year.

I think we need to separate that and start giving the American people the honest to god truth. Now the point is that that this is not the first stimulus, second stimulus. I think we're on like number three because George Bush started to stimulate the economy to try to create growth.

We passed tax cuts, we've lowered some rates. But this is an opportunity at some point to create jobs for ordinary American citizens. Eighteen million of our fellow citizens are either unemployed or underemployed. So are we just going to sit around and wait?

BENNETT: There are alternatives. There are other things you can do. There are other philosophies, not that we have enough people.

BRAZILE: More tax cuts? More misguided policies?

BENNETT: I think I would cut Social Security tax for everybody, absolutely. I think I would.

BRAZILE: But payroll taxes are out there, too, Bill.

BENNETT: Payroll taxes, absolutely.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. Keep them all going.

BORGER: And then what happens with the deficit? BENNETT: I think the deficit would go down. I wouldn't increase economic activity this way, it's not working. But they are the majorities, we have very little say. Let them do it. They want to go off the cliff, let them go off the cliff.

BRAZILE: We've been off the cliff. We're trying to bring the economy back on the road to prosperity.

KING: We're going to go off to break and bring this show back to prosperity after a commercial break. We'll be right back. We'll talk more about this, including a report card on the big debate about the stimulus plan. Is it working? Is it helping? Or is it just a waste of money? Stay with us.


KING: Let's continue our conversation about economic policy and politics with Dana Bash, Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, Gloria Borger, and Ed Henry. Two hundred and 99 days ago, the president signed the stimulus bill, the economic recovery act he likes to call it, into law.

Let's take a look, a little bit of a report card now. Larry Summers earlier today said I was mixing apples and oranges. I just want to say for anyone out there, if I am, I'm mixing it using numbers from the administration's own Web site.

If you go to, they predicted the stimulus plan would create 3.675 million jobs, 3 million 675,000 jobs. So far on, it says they've created 645,000 plus. Now, here is what I wanted to look at. The president said 90 percent of the jobs would be in the private sector.

And if you look so far, education and health services, they predicted 240,000 jobs. They say they've created already or saved 325,000 jobs. So they're exceeding their predictions there. Most of those jobs are in education. They are public service jobs. Teachers who would have been laid off, a lot of people support that. Teachers who would have been laid off around the country, but they said again it would be 90 percent private sector jobs.

Construction, they predicted 675,000 jobs, if you go to, the administration's Web site, they've created 80,000. Now in their defense, a lot of stimulus infrastructure money will kick in in the spring when the ground is warm and they say more projects will come.

But Bill Bennett, on the idea of the credibility of government is the question. And it's not President Obama's fault. It goes back for some time. But is this -- is it playing out the way it was sold?

BENNETT: No, I don't think it is. One of the reasons is you had this whole slew of reports about the numbers and how bad, how unreliable they were, how they were counting and in fact, these were not jobs that were real. I think what you're going to see is an effort to kind of shift blame or throw blame over to Wall Street. And there's plenty of blame there. There's plenty to get mad about at Wall Street. But right now, I think it's a mistake for them to think the American people can have their attention shifted from their anger at government to their anger at Wall Street. They're very upset with government. They don't like the way it's going. These polls, every day that the polls go on on health care and other things, the numbers go down. So I think it would make more sense for the president, constructive suggestion here, if he goes after Wall Street, to also do something like we suggested here, take a look at that budget in a very tough way and say not everything can go up.

KING: It's not just Republicans complaining. I want to bring in here members of the black caucus, the president's friends. They're among the most liberal members of the House. But the president's friends are saying, Mr. President, unemployment is bad in the country, but it's especially bad in our community, 15.6 percent unemployment rate among African-Americans, the lowest participation in the labor force, the longest median duration of unemployment, 22.2 weeks, the average, the median rate of unemployment among African-Americans. So Maxine Waters, a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus says Mr. President you're one of us, you should help us.


REP. MAXINE WATERS, D-CALIF.: We finally are waking up to the fact that despite the fact we are loyal, consistent members of this Congress and of our caucus and of that committee that we're not paying enough attention to the misery in our communities. And as we have said, that day is over.


