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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
"The Last Word": Andrew Stern
Aired December 20, 2009 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.
KING (voice-over): Senate Democrats make a deal on health care.
OBAMA: We are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality.
KING: And the president brokers a global compromise.
OBAMA: For the first time in history, all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action, to confront the threat of climate change.
KING: Do these agreements meet the president's test, or is he giving up too much in his deal-making? I will ask his senior adviser, David Axelrod.
Then reaction from a Republican who shares the president's goal of major climate legislation, but is a fierce critic of his health care approach, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
And two of America's best-known leaders discuss their role in the climate talks, and their worries about paying for health care changes, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
And our "American Dispatch" from scenic Hawaii, where skyrocketing electricity costs driving a dramatic energy evolution.
One of the nation's most powerful labor leaders says the Senate health care bill fails the test. Will labor make Democrats who defy it pay? The president of the Service Employees International Union, Andy Stern, gets "The Last Word."
This is the STATE OF THE UNION report for Sunday, December 20th.
KING: The White House this Sunday is celebrating what it considers to be two significant deals to advance the president's ambitious agenda. One is a deal among Senate Democrats on major health care changes. The other is a compromise President Obama brokered himself, a global agreement on the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The administration's critics say there's nothing to celebrate. They assert the Senate health care bill gives the government too much power and will not lower health care costs for most working families. And they say the climate deal could put the United States at an economic disadvantage because the agreement contains no mandatory reductions and no enforcement mechanisms.
Here to help us dig deeper on both issues and more is President Obama's friend and senior adviser, David Axelrod.
AXELROD: Thanks, John. Good to be here.
KING: Let's start on a Sunday morning with a football metaphor. If the health care reform debate, like a football field, is 100 yards, how far are we now that the Senate has this agreement?
AXELROD: Well, we're way deep in the red zone. And we're right on the -- we're right on the one-yard line. And we're -- now, you know, that does not mean that we're in, and once the Senate passes this bill, obviously there's work to be done. The House has its version, the Senate has its version. They have to agree, and we're going to have to go through one more round.
I have no doubt that the Republican leadership will try and throw procedural barriers in the way, as they have for the last several months. But I think there is a will to get this done. People understand we're on the doorstep of doing something really historic that will help the American people and strengthen our country for the long run.
KING: I want to get to some of the specifics in the president's challenge in negotiating between the House and the Senate in a minute, but first, on the timeline issue. The president had hoped to sign this bill this week, or before the end of the year, anyway, and it's clear that won't happen now. The House and the Senate won't have their conference committee and the negotiations until after the holiday season. If not a year-end deadline, when now?
AXELROD: Look, I don't think the important -- we -- I believe this is going to happen soon. I think there is a will to get it done. We've had an eight-month -- essentially an eight-month debate. It has been discussed for the better part of the year, and I think the people are ready to go. This is a very, very strong bill.
KING: You've seen how fragile this is, and how difficult this is, in both the House and the Senate, just among Democrats. So I want to show our viewers some of the differences and ask you how the president will get involved in brokering the compromise.
The Senate plan pays for the health care reform this way -- a 40 percent tax on those so-called Cadillac plans, worth more than $8,500; $483 billion in Medicare cuts, and an increase in the Medicare payroll tax for those making over $200,000 a year. There's also an innovative 10 percent tax on indoor tanning.
The House is very different. Not only does the House bill still include the public option, which will be a huge source of controversy in the negotiations -- the House pays for its plan this way: a 5.4 percent surtax on income for those making over $500,000 a year; there is $404 billion in Medicare cuts, and a 2.5 percent tax on medical devices sold here in the United States.
If the president had his druthers, if he could pick, which of the financing plans is best in his view? AXELROD: Look, I am not going to negotiate here with you, John, and I don't think that that would advance the process. The president has -- the president believes that there's merit to what the House has done and what the Senate has done. He spoke in his address to the joint session on the -- the effect of the Cadillac plan tax in terms of lowering the growth of health care costs. He thinks that has some merit.
He does believe that upper-income Americans should be the ones who bear the brunt of this. So we'll see what -- how this gets blended when the time comes, but I think that it will be blended.
KING: Is it what the president promised during the campaign? The central Obama promise was to change this town, to change the influence of lobbyists, to change the backdoor deal making, to make it more open and transparent to the American people.
Harry Reid, the Senate leader, yesterday was pretty open in saying, you know, to get Ben Nelson's support and to get others' support along the way he has had to essentially give them things, to get their votes. A lot of money for Nebraska in this agreement. A lot of money before that to Louisiana, Senator Mary Landrieu.
