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CNN NEWSROOM

Health Care Bill Closer to Passage; From Gitmo to the Heartland; Pregnancy Punishment

Aired December 22, 2009 - 12:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And time now for your top-of-the-hour reset.

I'm Tony Harris in the CNN NEWSROOM.

It is noon on Capitol Hill, where the Senate health care reform bill inches closer to final passage. We will take you there live.

Plus, 11:00 a.m. in Chicago, where state lawmakers are hearing opposing views on bringing terror detainees from Gitmo to the heartland.

And 11:00 a.m. in Houston, Texas, too, where an American astronaut is preparing for routine work and unexpected dangers in space.

Let's do this -- let's get started.

The White House says overhauling health care is no longer a question of if, but when. The Senate reform bill moved closer to passage today when it cleared the second of three procedural hurdles.

Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is following developments for us on Capitol Hill.

Dana, great to see you. Tell us about these early morning Senate votes, if you would, please.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just several other votes on I think what's fair to say limp on the way to the Democrats' victory line, and that is that final passage vote that we do still expect, Tony, on Christmas Eve.

There were just a couple of votes. One, I think the most important, was to formally accept that compromise that Democrats agreed to. It already had gotten the necessary 60 votes to pass the procedural vote at 1:00 a.m. on Monday morning. This was just to formally accept it.

So the next big vote we expect probably will be tomorrow or the next day to end debate, and that will also require 60, and then final passage. But, look, Democrats are trying to keep the momentum going, despite the exhaustion, despite the tension around here, and trying to bring Christmas into their talking points.

Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: With apologies to Santa Claus, Christmas is going to be kind of anticlimactic this year, because we've already gotten the best possible gift, 60 votes in the United States Senate to create a health care system that works for all Americans, not just the healthy and the wealthy.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, the questions that everybody are asking at this point is, when will this be finished? Will the Republicans relent and allow a final vote perhaps tomorrow and not Christmas Eve? And so far the answer has been no.

And the reason is because they firmly believe that they are getting real political mileage out of showing that they're doing what they can, despite the fact that they are outnumbered -- and they really are outnumbered -- doing what they can, using the Senate rules to slow this health care train as much as they can. And at this point they don't look like they're going to stop.

HARRIS: Right. Hey, Dana, when all is said and done, a lot of work still remains to be done in the conference committee to reconcile the House bill and the Senate bill. Correct?

BASH: Absolutely. I mean, look, most of the bills, if you talk to Democrats, they are very similar, the House and the Senate, but the reality is there are a few very big, very explosive differences that's going to be pretty hard for Democrats to reconcile. Let's look at a couple.

First and foremost, the issue of abortion. The House passed a bill that has very strict restrictions. It does not allow abortion coverage unless there's a separate rider.

In the Senate, abortion coverage is allowed in private plans as long as people pay for that coverage with a separate check, essentially. The whole goal of everybody is to avoid using taxpayer dollars for this, but the means to get there is very, very different.

Now, on the issue of taxes, how you pay for a large portion of this health care bill, in the House they put an excise tax on virtually all if the wealthiest Americans. Not in the Senate. Many senators oppose that. In the Senate, there is a tax on high-cost, so- called Cadillac plans. The unions, especially, the very important powerful group in the Democratic Party, they oppose that, because unions, many of them, have pretty good health care plans.

So, that's a fight there. And, of course, the public option, Tony.

HARRIS: Oh, yes. BASH: That is what we've been talking about for months and months. The House has a public option. The Senate, as we know, does not. Talking to Democratic sources, it looks like it is pretty safe to say at this point the public option is not going to be in the final bill to the president, because, as we know, it can't pass the Senate.

HARRIS: It can't pass the Senate. OK.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, for us.

Dana, good to see you. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

HARRIS: Checking the wire now and the day's other top stories.

President Obama talks about jobs, the economy and health care during an appearance on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show." The president told the radio show audience that those who are struggling in the current economy will benefit from health care reform, and he talked about what's next on his agenda.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody stands to gain more from this health care bill passing. You know, of the 30 million people who are going to get health insurance through this deal, it's going to be disproportionately people who are, you know, of low income, they work every day, but they're not getting health care. So that's going to be in place.