KING: What does it mean that that day is over?

BRAZILE: Well John clearly, for members of the black caucus like most members of Congress, they're returning home to their districts and they're seeing long lines of people waiting to see if they can get jobs, keep their jobs. But also they're hearing about the rise in foreclosures, hunger, that is once again rampant in the black community.

KING: Are they right? Are their committee chairman and chairwoman, their speaker of the House and their president not giving them enough attention?

BRAZILE: What the black caucus is saying, and I hope the administration is listening, is that these funds, whatever leftover funds from TARP, whatever leftover funds in terms of the stimulus should be targeted to the communities that are hurting the most. That's what the black caucus is saying.

And I think they're absolutely right to press the president to advocate for change so that every community, especially those hardest hit. Right now in the African-American community, 16 percent unemployment, Hispanic community 13 percent unemployment. Among black men, one out of three black men are unemployed. This will have a devastating effect on the black family.

BASH: That's the reason why, although the administration will never call it this, Democrats in Congress will never call it, there is a stimulus two. There is another stimulus package coming because they realize that because of the numbers you showed, there is either a lag or simply the expectations weren't met. So they need to do the bare minimum with regard to unemployment, with regard to housing, to keep people going until the economy really does turn around because it's not happening. It is very, very interesting to watch them recoil when you even try to mention the fact that it is another stimulus package because by admitting that, that is admitting stimulus one didn't work.

BORGER: Well, it is some stimulus. And they're using TARP money because there's a little pot of gold sitting there, $200 billion, which was supposed to go to the deficit reduction, and they have decided and Congress will have to do a little fiddling with the law, they have decided that they should use this for jobs because they're not coming back in the numbers they had wanted. And yes, to be fair to them, some of the stimulus program was backloaded. So you will see some of these jobs come in now -- I think it was backloaded, you'll get closer and closer to 2010, those midterm elections.

BORGER: But they will use this to try and ease up credit for small businesses, for example, because they know that that is a big job creator. On the black caucus thing, I also think it's interesting that it's quite personal. First African-American president, black caucus saying you're not listening to our constituencies.

There was a bit of a problem between John Conyers, House committee chairman, who actually said some things about the president that the president picked up the phone and called him. And I wasn't on the phone call, but it's been reported that he said to John Conyers, stop demeaning me. And that's a very, very tough conversation for those people to have. And I'm sure it's very difficult for these members of the Congressional Black Caucus to stand up there and have to say to Barack Obama, look, we're a very, very important part of your base, and we were there for you. Where are you for us?

HENRY: He's been walking a fine line because he has said again and again, he doesn't want to just be known as the first African- American president. He's the president for everyone and as Bill said earlier, in terms of how they sold it, I remember the word jolt being used. It has not been a jolt.

And what happened to the shovel-ready projects? We heard again and again, and the graphic you had up there on the screen, about the construction jobs and how low they are. Sure, Gloria is right, there's going to be more in the next six months and you said as the spring comes. But I remember the bill, the stimulus was signed into law last February. There was a spring in between February and now. Where were those shovel-ready jobs?

BENNETT: They say more jobs in education than they promised. How much money can the National Education Association absorb? My old department, I used to run that department. They're over there saying anybody need any money? You know we've already got some, we'll take some more.

BRAZILE: It's also firefighters and it's policemen, these are people who are working on the front lines. And quite honestly, what we keep forgetting in this conversation is that our state governments, our local governments are suffering. And this money has been used to help those localities keep these important law enforcement officials as well as teachers on the job.

BENNETT: But if you keep spending money, you keep spending money, more and more money and you're not bringing the money in, you'll make the problem worse in the long run for people, not better.

BRAZILE: When the Republicans doubled the federal deficit and kept spending and spending and spending, we have nothing to show for it. This is an opportunity to push to create jobs.