Senator Reid said a number of Senate Democrats asked for things, and he had to give them to them to get compromise. Republican critics say that's not the way to do major legislation. Listen to Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURR: But you've got to compliment Ben Nelson for playing "The Price is Right." He negotiated a Medicaid agreement for Nebraska that puts the federal government on the hook forever. Not for six years, not for 10 years. This isn't the Louisiana Purchase; this is the Nebraska windfall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Colorful rhetoric there, but many people do say -- even a lot of Democrats were complaining after the deal with Senator Nelson, saying this is no different, that Washington is the same old deal- making.
AXELROD: Trust me, John, I think every senator uses whatever leverage they have to help their states. That's the way it has been. That's the way it will always be. Senator Burr and others are actively trying to advocate for their states. Senator McConnell made much the same comment on the floor yesterday, after having included $75 million of earmarks in the omnibus bill that he just voted against. So -- for Kentucky. So, you know, that is part of the system. And people want their legislators to advocate for their states.
But you say, does it represent change? The change is that we are fighting an insurance industry that has killed health reform for generations. They're spending tens of millions of dollars right now to defeat this bill, and we're on the doorstep of winning a great victory for the American people that will give them more security, that will hold down their costs, that will give them power in relationship to their insurance companies. That is the change the president promised. That's the change we're close to delivering. .
KING: I want you to listen to something your candidate, Barack Obama, said a little more than a year ago, in the final weeks of the campaign. He was talking about health care, and he made this emphatic promise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We'll let Medicare negotiate for lower prices. We'll stop drug companies from blocking generic drugs that are just as effective and far less expensive. We'll allow the safe re-importation of low-cost drugs from countries like Canada.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: "We'll allow the safe re-importation of low-cost drugs from countries like Canada." The president promised that in the campaign. We've talked to several Democratic senators this week who say, when they tried to put that language into health care reform, it is the Obama White House lobbying against it, against what the president promised, saying we can't do that, because we've made a deal with the pharmaceutical industry. They're going to support the big bill if we don't put that in there.
AXELROD: Let me be clear: The president supports re- importation, as he said, safe re-importation of drugs into this country. There's no reason why Americans should pay a premium for the pharmaceuticals that other -- people in other countries pay less for. And we will move forward on it.
KING: Just not in this health care reform bill?
KING: That's a promise you'll make to the American people?
AXELROD: The president is committed to moving forward once we resolve the issues that the FDA has. That's his responsibility, to protect the American people.
KING: Let's talk quickly about the president's trip to Copenhagen to try to get a dramatic agreement on global climate change. He did get an agreement in the end, but when he arrived, when he stepped off Air Force One, the proposal on the table at that moment had no binding emission cuts, no verification procedures -- the Chinese were objecting to that -- and no enforcement mechanism at the United Nations.
There was no way the United Nations would say, your country didn't keep it, here's the penalty involved. So the president said, not good enough. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don't know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and ensuring that we are meeting our commitments. That doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: When he arrived, he'd say: "It doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory," if it doesn't have clear enforcement and verification procedures. Then that night, he negotiated an agreement that has no enforcement and verification mechanisms. How does it go from a hollow victory to being meaningful and historic?
AXELROD: Well, John, first of all, let's understand, when the president arrived, the -- the talks were collapsing, and there was a very real prospect of no progress out of -- out of Copenhagen. We've been trying to get some sort of accord for 10 years. The United States has been sort of on the sidelines here.
Now the president of the United States arrives, and he pulls the -- the leaders of the major economies together, and they arrive at an accord that says we're going to set domestic standards. We have a goal for 2050 that comports with science, in terms of lowering climate change, and we're going to pursue domestic goals, and they have to be verifiable and the international community is going to analyze those results.
And there's going to be aid to developing -- we're going to raise money for developing nations to do that...
KING: But there's no penalty -- no penalties built in if China or India say, no way?
AXELROD: Because -- because this was noted and accepted by the entire conference, the U.N. now has the ability to move forward on these things and to -- and to implement them. Nobody says that this is the end of the road. The end of the road would have been the complete collapse of those talks. This is a great step forward.
Now, China, India have set goals. We're going to be able to review what they're doing. We're going to be able to challenge them if they don't meet those goals. We're going to pursue this anyway, because the president understands that our future lies with a clean- energy economy. We've doubled renewables this year. There are millions of jobs to be had there, more energy security, so we're going to pursue this. But we don't want to put our country at a competitive disadvantage in other ways. Now the Chinese, the Indians, and the other major economies are coming along, and this has to -- this is the result of his strong leadership.
KING: First time we've had you in the studio. You've been on several times before. Let's take a trip over to the magic wall. I want David Axelrod, political consultant, not David Axelrod, senior White House adviser, to help me with a couple of questions.
KING: As we end the year, I want to first go through...
AXELROD: This is cool, actually. I like this.