But then, next year, we've also got to focus on things like the education reforms that we've been initiating, additional child care dollars, setting up green jobs so that we can train some of those young men on the streets to weatherize home and put up insulation and put up new windows that saves people on their energy bills, but also starts refurbishing and revitalizing communities that have been neglected for too long.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HARRIS: An end might be in sight to the tug-of-war between an American dad and Brazil over the fate of the man's 9-year-old son. Brazil's supreme court could decide today whether to uphold a lower court ruling and reunite David Goldman with his son Sean. Goldman's five-year legal fight has been filled with twists, turns, and a lot of allegations, as you can tell from this exchange...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGIO TOSTES, ATTORNEY FOR SEAN GOLDMAN'S BRAZILIAN FAMILY: I have invited him to spend Christmas with Sean so that he can see with his own eyes the environment in which Sean lives. There is no torture whatsoever. I invited Mr. Goldman. I have not received a response for him. DAVID GOLDMAN, SEAN'S FATHER: How about a new beginning? How about, let's go home for Christmas? Didn't we just get a record snowfall?

Let's go home. Let's go home with your dad and your cousins and your other grandmother and grandfather who have been forcefully shut out of your life by an illegal abduction. Let's come home and have Christmas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: OK. As we have told you, Goldman's ordeal started five years ago, when his wife took their son to Rio on vacation. She never returned, and divorced Goldman and remarried. She died last year.

A controversial plan to bring terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the nation's heartland, the focus of a hearing going on right now. Illinois lawmakers listening to both sides of the issue.

CNN's Cheryl Jackson following the story for us from Chicago.

Cheryl, good to see you.

My understanding is that you toured the facility today. How would you describe it?

CHERYL JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, we got an idea what supermax really means -- every door locked and double locked behind you. There are narrow pathways connecting every building with 12 feet of chain-link fence, with two feet of razor wire on top of them.

Now, we walked out, and the most shocking things may have been the signage, signs telling prisoners to sit down if they hear gunshots, and promising to shoot anything down that flies in the airspace. We were able to actually go inside the cells, cement cells. Each of them have two beds in them; 1,600 cells all in all.

Now, we saw the miles and miles of plumbing that many people feel here will be the answer to one of their economic problems. When the prison was first built, the community went into debt to build a water treatment plant. They thought this prison would pay for it. When it didn't, they still owe that debt, so now they feel prisoners in here will pay that debt back.

Now, you have the community as divided, though, because you have some people who say they do not want alleged terrorists in their neighborhoods. Now, the Obama administration has promised that anybody who comes here will stay here.

HARRIS: Yes.

JACKSON: Even though this is a supermax facility, they say they will put another fence around the perimeter, they'll keep the prisoners here by having the adequate medical care so they'll never have to leave. But the community is divided. We're covering that hearing a little bit later. I think you'll hear some of the protesting.

HARRIS: Yes. Hey, Cheryl, if it opens and you get some of those Gitmo detainees there, what kind of income is that transfer likely to generate for Thomson?

JACKSON: Well, they expect it to generate a billion dollars in the first four years.

HARRIS: A billion dollars. All right.

Cheryl Jackson for us. And can't wait to hear what comes out of the hearing today.

Cheryl Jackson for us in Chicago -- actually, Thomson, Illinois.

And CNN has spoken, as you know, to many residents in Thomson, Illinois, about whether the terror suspects should be brought to this their town. Among them, Army Reservists Jason Stahl, who was one of the first MPs at Guantanamo Bay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON STAHL, U.S. ARMY RESERVES: We traveled 3,000 miles to Cuba to care for them down there, and now they're flying 3,000 miles to sit in my back yard up here. You had so much aggression, so much anger after what happened after 9/11, and you didn't know how to act.

You had to maintain your military bearing. There's rules and there's guidelines that we have to follow, and it's our job down there to keep them safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Stahl, as you can hear for yourself here, strongly opposes bringing the detainees here. He believes the prison can safely guard them, but says their presence will make his community a more visible terrorism target.

A warning for troops in the war zone -- get pregnant or get a comrade pregnant, and face a court-martial.

First, though, our "Random Moment" in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: OK. You ready?

Time now for our "Random Moment of the Day." Why? Because we can.

This one comes to us courtesy of Illinois Senator Roland Burris. He took to the Senate floor to spread a little holiday cheer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: So, in the spirit of the season, Mr. President, I would like to share my own version of a classic holiday story with my good friends on both sides of the aisle. And it goes something like this, Mr. President -- It was the night before Christmas...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Oh, no, no, no. Stop, stop, stop.

