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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY
Interview With Nancy Pelosi; Interview With Mitch McConnell
Aired February 28, 2010 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: One president, 17 Republicans, and 21 Democrats. There was bipartisan civility, there was bipartisan annoyance. Even no- drama Obama could not hide frequent bouts of frustration. People argue about who won the day, but no one argues all those lawmakers and all those hours added up to no bipartisan agreement. It looks like the Democrats will go it along if they can, a big if.
I'm Candy Crowley and this is "State of the Union."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: The bill can be bipartisan, even though the votes might not be bipartisan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the way forward as Democrats try to pass health care reform without Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: We know from the polling that's been done in this country how the American people feel. We know how they feel about this. This is not a close call.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the cost of saying no.
Plus, two reporters examine this latest health care standoff and what it means for your family's future.
You won't find many Americans who could or would sit and watch a policy debate for seven hours, so to set the stage for our guests today, here is seven hours in two minutes.
OBAMA: I would like to make sure that this discussion is actually a discussion, and not just us trading talking points. And we will just open it up and start that way, all right?
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN.: We believe we have a better idea. PELOSI: This bill is not only about the health security in America, it's about jobs.
SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: Health reform should not be about political parties fighting each other.
ALEXANDER: We have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper.
REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO: Let's start with a clean sheet of paper.
MCCONNELL: Start over with a blank piece of paper.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Both of us during the campaign promised change in Washington. Unfortunately, this product was not produced in that fashion.
OBAMA: Let me just guess, that's the 2,400-page health care bill.
BOEHNER: This 2,700-page bill will bankrupt our country.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, D-N.Y.: I don't really think that someone sick in the emergency room is concerned about the size of the bill.
ALEXANDER: We don't do comprehensive well.
(UNKNOWN): The better approach is to go step by step.
REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-VA: You go step by step.
(UNKNOWN): And an incremental approach is like a swimmer who's 50 feet offshore drowning, and you throw him a 10-foot rope.
OBAMA: There actually is some significant agreement.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-MONT.: We are not really that far apart.
(UNKNOWN): Frankly, we may be closer together than people really think.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: We agree with most of them.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: There is a lot of agreement.
(UNKNOWN): We agree with that.
(UNKNOWN): We don't agree with that.
(UNKNOWN): We are vehemently opposed to this.
(UNKNOWN): Where our big disagreement is--
SEN. JON KYL, R-ARIZ.: Fundamental differences. (UNKNOWN): Structural differences.
CANTOR: We don't care for this bill. I think you know that.
OBAMA: Is there enough serious effort that in a month's time or a few weeks' time, or six weeks's time we could actually resolve something? And if we can't, then I think we have got to go ahead and make some decisions, and then that's what elections are for.
CROWLEY: The president will announce this week what the White House calls the way forward. He is expected to incorporate some Republican ideas into the health care plan written by Democrats. Unless there are significant changes, it's pretty clear Democrats will go forward by themselves, and the woman who has to make that happen is the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. We spoke in her Capitol office.
CROWLEY: First of all, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
PELOSI: My pleasure. Congratulations to you.
CROWLEY: Thank you. Thank you.
I want to ask you the first post-summit question that I have gotten and many of them since. What now?
PELOSI: What now? We go from here. We are focused on substance. The president has put forth on the Internet what he thinks is the best thinking, House, Senate. And may I remind you that those bills have over 100 Republican amendments in them, and then some of his own ideas. After listening yesterday, on Thursday at the summit, now we will see what other ideas we can expand to taking some of the Republican suggestions if that works for the American people. And when we have the substance, then we will see where we go from there. But right now, it's about policy.
CROWLEY: I want to play you something that happened yesterday, and then just ask you a question about the next step in the procedure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: I expect all of you are expects on what the people in your districts think. They have followed this debate like no other, and they have rendered a judgment about what we have attempted to do so far. The solution to that is to put that on the shelf and to start over with a blank piece of paper and go step by step to see what we can agree on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: So let's get real here. You are not going to get Republican support for this bill. You may, as you say, have Republican amendments in there, but you are not going to get it. So it comes down to you and what can you do. Right now, if you had to vote on the parameters of the president's bill, do you have the votes?
PELOSI: Well, we don't have the substance of our bill yet. When we have the bill, we'll see what the Senate can do, and then the House will act upon that.
But let me just say that yesterday was the bookend. One year ago, March 5th, the president had a summit, a bipartisan summit. We were all very hopeful that we could come to consensus. At that time, we were advocating a public option, as the president said at the time, to keep the insurance companies honest and to increase competition, which would be good for the consumer. A year later, we are closer to what the Republicans were suggesting at that time -- an exchange, and not a public option. So this legislation has accommodated many of their views. Even though we may not get their vote, it may -- accommodates many of their views.