KING: Let me try this one quickly. I'm going to play a little sound. We'll get a quick answer from everybody and then we need to work in a break. But they're going to try, somebody noted earlier, I forget who already, old age kicking in, that they're going to try to change the subject a bit by saying look, you can blame Washington all you want, but it's more fun to blame the banks. Bill Bennett said that.

Larry Summers was on the program earlier. The president is having a serious meeting with some of the big banks tomorrow. A lot of them have paid back their TARP money and the president says they don't get it because they're already now trying to pay off bonuses again. So I asked Larry Summers, what's the message?


SUMMERS: For them to be complaining about serious regulation directed at making sure this never happens again is wrong. For $300 million to be spent on lobbyists trying to gut serious efforts at financial reform is not how this country should be operating. For firms that have benefited from taxpayer support to be complaining about the government burdening them is, frankly, a bit rich.


KING: Now, no matter where you are in the ideological spectrum, it's hard to argue with that.

BORGER: Sure. Look, the public is angry about this. The public is going to be angry about congressional spending. Different sets of rules. You look at the bankers, different sets of rules. And so you -- populism is popular. What can I say? And this administration clearly understands that they've got an issue out there. That's why you hear lots of whispering right now, even about a windfall profits tax on banks. And that is something that perhaps the president will talk to the bankers about tomorrow. They're limiting CEO pay.

KING: You mean a threat?

BORGER: A threat. I've heard of that. I've heard of that.

KING: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. We've got to call a quick time out. We'll come back. When we come back, our panel talks health care, mix of policy and politics. Don't go anywhere.


KING: Let's shift to health care. We're back with Ed Henry, Gloria Borger, Donna Brazile, Bill Bennett and Dana Bash.

At the beginning of the week we thought, maybe a breakthrough here, like it or not, the Senate says it has a tentative compromise with no public option, has a different alternative. And everyone says a-ha. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she will never support that, maybe she will.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: There's no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option.

Our standards are that we have affordability for the middle class, security for our seniors closing the donut hole and sustaining the solvency of Medicare, responsibility to our children so not one dime added to the deficit and accountability of insurance companies, will take a measure of that bill in those regards.


KING: A little then and now from the House speaker. Notice that strong line on the stand from the public option was missing from the "now" part of it. So you think you're moving forward. But one of the ways they get to this compromise is to open Medicare to people 55- years-old, they can buy in. There are other changes of the bill including squeezing some Medicare savings. Joe Lieberman, the Independent Democrat, whose vote they would need, not so sure.


LIEBERMAN: From what I hear, I certainly would have a hard time voting for it because it has some of the same infirmities that the public option did. It will add taxpayer costs, it will add to the deficit. It's unnecessary.


KING: You get the title, senior congressional correspondent, you spend a lot of time up there, you asked the speaker that question that got her to make clear she was erasing the line in the sand on the public option. I'm a little confused.

BASH: Where should we start? First on the public option. I did ask the question because she was so defiant and definitive about the fact that you need a public option because the House of Representatives, the Democratic caucus, is so much more liberal than in the Senate.

BASH: And it did surprise me how she did, as you said, erased the line in the sand.

But, you know what, as I went through the rest of the day and the rest of the week, I talked to a lot of the most staunchly liberal, single-payer, you know, they would completely make the health care system government-run if they could, and they all -- not "they all," but many of them said, let's just wait and see the details, which, by the way, we just don't have, and that's an important thing to remind our viewers; let's wait and see the details.

Almost to a person, they said that they were going to keep the door open and it was entirely possible that they would vote for health care without a public option. But -- and here is the but, and here is the problem that they have with Joe Lieberman.

Many of them said the reason why is because they see expanding Medicare, the equation on the left, if you will, as something akin to a public option, because you're expanding a government agency for people 55 to 64.

BORGER: You know, I think this is quick becoming a test of whether the Democrats can govern. And one of the reasons they really need health care reform -- and let's forget about public option, no public option -- is the fact that they have a Democratic president, a Democratic Congress. This is one of the president's stated main priorities.

And if they cannot get health care reform through the Congress, it will -- it will say that the Democrats running Washington cannot govern, big problem.