The senator then launched into a partisan version of the popular poem that went on for several minutes. You may recall that Burris started his Senate career in the middle of a controversy back in January -- you remember these pictures?

He was told his credentials were not in order. Burris was appointed by Illinois governor -- then-Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, who was accused of trying to sell the Senate seat.

Senator Roland Burris, our "Random Moment of the Day," a gift that keeps on giving.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: OK. The United States, as you know, is locked in two wars, troop strength is stretched thin. Now the top U.S. general in northern Iraq has come up with a solution to keep his ranks strong -- court-martial the women under his command who get pregnant.

Our Barbara Starr is following this story at the Pentagon.

Boy, interesting. We need to talk about this for a few moments here, Barbara. Just what is this new order all about?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, Major General Anthony Cucolo, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, is about to answer reporters' questions about all of this in just about 15 minutes. And the word out in the Pentagon hallways is General Cucolo may -- just may -- be backing off a little bit, because this order has gotten a lot of attention.

He issued an order saying that if women under his command, female soldiers, became pregnant, they could, theoretically, face a court- martial and, theoretically, go to jail. No one's ever heard of anything like this before, so it got a lot of attention.

General Cucolo may now be ready to say, we are told, that he has no intention of court-martialing anybody, but he will punish, reprimand female soldiers. General Cucolo's reasoning, Tony, is, as the drawdown begins in northern Iraq, his unit, his 22,000-man unit, is stretched to the limit. Female soldiers, he says, perform vital jobs. If they become pregnant and have to be sent home, somebody else has to pick up that work, has to pick up that slack, and he's trying to prevent that from happening.

So far, since they arrived in Iraq, four female soldiers at least have become pregnant, have been disciplined, reprimanded for all of this. Nobody court-martialed yet, but that whole notion of court- martialing a woman for becoming pregnant is something that's getting a lot of attention -- Tony.

HARRIS: Yes. And Barbara, I'm just curious, are male soldiers impacted by this new directive which may be changing?

STARR: Yes, you bet they are. Under what General Cucolo had laid out, it would be a female soldier for becoming pregnant or a male soldier for impregnating another soldier. Either one could be punished.

General Cucolo had said that he wants soldiers to understand the consequences of their actions, and that's what he was really trying to achieve. But I have to tell you, there's no indication at this point that such an order would be extended to other units in Iraq or military units in Afghanistan. There's no great rush to broaden this kind of action to other units in the field -- Tony.

HARRIS: Curious as to what we will hear from the major general here shortly.

Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr for us.

Barbara, appreciate it. Thank you.

STARR: Sure.

HARRIS: So, how do female soldiers actually feel about this new order?

Our Erica Hill spoke to one who sees both sides of the coin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Kayla Williams is a former Army sergeant.

What's your reaction to this, initially, your gut reaction?

SGT. KAYLA WILLIAMS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I actually have mixed feelings on it. On the one hand, when I was in the military, I was told that if we were sunburned so badly that we couldn't perform our duties, that we could face punishment. And in some ways, they're roughly analogous.

Both pregnancy and severe sunburn can result from activities that are authorized, that should be preventable using available precautionary measures, and that can happen anyway despite your best efforts to avoid them. So, the concept of having this type of punishment as a deterrent about risky behaviors that can prevent you from doing your mission, I understand.

On the other hand, my three major concerns are the prevalence of sexual assault, which is notoriously difficult to prove, as well as the unavailability of emergency contraception such as Plan B, and finally, the fact that if a woman and the father -- if both parents are in jail, this could provide serious detrimental effects on the child that results from the pregnancy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Yes, good points.

To repeat, this new order only applies to U.S. troops in northern Iraq and may be changing here soon. We'll continue to follow this story. Normal Army practice is to send pregnant soldiers home from the battlefield.

And just moments ago, we received some tape of the president's meeting with community bankers. At the end of the meeting, he was asked whether he was delaying his Christmas vacation because of the health care vote in the U.S. Senate.

Here's his reply...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You know, I will not leave until my friends in the Senate have completed their work. My attitude is, is that if they're making these sacrifices to provide health care to all Americans, then the least I can do is to be around and provide them any encouragement and last-minute help where necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: All right.

And still to come in the NEWSROOM, as the East Coast of the country digs out from record-setting snowfall, the West Coast is bracing for the latest storm that's brewing. What will all this mean for your holiday travel?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's get you caught up on our top stories now.