KING: ... this is the state of Illinois. Come on up. Come closer. You can reach out and touch it, if you want.
AXELROD: OK. OK.
KING: This is the state of Illinois, the president's home state. I want you to watch this play out of his approval rating and disapproval rating over the course of the first year. Green is approval; red is disapproval. You're ending the year, at least with a month to go, with slightly more Americans disapproving than approving. How did we get from near 80 percent to below 50 percent?
AXELROD: Well, John, we -- we took over in January in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, fiscal crisis, financial crisis, two wars. The president has had to make a lot of tough decisions to try and rescue our economy from collapse, to move this country forward, and -- and we are going to reap the benefits of that.
But people have a right to be grouchy. There's 10 percent unemployment. These are tough times. And one thing I can assure you, though: The numbers the president is looking at aren't these numbers.
KING: Let me ask you one more question, because there is an election next year, and I want to circle some states. This is how you've won in 2008, a very impressive Obama victory. And I want to focus on these states that I'm circling right here because -- and I'll show you why in a second, but as I circle these states and come out, these are states, all blue states last year.
But if we go back in time, let's take that off and click over -- the reason I circled them, all red states when Bush won reelection in 2004.
People would say you won those states and others because Democratic intensity was so dramatically improved over Republican intensity in 2008. Many now say, David Axelrod, as they look ahead to the 2010 elections, not only are they worried about these states, but they believe Republicans have the intensity gap, as you call it in the consulting business right now. Forget you work at the White House -- as a guy who's run so many campaigns for Congress, is that your biggest worry, looking at 2010 right now, that the intensity gap has gone to the opponents?
AXELROD: Look, John, I think that we're almost a year from the election. A year before the presidential election, I was standing with people like you -- not in front of this spiffy map, but in other settings -- and I was being asked about polls that showed Obama 30 points behind running for the nomination and do we even have a chance, and why are we continuing, and so on.
And we take the long view. The fact is if we do our job right, if we keep worrying not about polls but about the jobs of the American people, about their health care, about their ability to educate their kids, stay in their homes and own their homes, send their kids to college, the basic pillars of a middle-class life, if we keep worrying about the future and building a stronger future for this country, these things will take care of themselves.
And, you know, talk to me next October about -- we can come back to your board -- on whatever show you're on...
... and we can talk about this next October. But right now, we're not worried about polls. You guys can worry about polls. I believe we're going to do well next November because the president is making good, hard, and important decisions to move this country forward.
KING: We will extend that invitation. And we also appreciate your coming in here on what is a Chicago morning...
AXELROD: Yes, I feel right at home.
KING: ... in Washington, D.C. A lot of snow, it's good, I love it, too, as a Boston boy. David Axelrod, thank you.
And up next, the Republican perspective from a GOP senator who, like the president, wants significant action on climate change, but thinks Mr. Obama's health care prescription is dangerous. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, next.
KING: You just heard from the White House. Now let's get the view from one of the Senate's leading Republicans, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Welcome.
GRAHAM: Good morning.
KING: You just heard David Axelrod. He says they're deep in the red zone at the one-yard line in the fight for health care reform. Can the Republicans mount a goal line stand or is the president going to get his bill? GRAHAM: Well, our best player is the American people, so we're in the fourth quarter. This is far from over. The House and Senate bills are in many ways irreconcilable. But you know, I like David. He ran a brilliant campaign, but they're doing a lousy job governing the country, in my view. You know, change you can believe in, after this health care bill debacle, is now becoming an empty slogan.
And it's really been replaced by seedy Chicago politics, when you think about it, backroom deals that amount to bribes.
KING: Bribes -- that's a strong word.
GRAHAM: Well, it is, oh, absolutely, it's a strong word. It was meant to be strong; principled compromised -- I mean, a compromise sold as a principled solution to an emotional problem like abortion that's fallen flat; Enron accounting techniques -- everything that people were upset with about Washington has gotten worse. And this bill personifies the worst of Washington.
You know, I thought we were going to negotiate health care on C- SPAN. Well, somewhere between doing that and a closed room in Washington where no Republican was invited and most Democrats didn't know what was going on, Senator Nelson's -- he's a good friend, but he's lost a lot of...
KING: He's going -- he's going to be here later in the program.
GRAHAM: Well, quite frankly, you know, he took up the challenge of the pro-life community. He became their standard-bearer. And he said, "I will not let this bill leave the Senate." And he negotiated a compromise that no pro-life group believes works. He didn't talk to any pro-life group...
KING: Because you don't believe you should leave it up to the states?
The compromise allows the states to opt out and then has some firewall that, at least, he says -- Senator Nelson says -- satisfies his concern that federal dollars will not go to funding an abortion.