CROWLEY: But has it accommodated too much? And I ask you this, on the abortion language that is in the Senate, which is pretty much mirrored by the president's proposal, you signaled a couple of times you can live with that. But you know that you have Congressman Stupak and others who can't live with that, which cuts into your ability to get together a majority, doesn't it?
PELOSI: I don't like the Senate language because I am pro- choice, and -- but it meets the test, and the test is our law says there is no federal funding of abortion, and we will not have it in this bill. Any representation to the contrary is not a fact.
Secondly, that we will not diminish or increase the opportunity for abortion, and this bill does not do that.
And third, we are going to pass a health care bill. So the compromise language -- the language in the Senate bill I don't think makes everybody happy, but the fact is, it honors those principles of no federal funding of abortion, no expansion or diminution of abortion rights, and it moves us toward passing a bill.
CROWLEY: But you will lose some Democrats on that language if it stays the way it is.
PELOSI: We don't know. We don't -- we will see what the substance is. You know, there are many aspects to this legislation. This bill is not about abortion. This bill is about innovation, it's about prevention, it's about all kinds of things that are very positive as we go forward. Quality health care for many more Americans, holding the insurance companies accountable. It's -- it's -- when the public sees what is in this bill, because they by and large approve of each of the provisions, and when we show them what the priorities are that have been boiled down to -- this is a much smaller bill than we started with. What it's been boiled down to, what it means to them as they sit around their kitchen table rather than us sitting around a table at Blair House, I think that we will have a very positive result, and it will be great for the American people. CROWLEY: But you know, because you have heard from some of these House members, I am sure, who come to you and say I can't live with this or I am getting nailed back in my district for this, that it's going to be a bit of a chore, isn't it, to bring both the left and the moderate side of your party together for this?
PELOSI: Candy, every bill here is a heavy lift. Every bill is a heavy lift. There has not been one easy vote.
CROWLEY: Would you vote for the president's outline of the bill right now as he put out on the Internet? Would you vote for it?
PELOSI: I like what the president has done. I want to make sure that we have -- we have three criteria for us in the House. Affordability for the middle class, and I think we can do a little better on the affordability. I don't know, we'll have to examine the language very carefully. Accountability of the insurance companies, and the president is very good on that. And accessibility to many more people, and he certainly is there. So we just want to make sure the affordability language is as strong as it needs to be.
But let me say what I think was important about yesterday in relationship to your question. Yesterday it became clear that the Democrats and the president were for holding the insurance companies accountable, for more regulation of the insurance companies. Left to their own devices, they had behaved very poorly and hurt the American people. And the Republicans are not.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you about bipartisanship, because a lot of people did look at the Thursday bipartisan summit and say, well, why didn't they do this a long time ago? Because while they did meet, it wasn't like this. And now it's really pretty much too late. I mean, they can amend, but it wasn't -- why didn't you at the very beginning say, come on in here, Congressman Boehner, come on in here, Congressman Pence, let's sit down. Where do we start on the health care bill?
CROWLEY: Not to kind of present a package, and then say, well, amend it if you want?
PELOSI: That isn't the way it happened. The president called us together last March 5th, and we left that room very hopeful. We went into the legislative process. Hundreds of hours of hearings and bill- writing and all the rest where the Republicans made their suggestions.
We know that one of the reasons we did not have a bill in the fall is because the president wanted to give the Senate more time to arrive at bipartisanship in the Senate bill, which he thought might be possible then. The house had said right from the start they were never going to vote for any bill. But he thought there was some prospects in the Senate.
And so what we've had is the year of trying to strive for bipartisanship. As I say, over a hundred Republican amendments in the bill, and the Republicans placed their own bill on the floor here in the House, which insured 3 million. Our bill insures over 30 million. So we have a different value system here.
But they have had plenty of opportunity to make their voices heard. And if they wanted to truly have -- bipartisanship is a two- way street. But let me say this, the bill can be bipartisan even though the votes might not be bipartisan. Because they have made their imprint on this. As I say, we were all for public option. We are now going with a Republican idea, an exchange. That's a very big, a very big difference.
CROWLEY: Right. But a lot of Democrats were against the public option on the Senate...
PELOSI: Not a lot. Not a lot. The insurance companies...
CROWLEY: ... enough to kill it on the Senate side.
PELOSI: The insurance industry was against the public option. The insurance industry was against the public option.
In any event, there is no public option on the table now.