Rudy Giuliani is expected to endorse Republican Rick Lazio for governor of New York. The former New York City mayor has scheduled a news conference for 2:30 p.m. Eastern today. Democratic Governor David Paterson is seeking a full term in next year's election.

Another ambush-style attack on law enforcement officers in Washington State, in the same county where four policemen were killed last month. Two Pierce County deputies were wounded last night responding to a domestic dispute between two brothers at a home near Eatonville. Officials say this man opened fire and the deputies shot back, killing him.

President Obama on the passing of Ann Nixon Cooper, the 107-year- old woman he honored during his election night speech. In a statement released just last hour, Mr. Obama called her an inspiration, saying, "She saw both the brightest lights of our nation's history and some of its darkest."

Cooper was born before blacks or women had the right to vote.

We will get another check of our top stories coming up for you in 20 minutes.

Let's get a check of weather here in just a moment. But first, I want to show you this, iReport.

How about this? When there's a good bit of snow on the ground and the trains and the buses are packed, here's what you do in the nation's capital. Boy, you do a little skiing, right? And you do a little jogging around Capitol Hill.

This iReport from Javier Garcia, and this exactly what he's been seeing.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: Fighting inequity with stuffed animals? A 6-year-old's mission to create and give away 1,000 teddy bears.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Love that open.

Call him Santa's little helper. A 6-year-old boy is building 1,000 bears for needy children in New Jersey.

Photojournalist Jonathan Oburn (ph) has today's "Giving in Focus."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went to a line of Build-A-Bears that didn't believe that a 6-year-old boy could build 1,000 bears. I think most people should have a bear. Some people want them to maybe play with or sleep with or something.

Stuffing goes inside this little tiny hole in the bear. We put it in that machine. And I want someone to use it. It comes out of the little tube over there.

When I was 5 years old, I asked my dad if everyone in the world had a bear like mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, "No, Justin. Everybody doesn't have a bear like you do." He asked me if he could give away all his old bears.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he said, "Well, can I go make some bears?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, my dad said, "How many?" And I said, "A thousand."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was his idea. And I'm getting a little choked up right now, because every time I talk about it, like I said, I can't emphasize how proud I am of him. He's doing a really good job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have kids come in all the time and say, you know, "I want 100 bears." "I want 10 bears." Or "I want a thousand bears."

So we're sort of used to this request. You know?

In this case, it was sort of like, oh, OK, so you really want 1,000 bears?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now we have about 411 bears. With the bears he made today, it's about 460, 470. We have over a month to make about 450 more bears. He really takes pride and interest in every bear. If he doesn't like the outfit, he doesn't think the kid is going to like the outfit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's delivery day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every student here today is going to get a Build-A-Bear decorated by Justin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be 2,000 bears in two years. It's about him, and it's about what he started. It's kind of become like a little movie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just like giving the bears out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As long as he wants to do the 1,000 bears, we're definitely committed to 1,000 bears every year he wants to do this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Love that story. And you can hear more about Justin's mission and other inspirational stories in CNN's hour-long special, "Giving in Focus." It airs Christmas Day at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, and there's an encore presentation for you on December 26th at 3:00 p.m.

Pretty packages with gift wrap and bows. Oh, is that the great Mariah Carey? Yes, it is. OK.

The anticipation is agonizing. "What's in the box? What's in the box?"

This season, I want to know, what's your all-time favorite holiday gift? Share it with me, the gift, at CNN.com/Tony.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS: All right. Once again, want to get you to CNNMoney.com. The lead story there, another big leap for home sales. It appears existing home sales up considerably, thanks, in large part, to the tax credit that's been extended.

As always, CNNMoney.com for the best, latest financial news and analysis.

Let's get you to the New York Stock Exchange right now. Three hours into the trading day. And we've been stuck right in this range here. Positive gains, to be sure. We're up 42 points. And, let's see, the Nasdaq is up nine. We're following these numbers with Susan Lisovicz for you throughout the day here in the NEWSROOM.

Struggling to pay the mortgage. It is a tough reality for many Americans. Some have had their loans modified to ease the burden. Our Christine Romans looks at whether that's really helping.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Tony, to default is to be behind on your mortgage payments. Re-default is to fall behind again even after you've had that loan restructured to help you. New evidence, and really no surprise here, Tony, that if you lower the monthly payments for distressed homeowners enough, they will have a better chance of paying their bills.