KING: But is it getting it through -- getting it through, or getting it right, or at least to not do such harm?

Because if you look at the public polling, there's a lot of skepticism.

Let's bring in some of the polling before we talk -- "Would the Senate health care bill," and this is before -- we need to say this for our viewers -- this is before the tentative changes that they're still working on. But earlier this week, before that came out, "Would the Senate health care bill increase your taxes?"

Eight-five percent of the American people say yes.

"Would the Senate health care bill increase the budget deficit?"

Seventy-nine percent of the American people say yes. That is tough political water for the Democrats to be standing in as they do this.

HENRY: Well, and you asked whether they were going to pass or fail on governing. They've failed on mathematics.

Number one, if you cover more people, from the beginning of this debate, it's probably going to cost more money.

Number two, as Dana knows better than anyone, at the beginning of this debate, we all you knew you needed 60 votes. And it was very unlikely that we were going to get them.

So they went through this months and months of public option, line in the sand, when everybody knew Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson...


HENRY: Very unlikely -- they're not going to do it. So how much time did they waste on that one thing, when they could have had...

BRAZILE: Let me just say this, first of all, it's been over 60 years. This is not...

KING: Now we know why.


BRAZILE: It's -- it's very difficult, especially when you're trying to protect insurance companies and their profits and not worried about the millions of Americans who are simply without health insurance, the 45,000...

KING: But the Democrats are the majority. Does that mean some of them are trying to protect the insurance companies and their profits?

BRAZILE; Yes. And I'm not ashamed to say that. Because the Democrats, like Republicans, they're protecting their own special interests.

But this goes to a larger point that Gloria raised. Can we govern? And it's tough. I mean, this week we saw the moderates and the liberals sit down together and try to craft a compromise. Now, that compromise is now before CBO. Senator Reid will get an opportunity to take a look at it and pass it on to his caucus.

And the Democrats will have to decide if it meets the goals that Speaker Pelosi said, it lowers cost; it brings -- it makes it more affordable, expand accessibility for Americans without health insurance, and help pay down the deficits. If it meets those goals, we will have a bill.

BENNETT: I don't think we will. Let me go on record, since I won't be reachable next Sunday, I'll go on record.

BRAZILE: You can always call me.

BORGER: You can tweet us.


BENNETT: It fails -- it fails this week. I think -- I just think you've hit critical mass. When you've got Dick Durbin, number two to -- or number one to Harry Reid, saying, I don't know what's in there either; I don't know, it's a great mystery to me, in response to John McCain saying, what's in there; when you've got a Claire McCaskill saying, which you played earlier, which is absolutely won't vote for it if it doesn't reduce the deficit; when Harry Reid, as I understand it, is keeping secret the CBO score that's going to come back, and you've got all these other worries and doubts, I just think it's reached that point.

Earlier in the week they said they thought they were there. I don't think they're there. And i think this week collapses. And it is a huge political defeat.

BRAZILE: It won't collapse. It will not collapse. Rest assured it will not collapse while you're away.

BENNETT: All right.


KING: To Bill's point about the secrecy, Harry Reid does get the numbers in private first, right? And if they're not good enough, he sends it back?

BASH: Exactly. Here's -- let me peel back the curtain a little bit and show you a little bit of the sausage-making.

The reason why we don't know the details; the reason why Dick Durbin said that -- we know some rough ideas because sources tell us this -- is because the rules are such that, if Harry Reid makes public the details of this tentative agreement that five moderates and five liberals worked out, the CBO says that every time they come back and they explain and they give their numbers, then that's going to be public.

Harry Reid doesn't want that to happen. Because, inevitably, the first time, the second time, the third time they come back with these numbers, it's going to be unacceptable. So there's going to be dealmaking behind the scenes until he gets to yes, until he gets to the point where he can tell the details.


BASH: They had a caucus meeting...


BORGER: Here's the bottom line. They've got to pass a bill right now because, politically, they have to do it. But they also know it could be bad for them because the public doesn't like it.

KING: So much for the...