GRAHAM: He's what you need to understand. There's a tale of two Democrats here, one in the House -- Bart Stupak, from a blue state, got the support of every pro-life group in the country and brought the House to its knees and didn't get a thing for it.
Then you've got Senator Nelson, who's had a good pro-life record, championed this issue, said "I will not let the Senate bill become a federally funded abortion bill."
GRAHAM: He gets a compromise; he never runs it by anybody; he gives a press conference saying he solved the problem. And when everyone who cares about it, including Bart Stupak, look at it, they say it's unacceptable.
So that's really disappointing. I think Senator Nelson's lost a lot of trust of the pro-life community for pushing a compromise that no one on our side believes works.
KING: Well, you used the word "bribery," "Enron-style accounting."
KING: Those are pretty -- pretty strong words in condemning the process, here.
David Axelrod was right here. He says this bends the cost curve, that you want to do in health care. He says -- and he's using Congressional Budget Office numbers -- that it will reduce the deficit by somewhere in the ball park -- the Senate version -- of about $130 billion over 10 years.
GRAHAM: What David didn't tell you is that the doctor fix -- the 1997 balanced budget agreement reduced Medicare payments to doctors. Every year since then, we have been forgiving those cuts that are double digits.
There is nothing in the bill that will take care of the doctor fixes, $247 billion over the next 10 years.
You and I know -- you've been around this town a long time -- that the Senate and the House is not going to impose those cuts. So when you put that into the health care mix, this thing doesn't save money; it costs money. And that's phony.
And you know just as well as I do -- you've been around a long time -- no Congress is going to allow Medicare to be cut $470 billion. We will start forgiving those cuts to doctors and hospitals. And that's how you pay for the bill.
So it is Enron-accounting. It is a sham. You collect taxes for 10 years and you pay out benefits for six years, and the Class Act, which no one's talking about, is a completely new government entitlement.
KING: This is the long-term care proposal that is the legacy of the late Senator Edward Kennedy?
GRAHAM: Here's what Senator Conrad said. The Class Act, that allows long-term health care insurance to be subsidized by the government and offered by the government, is a Ponzi scheme of the first order that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of. It is still in the bill. So any Democratic senator who votes for this bill is a co-conspirator to one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in the history of Washington.
KING: Are you confident the Republicans can say no, make all those points you just made, and benefit politically next year, or do the Republicans need to do more?
GRAHAM: We need to offer solutions. But the Medicaid deal, for Senator Nelson -- there's one state in the union where new enrollees for Medicaid will be signed up, and it won't cost anybody in that state money. It's not my state. I've got 30 percent African-American population, a lot of low-income African-Americans on Medicaid. I don't know what the numbers are in Nebraska, but I want my attorney general -- there are a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, are upset by this.
Is it constitutional? I want the attorney general of South Carolina to look at this.
They allowed Senator Nelson a Nebraska a deal that none of us get, just to get a vote. Now is that change?
KING: Let me shift subjects because you need to go soon -- in the sense of, you have been one of the Republicans taking a lot of heat from your conservative friends for being out there pushing for some action on climate change.
KING: The president went to Copenhagen. He did get a global deal. It does not have mandatory cuts. This does not have verification. It does not have punishment, sanctions if you don't meet the goal.
Is it, as David Axelrod and the White House say, a good first step or is it a hollow deal?
GRAHAM: Well, I think, in many ways, it's going to be seen as ineffective, but it is some transparency that we don't have today.
The issue of energy independence drives my train. I would like to have the cleanest air and the purest water in America of any place on the planet. That's a noble goal.
But, more than anything else, I want to break our addiction to foreign oil. We sent $400 billion overseas to buy oil and gas from people who don't like us very much. When Hugo Chavez got a standing ovation in Copenhagen, it made me sick to my stomach. But the only way he's relevant is because of the oil revenues. We're sending money overseas. We need to stop that. Let's find fossil fuels here. KING: But can you get a bill through Congress if the global agreement as it now stands does not have any mechanism to make China, to make India cut their emissions?
GRAHAM: The bill would have to have provisions to protect American workers from the consequences of any failure in Copenhagen. That's become essential.
The bill I'm looking for is to find gas and oil here in America. Every barrel we find at home we don't have to buy overseas, to create a renaissance in nuclear power and clean coal and control carbon emissions, put a price on carbon so the green economy will come.
To me, it's about jobs, not about polar bears. It's about national security. But at the end of the day, I want to work with this administration. But this health care proposal has made it very hard for Republicans to sit down at the table with these guys because of the way they've run over us.
But at the end of the day, we've got more problems than just health care. I want to help solve hard problems. This health care bill has made a hard problem worse.
KING: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, we appreciate your time today. And we will have you back. Whenever you want to come in, please do.