For months we've been watching worrisome re-default rates. In the second quarter of 2008, almost a third of all homeowners with restructured loans, well, they ended up in trouble again anyways three months later. By the second quarter this year, according to banking regulators, that re-default rate had fallen to 18.7 percent. They say it's because this spring the government directed banks to do more, to make new loan payments for troubled homeowners actually affordable. That means loan servicers more frequently lowered interest rates, extended the length of the loan and sometimes -- sometimes -- lowered the principal of the loan to make it more affordable.

Still, it's simply unknown how these loans will fare over the longer period of time. And the foreclosure crisis is epic. And 6.2 percent of homeowners are seriously delinquent, 60 or more days behind. That number is still rising and growing even faster.

It's the problem for prime borrowers. These are people who usually don't have any trouble paying their bills. And 6.3 percent of them are behind on their loans and that's up 19.6 percent.

Now, two things. One, without loans being modified, it's clear the housing crisis would be even worse. And, two, these numbers don't include President Obama's trial modification from this summer. Those loan payments were lowered to 31 percent of a person's gross pay. Regulators say they're hopeful they can keep the re-default rate down -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK. Christine, thank you.

What's more important, growing the economy and jobs or lowering the deficit? And do black Americans face a tougher job situation than whites? CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is joining us live from Washington with new poll numbers.

And, Gloria, good to see you again.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Tony, good to see you.

HARRIS: Got to dive in here because there are a couple things we want to get to here in the new numbers. What do Americans think about the economy right now?

BORGER: Well, you won't be surprised to learn that Americans think things aren't going so well, Tony.

HARRIS: Right. Right.

BORGER: Take a look at these polls. When we asked people about economic conditions today, 80 percent, eight out of 10, said things aren't going so well. But if you look back a year ago, that number was 93 percent. So it's a little bit better.

Now, a year from now, though, they're optimistic. They say things will be good, 58 percent. So the American spirit endures, Tony.

HARRIS: Yes. And, Gloria, next year, you know, one of the big economic fights will be over lowering the deficit versus stimulating the economy. I know the president has indicated he wants to get to work on lowering the deficit. What do Americans think?

BORGER: Well, Americans are really worried about their jobs, Tony. They're worried about the economy. They're also worried about the deficit. But when you look at these numbers, and we asked people, which is more important for the Obama administration, economic recovery, 57 percent. That means jobs. Reducing the deficit, 40 percent. You'll see about a year ago, reducing the deficit was only about 31 percent. So that concern is clearly inching up, Tony. But, again, it's jobs, jobs, jobs, getting back to work, and, you know, making sure that their future is secure.

HARRIS: I want to pivot to one other issue that I know we've get some polling numbers on, and we took up this issue yesterday. We'll get to a bit of that conversation that we had yesterday in just a moment. But how do black Americans feel about their job prospects in this difficult, tough economy?

BORGER: Well, they feel that it's more difficult for them to get a job for which they are qualified than it would be for a white person. We asked that question and -- do blacks have the same chance as whites to get jobs they're qualified for. Forty-five percent of blacks said yes. Fifty-four percent said no.

Now, we should point out, Tony, that while that figure is high, it is significantly down from similar polls that were taken in the 1990s.

HARRIS: I see. BORGER: So the number doesn't look good, but it's better than it used to be.

HARRIS: Got you.

Gloria, appreciate it.

BORGER: Sure.

HARRIS: It's good to have you on with these new poll numbers.

BORGER: Sure.

HARRIS: Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger for us.

As I mentioned a moment ago, we took up the issue of high unemployment rates in the African-American community yesterday. I spoke to National Urban League President Marc Morial searching for solutions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Chiefly, got to get that education gap closed. Got to get more African-Americans, particularly African-American males into higher education.

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: No question. There is no question, Tony, that long term educational attainment, job training, these sorts of things, are very, very crucial. And we're really talking about two things here. We're talking about what needs to be done in the short term and then what has to be done in the long term. And I think no one could have imagined two years ago that this recession would be as difficult. And while you see some growth in the economy, it's not fast enough and it's not enough to make sure that the human misery that's out there from joblessness is being addressed.

So I suggest, and we strongly believe, that we should do something sweeping. We should do something dramatic. Look, we bailed out Wall Street. It stabilized the banks. It stabilized the stock market. Now we need a main street jobs initiative that's going to put millions of Americans back to work. These are tough times, and during this holiday season, while it's the spirit of the season, that many, many people out there who are going to have a tough holiday season . . .