KING: Yes, so much for this transparent change and openness in Washington. (CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: ... worried about the election. We should worry about those without insurance.


BASH: ... and they couldn't give them any details, even in this private meeting.

KING: All right, we've got to get to a break. I'm not sure I want to see all of it. But I think we, maybe, should see a little bit more of it.


KING: We'll get a quick break. We'll be right back.


KING: Let's switch to Nobel Peace Prize and foreign policy with our panel, Ed Henry, Gloria Borger, Donna Brazile, Bill Bennett and Dana Bash.

The president went to Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, and he gave a speech that surprised many of his critics. Some conservatives have said the president goes overseas and he's always apologizing, they say, for the United States of America. Well, the president won some praise from his critics for saying this.


OBAMA: For make no mistake, evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism. It is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.


KING: Good speech, Bill Bennett?

BENNETT: Yes, it was a good speech. I think his best speech abroad, maybe his best speech since president. It wasn't just the point about the recognition of evil and there's good and evil in the world and we must combat evil. But I think the thing, it was a tough week for foreign policy liberals. First, he gave the speech. Second, it was praised by all these conservatives, including me, so people had to do something.

But it was also the recognition and the saying that in the struggle between good and evil, the United States is very often on the side of good and uses force, military force to defeat evil. That had to be said by President Obama and he said it and said it well, I think. I applaud it. The Obama doctrine I'm not so sure of. People are talking about that. I think we might have seen the vague outlines of it. But what's important is what he does next. Most encouraging thing I found in the speech by way of the specific was a specific reference to Iran. He was meddling. Good for him. He said we are on the side of the people in Iran against that regime. That regime I think is tottering, by the way.

If you look into it very carefully, I think you will see that it will probably get pushed over. He could play a part in pushing that over. The more involved he gets, the better I will like it in terms of speaking to the Iranian people and even providing some help to them.

KING: What do you think, is there an Obama doctrine? Do they want one?

HENRY: I don't think they want one because it will be yet another thing that they've got to deal with, all this media about what is the doctrine and does he play it out. But on Iran, I mean almost Reagan-esque in terms of trust but verify.

He's going to trust them to open negotiations and try to talk. But he's going to verify by going to the IAEA and say look, try to get as he already has, get China and Russia behind that resolution that basically says you guys are up to no good. And next he's going to go to the U.N. and he's going to try to get tough sanctions there.

So I mean, I think there's been this caricature of the Obama foreign policy, of the Obama doctrine on the right that he bows too much, he apologizes too much, as you said, which wasn't true. I think on the left though, it's also being caricatured as he was the peace candidate in the last campaign. And on the left, we're not listening closely to what he was saying about building things up in Afghanistan.

KING: Let's listen. Before you jump in Gloria, let's just listen a little bit more to Ed's point because I think the White House has been sensitive to the criticism. So he did criticize torture at Gitmo. He did criticize some Bush administration decisions, but then he added the "but."


OBAMA: Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this, the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.


KING: Important "but," Gloria?

BORGER: It was a very important "but." It was sort of a sister soldier moment. There he was getting the Nobel Peace Prize sitting there and telling people, but we're the ones who have fought, we're the ones who have fought and died. And I spoke with a senior White House adviser who was with the president on this trip. He said, you know, he did a lot of the reworking and rewriting of the speech on the plane over there. And he said it was like one of those stories that writes itself because he knew exactly what he wanted to say because he had been doing so much thinking about that during the entire process when he decided to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Dick Cheney said he was dithering, but in fact he was not dithering, he was thinking. And this speech was, in fact, easier for him to write than many people would have thought because he knew exactly what he need to say about American power.

KING: And as it is reviewed, Donna, as the speech is reviewed and as people search for seeds of an Obama doctrine, of course some people didn't like it. And among them is George McGovern, the former presidential candidate from way back when who has an op/ed in "The Washington Post" today that says this. "I'm astounded at the Obama's decision to escalate the equally mistaken war in Afghanistan. And as I listen to our talented young president explain why he is adding 30,000 troops beyond the 21,000 he had added already, I can only think another Vietnam."