And next, a look at the top stories making headlines this morning. Then, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg share their thoughts on what the United States needs to do about global climate change.
KING: I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday. The Senate is set to convene in about 90 minutes to resume debate on the health care reform. Democrats say they have the key 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster and move that bill to the Senate floor.
But, first, in a series of votes scheduled for Monday at 1:00 a.m. -- that's right, Monday at 1 a.m. Eastern -- CNN will carry it live, right here. Our coverage starts at midnight.
The East Coast is starting to dig out from the first big snowstorm of the season. That storm dropped record amounts of snow in parts of the mid-Atlantic region, nearly two feet in some areas, like right here in Washington, D.C., before hitting New York and up into New England. Three storm-related deaths are reported in Virginia.
East Coast travelers are being warned to expect long lines as the airlines try to get back into service. Major airports from Washington to Boston are slowly reopening today after being shut down by record snowfall. The massive storm forced the airlines to cancel hundreds of flights. Those are your top stories on "State of the Union" this hour.
Up next, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg share their thoughts on what the United States needs to do to combat local climate change.
KING: Before our next guest, let's use the magic wall for some quick perspective on the global climate change debate.
As you can see, the United States is number two in the world in greenhouse gas emissions, 5.7693 million tons of greenhouse gases emitted.
As we watch the world turn here, you will see, on the other side, China is number one; Russia is number three; India, number four; and Japan, number five, a global challenge.
And among the politicians who made the trip to Copenhagen for those talks, the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Both long have argued that state and local governments need to act now, not wait for any direction from Washington or any global agreement.
Still, both do want an international commitment, one that is much stronger than the president was able to negotiate. And while both question whether China will keep its commitment to reduce gases, they insist, even in Beijing, the global debate about climate change is moving in the right direction.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, first of all, I think this is not the only answer to the problem, to have verification. I mean, I think it is always important, trust, but verify, as Ronald Reagan always said.
But I think, at the same time, one should acknowledge that China is already doing great things. I mean, they're building the biggest solar plants over there. They're working on the battery for electric cars. They're building more electric cars. I mean, they're doing all kinds of things, and they have great partnerships with California. We are over there doing a lot of work. So I think there's -- great things are happening.
BLOOMBERG: In the end, verification is nice, but China will improve the environment for their people when their people say, "I don't want to breathe that dirty air," when their people say, "I don't want to have the droughts or the floods," when their people say, "I want to be able to leave something better for my children."
And America has to do the same thing. We want to work together, but this argument that we shouldn't try to improve our environment because somebody on the other side of the world may or may not be improving theirs is ridiculous.
KING: Many argue you can't do this in a recession because you hurt businesses that are already struggling. And -- and both of you have argued, no, the recession is the perfect time to do it because you're in the middle of a transformation; make the most of it.
Governor, to you, first. What is the single biggest obstruction you face when you make that case that, sure, things are tough, but this is a way to get around the corner?
SCHWARZENEGGER: We have made commitments to roll back our greenhouse gases by 25 percent by the year 2020. We have the green building initiative to make our government buildings more energy efficient. We have the million solar roof initiative. We built the hydrogen highway. We have the low-carbon fuel standard, the tailpipe emissions standards. We have passed one law after the other.
And because we haven't seen leadership in Washington for so long, we went out and formed partnerships with other states. And we have formed partnerships with states in the United States and also with Mexican states and with Canadian provinces and a province in China, already, and the -- and also with European nations. So we're moving forward no matter what.
BLOOMBERG: The question you asked Arnold -- you said, you know, people say you can't do it in this kind of an environment because the -- the economy is suffering. I would argue that's exactly the time when you have to go do it.
And New York is a classic example. Back in the '70s, we had a tough economy. We walked away from investing in infrastructure. It took us decades from recovering -- to recover.
Today, if you want to build something, you can buy steel and labor and cement a lot cheaper than ever before. People that want to work, they want -- they're willing to make those -- the -- to put their -- get the elbow grease, to go and to plant the trees and to clean up the environment.
And if we don't do it now, we're never going to do it. This is exactly the time. If you go back and take a look in American history, when the great things were done, they were done during the bad times. Look at the WPA after the Great Depression.
KING: There are some here in our political debate at home who don't believe it is as severe as a crisis as you both say, and there are some who even question the science and question whether this is because of manmade behavior. Address the politics here at home -- Mr. Mayor, to you first on this one -- to those who say the science isn't settled and...
KING: ... and that government regulation is not the answer. BLOOMBERG: OK. I mean, number one, the science is clear. But let's just make a simple argument that will convince you to go ahead and do something about the environment.
There's four possibilities, the combinations of we're damaging the planet or we're not damaging the planet, and we do something or we don't do something about it.