HARRIS: Absolutely.

MORIAL: Because they're without work or because they have family members without work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Falling home prices have pushed the value of home remodeling down for the fourth straight year. Before you hire a contractor to make home improvements, we will tell you which projects are worth the investment and which may not be. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Home sales surged last month, but prices continued to fall from a year ago. And that's pushing down the value of home remodeling projects for the fourth straight year. What's going on here? I think we understand it. Alison Kosik is in the CNNMoney newsroom in New York.

Alison, what are we to take from this? Renovating just doesn't pay off like it used to?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really doesn't in most cases, Tony. And, you know, this could be kind of discouraging for people who've already renovated their homes. But the fact is, people are getting less bang for their buck when it comes to home improvements.

Listen to this. The average remodeling job cost almost $51,000 this year, but added just $32,000 to the home's value. That's a return on investment of just 63.8 percent. That's down from 67 percent last year.

But there are some jobs with a better payoff, so don't lose faith. Small scale exterior projects are the most profitable at resale, because in this down market, it's all about adding to the home's first impression. It's what realtors call curb appeal. I'm talking about project like steel entry doors, upscale siding and wood deck additions recoup a good chunk of their cost.

And, remember, Tony, you may not get the dollars back, but the renovations could make the house easier to sell, so that is a plus in itself, Tony.

HARRIS: That's good information. Alison, what remodeling projects just aren't worth it?

KOSIK: Well, the study finds that the least profitable projects are home office remodels and sunroom additions. Major kitchen renovations are also low on the list. That's a big surprise, at least for a lot of people.

HARRIS: Yes.

KOSIK: I want you to check this out. An upscale kitchen redo costs almost $112,000 on average this year, but added only $70,000 to the home's value. That's just 63 percent of the cost.

Think about it. At the height of the housing boom in 2005, it was 80 percent. But, remember, resale value is not the primary reason why people decide to remodel. It's usually more of a personal decision, right? In fact, with the housing market so depressed, many people have decided to stay in their homes, spruce them up instead of settling for a lower sales price. So if an upscale kitchen is what you want and you can afford it, Tony, go for it. Just remember, when it comes time to sell, you may not get a big chunk of your investment back. If you want to read more details on this story, go to cnnmoney.com. And you can go ahead and follow us on Twitter as well, Tony.

HARRIS: That's terrific information. HGTV, are you watching?

Alison, appreciate it. Thank you.

And checking our top stories now.

The Senate health reform bill moves a step closer to passage. This morning the bill cleared the second of three procedural hurdles. Senators voted 62-39 to adopt the changes negotiated by Majority Leader Harry Reid. That keeps the bill on track for passage Christmas Eve.

The White House has a new cyber czar. Howard Schmidt will head up the government's cyber security unit. Schmidt is a former executive for eBay and Microsoft.

Boeing's pride and joy, and cause for a lot of headaches, is in the air right now on its second test flight. The first flight of the 787 Dreamliner was one week ago, you'll recall. That flight was cut short by bad weather. The first test flight was supposed to have happened two years ago.

Training for the final frontier. A CNN exclusive as one NASA astronaut prepares for her trip to the International Space Station.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Got to tell you, it is a new definition of tough. One American woman, two men, both from different countries, gearing up for a six-month stay in space. Even before next year's schedule blastoff, their grueling mission is already underway. Cady Coleman is an astronaut in training and one of our "Faces of the Story" today. Our John Zarrella gives us an up-close look at her training program.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, Cady Coleman is running.

CADY COLEMAN, NASA ASTRONAUT: Ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-huh.

ZARRELLA: While exercising her body, exercising her mind. A Russian language lesson on the run. So to speak. There's so much to do. A training marathon. This time next year, Astronaut Coleman will be living aboard the International Space Station.

COLEMAN: Now that we're like inside a year, it makes me feel like it really might happen after all.

ZARRELLA: At the Johnson Space Center, we caught up with Cady. Keeping up with her is another story. Meeting with the flight director's team.

COLEMAN: I'd like to be at the workstation.

ZARRELLA: A session simulating with computer animation, capturing a supply ship.

COLEMAN: Stay good range. Capture.

ZARRELLA: Then stuffed into a space suit.

COLEMAN: OK.