BRAZILE: Well I don't see the comparison as much as -- I know many on the left believes that we're pursuing a dangerous game. I believe that the president made the right decision in trying to finish this war in Afghanistan by urging the Karzai government to clean up its act and to help recruit the necessary personnel so that they can step up by 2011 and we can bring our troops home to a wonderful victory party.

Look, I thought the speech was very inspirational. I don't say that because I'm liberal, I'm a Democrat or I'm black. I say that because I'm an American who believes that we have to pursue peace, but we have to pursue it in ways that strengthen not only our own traditions as Americans, protecting the rule of law.

But we have to be able to take on countries that do us harm in those factors. And I want to say this about Iran. This week the House of Representatives will approve a bill that will impose tough crippling sanctions. Now it will not tie the president's hand, but it will give him some strength in negotiating with China and Russia down the road.

KING: We'll keep an eye on that. Quickly?

BASH: Just quickly on the Vietnam thing, you hear that from so many liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill. It was an analogy people were afraid to make before, but not anymore and that is why that one line you just played from the president saying we need help from our friends around the world, that's the other thing we hear so much from liberals on the Hill.

KING: All right, time out, you don't have the time, I'm sorry, otherwise you'd take away the lightning round. When we come back, an abbreviated lightning round. Stay right there. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back for our lightning round. Ed Henry, Gloria Borger, Donna Brazile, Bill Bennett and Dana Bash. We're going to shift to not a weighty policy debate here in Washington, but it is the front page of this week's "Newsweek." "Tiger Woods, why we can't look away. Understanding our craving celebrity culture." Bill Bennett, you wrote a book once about morals and virtues. Should we look away?

BENNETT: No, it's not like you look away. Plato says in "The Republic" that you know when there's an accident, the eyes are always irresistibly drawn. And this was an accident.

BORGER: This was no accident.

BENNETT: Well, it was an accident to the culture. No one made him do it. That's for sure. It's a shame. And the story this morning that caught me, so much rolls over you, but that caught me was the disappointment in the children, these kids in this high school in New Jersey where he had spent a lot of time. And that's the thing, you take down another hero. But it doesn't end heroism, it doesn't end virtue. It just means you shifts the object of your affection.

BRAZILE: And like many golf fans, I was very disappointed, not only in the revelations but also in the way he handled the entire episode. I hope he spends as much time trying to reconcile with his family, with the two young kids, as he does on the golf course.

BORGER: I think it tells you a lot just about the artifice of both our celebrities and our politicians. You know "Saturday Night Live" had a skit last night in which you had Senator Ensign, Edwards and Governor Sanford saying why is Tiger Woods getting so much attention? We did the same stuff, right? So you can see that the whole world of celebrity and politicians not being trusted just kind of melds at some point.

HENRY: Jenny Sanford may be wondering why she didn't have a golf club handy or something like that.

BORGER: She's got a book.

HENRY: She's got a book. Just as powerful. I think there's actually, in all seriousness, an opportunity here for Tiger Woods which is obviously, he's not perfect. Many people sort of made him out to be a god. In this culture, he did a lot of good things early on. It turns out, he also did a lot of bad things.

He's got an opportunity once he fixes his family, he works this out, to go back to those kids and say, look, I'm not perfect. I made mistakes. You've got to learn from those mistakes. There's obviously a lot of redemption in the American culture, as well, and he has a great opportunity to come back here.

BASH: In the paper this morning, $100 million. That's just what he makes a year outside of golf from all of those sponsors. And that, to me, has been one of the most interesting things in terms of just the economics of Tiger Woods to watch to let say and others holding their fire, but maybe they'll pull back. Again, because so much is invested commercially, culturally in someone like that, an iconic figure.