CROWLEY: When we looked at our polling numbers just from yesterday, we had almost three-quarters of Americans who said they need to drop this bill, just stop talking about health care and move on to something else or they need to start new. So don't the Republicans have a point? PELOSI: The point is, is that we have a responsibility here, and the Republicans have had a field day going out there and misrepresenting what is in the bill, but that's what they do. That's what...
CROWLEY: So it has been messaging thing?
PELOSI: ... they do. No...
CROWLEY: You think people don't understand the bill?
PELOSI: No, I don't think -- there isn't a bill. When we have a bill, which we will in a matter of days, then that is the bill that we can sell. Our bill, the House and the Senate bill, had some major differences which we're hoping now to reconcile.
And then when we have a bill -- as I say, you can bake the pie, you can sell the pie, but you have to have a pie to sell. And when we do, we will take it out there.
I feel very confident about what is in there, because if you are concerned about having access to health care, as most Americans are around their kitchen tables, then they will have access to health care.
CROWLEY: Let me talk politics one more time. And this comes from that health care summit as well. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYL: We do not agree about the fundamental question of who should be mostly in charge, and you identified this question as central. Do you trust the states or do you trust Washington? Do you trust patients and doctors make the decision or do you trust Washington?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Bottom line, that's a good message in an election year. That -- you know, I know you will argue with this not about a government takeover, but just the message itself at a time when people are quite angry with Washington, the populist message, the message of a big government takeover, we are now looking at a political situation that we were not looking at a year ago, the possibility that has been out there that perhaps you won't be speaker after next November, perhaps there will be a Republican takeover.
How likely is that? And why is that?
PELOSI: Well, first, let me address the comment that was made there. This is about a doctor and patient making a decision over Washington. That's not the choice. Right now the choice is a doctor and patient making a decision or the insurance company making a decision. And we are saying the doctor and patient should make the decision and the insurance company should not come between that. That's what this is about. It's about regulating the insurance company and their role in all of this. Our members have a proud record of achievement starting with the recovery package last year which created jobs in their district, a first bill to -- if you are a woman, to end discrimination in the workplace; if you are a child, to have access to quality health care. The list goes on and on.
CROWLEY: Do you think that you will lose seats?
PELOSI: Well, the election is not today. I expect...
CROWLEY: Just looking at the landscape.
PELOSI: Let me just say it this way, the Democrats will retain the majority in the House of Representatives. We have a huge -- we have, what, 54-, 55-vote majority. We had a swing in the last two elections of 110 seats. We will -- I am not yielding one grain of sand. We are fighting for every seat.
But we are ready. And in the past when there have been these swings, it has been when people have not been ready. We've won our elections. We've won our special elections. We just recently took a seat that had never been Democratic since it was created at the time of the Civil War.
So Democrats are ready. We are confident about what we have done for the American people. We have to get out there. We have been working hard, now we have to go out. We said we were going to do certain things, we did them, and now we have to go talk about what we have done.
But it is -- we inherited a terrible mess from the Bush administration and their failed economic policies. And so we have -- now we are in charge, fully in charge, we have to create jobs. That's a four-letter word, we use it around here all the time, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. Provide access to quality health care for all Americans and stabilize the economy so that we don't have these swings.
So I'm very proud of our members. We have a very, very diverse caucus, and that's the beauty of it. I say the beauty is in the mix. We respect the views that they all bring to the table. We bring our consensus and soon what that consensus will result in: quality affordable health care for all Americans and more job creation.
CROWLEY: And like the president had said Thursday, that's what elections are all about.
PELOSI: What they're about.
CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Madam Speaker, I really appreciate it.
PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you.
CROWLEY: When we come back, we will be joined by the man spearheading the Republican effort, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
CROWLEY: ... Republican message to President Obama on health care, start over. But the president is signaling that is not going to happen. Joining us now from his home state of Kentucky is the Senate's top Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell.
Senator, thank you for joining us.
MCCONNELL: Good morning. And congratulations, Candy, on taking over the show.
CROWLEY: Thank you very much.
Let me start with your ending position after the summit. And that is, start over again.
CROWLEY: Short of that, is there any way the president can reconfigure this bill that would get your support?
MCCONNELL: I don't think so, Candy. I mean, this is a massive overhaul of one-sixth of the economy. Republicans just don't believe that half-a-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts and a half-a-trillion dollars in new taxes and possibly higher insurance premiums for all of those on the individual market is the definition of reform.
We -- we had a chance Thursday actually to display some of our brightest, most knowledgeable Republicans. I thought it was actually very good for us because it certainly refuted the notion that Republicans are not interested in this subject and not knowledgeable about it and don't have alternatives.