One of those four combinations is deadly. And if we run the risk that, in fact, there is -- we say there's nothing wrong and it turns out that there was something wrong but we didn't do anything about it, it may very well be so irreversible and have such terrible consequences for people all over this globe, it's not an intelligent risk to run.
And I've gotten in trouble, again and again, saying cap-and-trade is very nice, but cap-and-trade, fundamentally, you don't stop polluting; you just shift where it's done from. We need a carbon tax, plain and simple. Nobody wants to hear it, but if you had a carbon tax, you would reduce the total amount of carbon put in the air.
And if you don't have that, I'm skeptical that we will do anything other than have a very elaborate system, which will make a lot of money for a lot of lawyers and bankers and everybody else, but isn't going to solve the problem.
KING: You are both from critically important places in our nation's economy, the largest state, out in California, the capital of our economy, and many would say the financial center on Wall Street.
Governor, to you first. Both of the unemployment rate in the state of California and in New York City dropped a little bit last month. Is the worst over? Is the economy now growing?
SCHWARZENEGGER: I think we have still a major problem and still have to deal with those things. And I think that we have to tighten our belts.
We have to also ask the federal government to pay up, you know, what they owe us, because the federal government, let's not forget, we don't need a bailout from them, but we need for them to pay, because it's inexcusable, for instance, in California, where we have -- we pay approximately $1 billion for the incarceration of undocumented immigrants and we get $100 million from the federal government. And now they even voted not to get us any money.
So, I mean, I think that's inexcusable. The same is with health care. And this is why I made it very clear that I now caution about this whole health care reform. I endorsed it, and I was all for it. But now, all of a sudden, we find out that it's going to cost California $3 billion.
So I think that we have to improve this partnership between the federal government and the states. And so we have to be very careful. So we are not out of the woods yet, but we see signs of comeback. KING: Would you prefer that the president and the Democratic Congress just stop health care this year, come back to the drawing board next year, and get it done in a way that is better for your state?
SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, the states are struggling right now, so it would be terrible. And I know they're saying, well, this is not going to kick in until a few years from now, but I think it's terrible. We cannot handle an additional $3 billion. We cannot even handle the situation that we are in right now because of a shortfall of revenues.
BLOOMBERG: We've got to really step back and say, what are we spending our money on and why are we not getting much more value for the dollar?
The other thing that leaves me worried is, when I talk to congressmen and senators and say, "What's in the bill?," none of them really know.
BLOOMBERG: It has gotten so big and taken so long and has so many different versions out there that I don't know how you can intelligently decide whether to vote for it or not if you don't know what it is going to do.
I, for one, am basically in favor of it. But I think it is worrisome that people say I'm going to vote for it without being able to explain to me what it does.
KING: Governor Schwarzenegger in California, Mayor Bloomberg in New York City, gentlemen, thank you both for your time today.
BLOOMBERG: You're welcome.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you.
KING: He tops the list of White House visitors, but he has some big problems with the Senate's health care reform bill. The Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern gets "The Last Word," next.
KING: Fifteen newsmakers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows today, but only one gets "The Last Word." That honor this day goes to the president of the Service Employees International Union, Andy Stern. Welcome.
STERN: Thanks, John.
KING: If you look at the logs released by the White House, you are the most frequent visitor to the Obama White House. Your union spent $60 million last year to help elect the president. I spent a lot of time on the streets going door to door with people, and yet at this moment in the health care debate, if you go to your web site, if you read the letters you have written recently, you don't think you're getting out of this president what you invested in him, do you?
STERN: No, I actually think we are really proud that this president has kept this health care debate alive right now. It is pretty easy to say that on this road to change, there could have been a lot of exit ramps and detours, but the president has stuck his course -- to his course. I think the issue now for us is not about what the president wants or what Ben Nelson wants. I think it's really about what Pat DeJong and Athena Jones, who are members of ours, need. And what Athena does every day is take care of people in their homes. She makes $9.25 an hour. She has no health care. Pat DeJong lost their ranch in Montana because of health care bills. This bill has to address people like that, people in your audience right now, and that's what we're concerned about.
KING: As you're concerned about them, let's talk about the specifics. I will take your point, thanking the president for keeping the debate alive. But the White House has signaled that if the proposal is on the table, that it has no objection to the current Senate plan, which would fund health care reforms in large part through what we call the tax on Cadillac insurance plans. And you believe, if I have it right, that if they went forward with that, that it would be a violation of the president's pledge not to raise taxes on middle-class working families. Is that right?