ZARRELLA: The 6 million gallon pool at the neutral buoyancy lab is as close as you can get on earth to zero gravity. Here astronauts rehearse space walks. On the bottom, segments of the station. An adult version of a kid's play space at a fast food restaurant.

COLEMAN: There's a set of scenarios that we make sure we do so that we can fix whatever we think is the most likely things to go wrong on the space station.

ZARRELLA: Her song's stuffed monkey goes everywhere with her.

COLEMAN: Hi, Jamey.

ZARRELLA: Well, not underwater. As she's lowered in, Cady jokingly holds her breath. Her dive, six hours.

COLEMAN: I'm doing the second of four bolts and then I still have caps to go.

ZARRELLA (on camera): This is a mock-up of the International Space Station. You know the astronauts, they prepare for every eventuality. Say Cady Coleman had to leave the station and fix something outside. Well, if the tether line that holds her to the station were to break, it's unlikely, but if it were to happen, they even prepare for that possibility and they use virtual reality.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): From what's called the God's-eye view, Coleman is seen tumbling away from the station. Her job, get back without using all the fuel in her jet pack.

COLEMAN: And handrail. So I think we've got structure here.

ZARRELLA: Next, I'm in the VR glasses, too. Cady's job? Rescue both of us.

COLEMAN: So we're still spinning around, John.

ZARRELLA (on camera): I'm watching it.

COLEMAN: OK. It's kind of -- I mean, I think in real life it would be fairly terrifying.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): You think? Of course she gets us back alive, but . . . ZARRELLA (on camera): Pull yourself. You left me out here to die! Thanks.

COLEMAN: I did not.

ZARRELLA: Thanks so much.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): So much to learn. All this knowledge she needs. Some she hopes never to use.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Cool stuff, huh?

Spending six months in space, however, you got to be a little crazy, huh? Well, not for the crew members of Expedition 26. We will hear from all three about how they're gearing up for the mission.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Six months in space. That's what American Cady Coleman and her two international space travelers will be doing next year. Our John Zarrella talks with all three about their tough training program and what lies ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Claustrophobic? Don't even consider it. There's no wiggle room inside the Soyuz spacecraft.

COLEMAN: And we're always in the same seat. (INAUDIBLE) on the left, commander in the middle and I'm on the right.

ZARRELLA: This is the Expedition 26 crew. For two days next year, as they hurtle towards a rendezvous with the International Space Station, the Soyuz will be home to Cady Coleman, Italian Paolo Nespoli and Russian Commander Dmitri Kondratyev. It's rare catching all three in the same place at the same time. The training schedule is brutal.

CMDR. DMITRI KONDRATYEV, EXPEDITION 26: And we have some time with Paolo and Cady in substitute with Paolo several weeks ago and with Cady maybe one month ago.

PAOLO NESPOLI, EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY ASTRONAUT: What gets me worse, I think, is the constantly changing of training environment and on top of that being jet-lagged.

ZARRELLA: On this trip to the Johnson Space Center, the three met together for the first time with their flight director and his team.

COLEMAN: But you should realize that both Dima and I had that training and Dima is somebody who lives, eats, and breathes robotics.

ZARRELLA: With their flight less than a year away now, planning for the six months they'll spend on the station is taking shape. Nespoli spends time in the virtual reality lab.

NESPOLI: Wow.

ZARRELLA: Here he gets a feel for what it feels like lifting a large mass in space. There's also a lesson for Cady and Paolo simulating with computer animation...

COLEMAN: Going to manual, blue to blue.

ZARRELLA: The capture of a cargo carrier using the station's robotic arm. Just as critical as polishing their skills, solidifying a bond.

KONDRATYEV: As for me, I've enjoyed every moment with -- in training with Cady.

COLEMAN: Good answer.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Are you going to say that, though, after -- you think you'll say that after six months in space with her?

KONDRATYEV: Hopefully I will.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Getting along is important. You can't bring much from home to keep you busy during down time. Get this -- the limit for personal items is a measly two pounds! Dmitri's packing family pictures and CDs. Paolo calls himself a minimalist.

NESPOLI: Maybe a kilo is too much, or two pounds is too much or something. I don't know. Maybe not. We will see. I have -- still have no good answer for that. And if you have any suggestion, I'll take it.

COLEMAN: I'm probably going to bring my flute with...

ZARRELLA (on camera): Bring your flute?