KING: And as we close, as we close today and say good-bye to our guests, if you don't want to pick up "Newsweek" because you do want to look away, we can recommend this for you. "The True Saint Nicholas." William J. Bennett, he happens to be right here at the table. If you're looking for a little holiday reading, something to read to the children, that's a great thing to do in the holiday season, this is a good book. I have it down on my desk. Trust me, it's a nice, fun read. I'm going to get Bill to autograph the cover for me right here as we say good-bye. But thanks to our guests here. And up next, we head out to the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Denver, Colorado. A conversation about the president's job performance, the war in Afghanistan and considerably tighter personal budgets this holiday season. Stay with us.


KING: For our travels this week, we headed west, state number 47 was Colorado. We're going to hit all 50, trust me. We want to take a peek out here. It's an interesting state, 6.9 percent unemployment rate right now.

One of the reasons it's interesting, President Obama carried Colorado last year. It was only the second victory, only the second victory for Democrats in the last 10 presidential elections but the demographics of the state are changing. This is one of the most significant changes -- 20.2 percent of the population of Colorado is Latino. That is almost double since 1980. That Latino population was critical to the president's big margin of victory there.

Fascinating state and, as you know, every week we head out for good conversation, not to mention a good meal and we were not disappointed when we stopped by Denver's Blue Bonnet Cafe and Lounge.


KING: Heading into the holiday season, are you spending less this year? Spending more this year? Are you so worried about the economy you're pulling back?

ERICA SHINE, PAYROLL ANALYST: Definitely spending less. I'm worried about the economy. My job has had frozen salaries all year. So we definitely have cut back, yeah.

KING: Do you think that's temporary or do you think it's a permanent shift and next year is going to be just as hard?

SHINE: I think next year is going to be just as hard. I think we might see some little improvements, but I think it's going to be just as hard as it's been this year.

KING: Is that your sense as well? Is it a tighter budget this holiday season? JOE LECCI, RETIREE: Oh, absolutely. I have just been one year retired and getting used to that after having a good job, you know, working for 40 years makes a big difference. What I see is I have a son that lives here, he was out of work for five months in a very skilled position. Tough, very tough.

KING: How about you as you head into the holidays?

IRA CRUMP, LOOKING FOR WORK: Well, basically, yeah, we definitely cutting back. You know, this holiday season it might be a little tough because of the financial situations, but, you know, I think it will pick up. I really do. KING: But you're at a job, starting at the end of the job market.

CRUMP: Yes, I am.

KING: And how is that? Encouraging, discouraging?

CRUMP: It could be discouraging at times. You know a lot of places, as soon as you walk in, they're telling you they're not hiring.

KING: We're getting close to the one-year mark, about 11 months of the new president. Made history, turned a lot of states like this one that had voted Republican for a long time for presidential elections, turned them Democratic. As we get 11 months in and approaching the one-year mark, give the president a grade for the first year.

CRUMP: I would have to give him an "A." I think he is doing pretty good, especially with the situation that he was brought in to. You know, it ain't like everything was going perfect when he did step in office.

KING: He gets an "A" over here. What does he get here?


KING: "D."

LECCI: Probably "D minus."

KING: Why?

LECCI: Because I haven't seen one thing that he professed in his campaign. The bipartisanship is the worst I've ever seen and I don't know how it could possibly get any worse.

SHINE: I give him a "B." I think that with what he, with what he came into, that it's going to take at least a full term, if not if he gets re-elected another term to try and turn things around from what they were. So, he's got a lot of work ahead of him.

KING: And to his point about Afghanistan. Good idea or bad idea to send 30,000 more troops?

SHINE: I think it's a good idea. I don't think we're finished over there.

LECCI: Let them do their job.

KING: You don't think they'll do that?

LECCI: Not if you put an 18-month time frame. You can't put a time frame on a war. This is the most unconventional war we ever fought. We're not fighting a country. We're fighting an idea.

KING: What is your sense to that? More troops, time to get out?

CRUMP: I think it's time to get out. We have drawn this thing on long enough, obviously, we can't get anything settled. Maybe it is time to draw away from this thing. We've been prolonging this way too long. It's time to get the troops out of there. That's what I feel.


KING: Great conversation and, trust me, a fabulous meal at the Blue Bonnet in Denver.