STERN: What I said was, I think it is wrong that a state worker in New Hampshire pays $8,000 more than his congressman for the same health care, and now he is going to get taxed for it. I don't think that's how we talked about paying for this health care bill. I think that's why we have to get this bill into conference and why we have to change some of the affordability provisions. This is about whether people can afford health care. It is not about Ben Nelson and making deals. It's about the American people.
KING: If the president were to accept a plan that did that, that had the current version of the tax on Cadillac insurance plans, as they call it, you believe it would affect a lot of your members and other labor members across the movement. Would that be a violation of his pledge?
STERN: Well, what we do and what we've done and what we do is fight for what we believe in. And what we believe in right now is there is a better way to pay for health care than taxing that state worker in New Hampshire for the $8,000 he pays because there's no competition.
So, where we are now is we're saying to the president, to the House and to the Senate, we get another shot in the conference committee to deal with affordability issues. People need to be able to afford it, and that's what the fight is about.
KING: You get another shot, and on affordability, you think there should be a public option, because you believe that forces competition on the insurance companies. But you know the map in the Senate. It took a lot for Harry Reid to get to the 60 votes he will use tonight to advance this debate. And Leader Reid says, you know what, Andy Stern, I'm with you, but I also know the Senate math. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Some who are progressives, they feel that this bill doesn't go far enough. And there are others who say why didn't we get a public option. I like -- I think the public option, I spoke out loudly and strongly on it. But this bill, this bill will do so many good things for so many people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: His point, essentially, is that he agrees with you, but this is about the best he thinks he can get through the United States Senate. Even when they pass this and we have the conference, Harry Reid says there won't be a public option. Senator Nelson says there won't be the way the House pays for it, by taxing people over $500,000 a year. So if you can't have that, then you're likely to have this tax on health insurance plans that you don't like. Is that the world you have to live in now?
STERN: I think there are a series of things that can be changed. One is, the House and the Senate have a different idea about how much do we subsidize middle-income Americans, up to what level of income do we deal with -- I think that can be dealt with. I think we can deal with some of the part-time issues that really haven't gotten a lot of attention. I think we can deal with improving at least on the tax on benefits, if not eliminating it, and I think we can put more insurance regulation.
I think you're right. There is not going to be a public option, there is not going to be Medicare buy-in. I'm as disappointed as anyone. But progressives out there, it's about progress, and we now have to fight for the changes we want in the conference committee, and then make a decision when it's over.
KING: Your union is very influential, and in the 2010 midterm elections, when turnout is traditionally down, Democrats need labor because you can grab people by the ear, put them in a van, and get them out to vote. If Democrats don't fight for you in conference committee, what is the price they might pay next year?
STERN: Well, I think it's the price that is going to be paid for America if we don't do something. And our members are no different than anyone else. They elected 60 Democratic senators because they promised them they would promote change. And all we've done with that gift, I would say, is squander it. You know, we have not even been able to have a legitimate debate about some of these issues in the Senate. So I think people are going to look, did we get change, did people fight for change? I think it's clear they think that President Obama is fighting for health care, he's fighting for jobs, he's fighting for other issues. I think it's also very clear they're really disappointed with the Senate, you know, not being able to have a debate. This is crazy, that people can use their individual votes to distort democracy. Americans wanted them to have real debates, they promised them an opportunity, and they need to do something about it.
KING: Do they blame the president, or who do they blame? If I am listening to you closely, you believe that whenever there is a crunch, the default is cut a deal with a conservative Democrat like Ben Nelson, an independent Democrat like Joe Lieberman, at the expense of people on the left in the progressive party. Is this how this is going?
STERN: Well, I think what we have is a set of rules that are really all wrong in the Senate. They're not about debate. They're not about letting the American people have a Senate that can make hard decisions.
STERN: This is about one human being able to stand up and thwart change. I don't think that's what people voted for. I think they're getting enormously frustrated in the lack of change.
And I think a lot of that problem goes right back to the Senate. And they need to have a reset button in the Democratic Caucus after this is over, and say what did we come here to do? Was it really to let any of one of us stop a debate in the U.S. Senate? That's not what people voted for.
KING: Give me -- many of your workers work in the health care field. Give me one thing that's not in any of this legislation that would help bend that cost curb and bring health care costs down? STERN: Well, I think what people really wanted to see was some kind of trigger that would have said to the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance industry, if you can't end your cost curve for whatever reason -- you are the CEOs and the people that know how to do this -- if you can't do it, we are going to deal with it by putting some kind of mandate on you that would have gotten us the money.
So I think people are concerned that some of these cuts won't go through or that people like the pharmaceutical and other industries are raising their rates already.
KING: Andy Stern is the president of the Service Employees International Union. We thank you for joining us today here.
And next, the climate debate up close. We take you to beautiful Hawaii for a bird's-eye view -- that's 200 feet up in the air, there -- of one state's dramatic energy evolution.