COLEMAN: Probably about two pounds right there.

ZARRELLA: OK.

Dima, you're going to have to put up with listening to her play the flute now.

KONDRATYEV: Sure. Of course.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Their selection to fly together, purely random. Now, permanently linked. The crew of Expedition 26.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Something tells me Cady can really play that flute.

John Zarrella joining us from Miami.

And, John, I've got to ask you, does Cady's training schedule allow her to be home for the holidays?

ZARRELLA: Yes, you know, in fact, she did get home this weekend. She tries to get home as often as she can. But, you're right, they train in Russia, they train in Houston, they train in Japan, they train in Germany, but she's home right now and she does play the flute and she'll going to play a little for us tomorrow on "American Morning," I think.

But I've got to tell you, she got home. They made some cookies, ginger bread cookies. She thought about making a ginger bread space station. She didn't get around to that. But we do have a picture of her son, Jamey, with an astronaut ornament that he has.

HARRIS: Oh.

ZARRELLA: And he was decorating the tree with astronaut ornaments and with an ornament -- there it is. And in the back you can see sort of a rocket ship ornament.

HARRIS: That's good.

ZARRELLA: That's kind of cool.

HARRIS: Yes, it is cool.

ZARRELLA: How come they don't have an anchorman ornament or a correspondent ornament? I don't understand that.

HARRIS: Because no one really cares. That's why, because no one -- hey, John, so are you going to be checking in with Cady during the course of this year as they get ready? Because that looks like a good group, a fun group.

ZARRELLA: Oh, they are. They're great. And, yes, we're following them for the entire year. We started a month ago. Right up through their launch from Baikonur, because they're going up on a Russian Soyuz rocket in a year, December 10th, because the shuttle program, as we all know, is ending. The only way to get to the space station is going to be on a Soyuz rocket. That's how they'll be going.

HARRIS: Man, that looks good. That looks like a lot of fun.

ZARRELLA: Yes.

HARRIS: And it looks like you're having a good time with them.

John Zarrella for us in Miami.

John, good to see you. Happy holidays. Thank you.

ZARRELLA: Thanks, Tony.

HARRIS: No belongings and a lot of questions. A Las Vegas woman says she was the victim of a horrible mistake. A foreclosure mistake that ended with all of her stuff in a dumpster. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: OK. We all make mistakes, right? But what happened to a woman in Las Vegas, boy, you may as well call this the mother of all mistakes. With all the unbelievable details, here's Amanda Hernandez of our Las Vegas affiliate KLAS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NILLY MAUCK, HOME TRASHED OUT: My dishes. Yes, they're gone.

AMANDA HERNANDEZ, KLAS REPORTER (voice-over): As Nilly Mauck walks around her dark and now empty condo, she can't help but remember how things used to look.

MAUCK: And over here I had my couch and the chair and my dining table over here.

HERNANDEZ: Every room here is empty and Mauck says the reason for it is a mistake of numbers. Her place is 1157, which is close to 1156. A condo that's in foreclosure. A few weeks ago, the foreclosed home was supposed to get the locks changed, but Mauck says that's not what happened.

MAUCK: I came home to pick up something and there was a note on my door from the Brenauk (ph) Team of Keller Williams (ph) stating that they accidentally rekeyed the wrong door.

HERNANDEZ: It was a problem Mauck thought was fixed until she came home to find a man going into her house.

MAUCK: We both walked in together. And I'm like, how in the world did he get in my door? I'm like, do you have the key to my house? He's like, yes, we rekeyed it.

HERNANDEZ: Mauck says everything in her home was missing.

MAUCK: Because I kept asking them, where did you take my things? Because I was ready to go out there and dumpster dive or something. You know, where are they? Where did you take it? They had no answer for me.

HERNANDEZ: Mauck says she later learned her home had been trashed out, a process done to foreclosures, where everything left inside is thrown away.

MAUCK: My clothes, baby pictures, wedding photos, my dishes, my towels, my jewelry. What else? Anything that you could possibly have in your house.

HERNANDEZ: Mauck says she finally found who made the mistake and contacted the Brenauk Team with Keller Williams Reality.

MAUCK: And I told her to give me $100,000 to $200,000 to replace my things because it's going to take time. That's actually being generous. And they're, like, OK, that's too much. They she called me the same day and told me that they only they were only willing to give me $5,000.

HERNANDEZ: Mauck is now staying with friends