KING: In our travels this week, we wanted to take an up-close look at the climate and energy debate, climate change debate. The president went to Copenhagen. We went to Hawaii.
Now, why did we choose Hawaii? Take a look at this. The average cost of electricity, more than 25 cent per kilowatt hour in Hawaii; 13 cents nationally -- twice the national average.
Look at this one here: 87 percent of Hawaii's electricity is generated using petroleum; only 2 percent to 3 percent of the nation's electricity generated that way. It means it costs a lot more money. So, in our "American Dispatch" this week, we visited two of the Hawaiian islands -- and they are beautiful -- for an up-close look at how a mix of high electricity prices and environmental concerns is sparking a dramatic energy evolution.
KING (voice-over): A light breakfast has long been part of Susan Chandler's morning routine, but the trip to the shed began just two months ago and still makes her a tad giddy.
SUSAN CHANDLER, SOLAR PANEL USER: But then this is the one I like.
KING (on-screen): CO2 saved, 891.7 pounds.
CHANDLER: Pounds, right.
KING: The box is linked to these rooftop solar panels. The hilltop location overlooking downtown Honolulu provides ample access to one of Hawaii's richest sources of alternative energy, the sun.
CHANDLER: First thing I did was change all my own light bulbs, and then I started tracking my energy bill. So I put up the panels. We've got terrific tax credits in the state, as well as the federal government, so it's not that expensive. And I'm into just saving energy.
KING: And into saving money.
(on-screen): Roughly the same period last year, you were at $104.
(voice-over): Hawaii's electricity rates are the highest in the nation. To compare Chandler's costs from a year ago to now is to see a dramatic cut.
KING (on-screen): It's down to $45.
(voice-over): A big financial plus on top of the satisfaction she gets from learning daily the environmental benefits of generating clean power.
CHANDLER: They have these cute little things about how I have saved as if I was planting four trees or not driving 415 miles. And -- and so you get to see each day what your energy production is. Why everybody doesn't do this I don't quite understand.
KING: As the climate change debate ripples in Washington and around the world, Hawaii is in the early stages of a dramatic energy evolution. At the moment, imported oil accounts for 90 percent of the state's energy needs, one reason power costs are so high. The state's ambitious goal is to generate 70 percent of its power from clean sources within 20 years, and it is looking everywhere, including at the breathtaking ocean that brings so many tourists to Hawaii's beaches. TOM WILKOLAK, COO, HONOLULU SEAWATER AIR CONDITIONING: We take cold seawater from about -- we go out about 20,000 feet, about four miles. And that allows us to get to a depth of 1,750 feet.
KING: Tom Wilkolak is chief operating officer of Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning, a $200 million project slated to be online in two years and to use a loop of cold seawater to cool roughly 40 of the downtown's largest buildings.
(on-screen): Any idea how many barrels of oil that ought to save?
WILKOLAK: About 178,000 barrels a year.
KING (voice-over): Wind is another ample resource, though many islanders bristled at the thought of blocking their majestic views. But objections to this 20-turbine wind farm in Maui diminished when oil was in the $150-a-barrel range a few years back.
NOE KALIPI, FIRST WIND: That was very helpful to everyone's understanding of how important clean energy is.
KING: These turbines use sensors to turn automatically into the shifting winds. And First Wind's Noe Kalipi says the 20 on this site power about 11,000 homes on Maui, roughly 10 percent of the island's needs.
KALIPI: I think they're a very important piece of the future. They're valid, tangible proof that we can harness robust renewable resources to be able to generate electricity for our use.
KING: A new energy source, but only a modest economic boost. About 200 jobs were created for construction, but this site has only seven full-time workers.
(UNKNOWN): We can stop it and start it.
KING: A computer system in the base keeps track of the energy output, and a ladder takes you nearly 200 feet up to the turbine itself.
(on-screen): How much electricity can this generate?
(UNKNOWN): It's 1.5 megawatts.
KING (voice-over): Just a few more steps, and it is out the hatch...
(on-screen): Kind of pretty, actually. If you look around, you get the water over here.
(voice-over): ... for a bird's-eye view of the wind at work, of Hawaii's energy evolution and of its breathtaking landscape.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: It is a beautiful, beautiful view, trust me. As you know, one of our goals is to get out of Washington as often as we can. We've made it our pledge, on "State of the Union," to travel to all 50 states in our first year. So far we're on track. We've been to 48; that leaves just two, Utah and Wyoming. Check out CNN.com/stateoftheunion, where you can see what we've learned when we've traveled to your community.
We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. And If you missed any part of our program today, tune in tonight at 11 p.m. Eastern when we will lead off CNN's live coverage of the health care debate.
Until then, I'm John King in Washington. Please take care.