And we laid out a number of different things that we think will make a lot more sense, to go step by step to fix the cost problem. And also, it's important to remember, the American people do not want this bill. They have paid a lot of attention to this issue. They have focused on it like a laser for months. The surveys are...
CROWLEY: But if you took -- if you took something like malpractice reform, which you all have really wanted to put in there in a real form rather than just pilot programs here and there, suppose the president said, "Fine, let's have something meaningful in malpractice reform. We will put it in this bill," that's not enough to win Republican votes? I mean, you're still in the minority. You can't write the bills. People voted for Democrats. Why not just get as much as you can into it and vote for it?
MCCONNELL: Well, that would be great, but that's not enough to compensate for this massive government takeover of the -- of the U.S. health care system. It's just simply not symmetrical tradeoff, if you will. That would be a step in the right direction, but I don't think that that alone is going to get many of our votes.
CROWLEY: So you see a block of...
MCCONNELL: We think we ought to start over, Candy.
CROWLEY: I know. I understand. So you see, since he's not going to start over, it's done, it's -- you know, it's going to come up, all the Republicans are going to vote no on the Senate side?
MCCONNELL: Yes, I think that's right.
MCCONNELL: And I think they will pursue the -- the parliamentary device called reconciliation, which, in effect, as Senator Byrd, who wrote the budget law and who had something to say about the use of this device within the last year, he said it would be an outrage that must be resisted.
And why did he say that, Candy? He said it because you would have an unelected official, the Senate parliamentarian, appointed by the majority, basically determining what American health care is going to look like. And that's why Senator Byrd had that severe reaction to using this particular approach on this kind of massive restructuring of American society.
CROWLEY: He did, Senator. But I just want to -- and I know you've heard this argument -- I want to point something out to our viewers, and that is, since 1980, there have been 16 times that reconciliation was used under a Republican-controlled Senate and there were six times under a Democratic-controlled Senate.
So it's not all that unusual. The minority always hates it, because it takes away their filibuster power, but these were not just budget issues. This was welfare reform. These were the Bush tax cuts. These were things like that. And you voted for reconciliation.
So -- so, you know, beyond that, if we could get to the issue of what can you do -- you're going to vote no, but are their things within the parameters -- that the Democrats seem to be willing to go for reconciliation -- is there something that you all can do in that process to either slow this down or stop it?
MCCONNELL: Well, let's talk about the fairness of it. Just because it's been used before for lesser issues doesn't mean it's appropriate for this issue.
You had Senator Byrd himself, the president pro tem of the Senate, the former Democratic majority leader, saying within the last year to use this device for something like health care would be an outrage which must be resisted. That's a Democrat, Candy. That's not Republicans.
There are a number of other Republicans who do not think something of this magnitude ought to be jammed down the throats of a public that doesn't want it through this kind of device.
CROWLEY: You heard the speaker say, I think, that she thinks that this is basically in how it's been sold, that you all have gone out there and sold this as something as a huge government takeover, which it's not, that you've talked about how this is going to make the government the doctor.
Do you think that this has been a good sales job on your part? And might it just be that, if Americans find after they use whatever process is going to be used to get this passed, they may find that they like not having the insurance companies, for instance, being able to throw them off when they get sick or to say, OK, you've already gotten as much insurance as you can and you're capped out.
Aren't Americans going to like that? I mean, there are many desperate Americans. I know you hear them all the time when you go home.
MCCONNELL: Well, many of these insurance reforms we could pass on a bipartisan basis, but you wouldn't have to cut Medicare by half- a-trillion dollars, levy a half-a-trillion-dollar tax increase, put that on the side, and let's talk about insurance reform and legal reform, getting rid of junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. Those are the kinds of step-by-step reforms that we've been -- that we've been talking about.
And, by the way, on this process of reconciliation, Gallup asked the American people how they felt about it and asked the question in a very balanced way, and the results were just out a couple of days ago. The American people do not want us to use that kind of parliamentary device to jam this down their throats.
CROWLEY: Can we -- I want to talk about the political calculation here in a second, but I just want to go back to one question, and that is, is there something within reconciliation, which it does appear is going to happen despite the objections of the majority and some Democrats, that it will happen, is there something within that process that you can do?
MCCONNELL: Well, it won't surprise you to know that I wouldn't want to lay out in advance the various approaches that might be taken to prevent that from happening.
But, you know, I think in Washington they want to portray this as an argument between Democrats and Republicans. Actually, Candy, this is an argument between the Democrats and the American people.
We know the American people oppose this bill. They oppose using reconciliation to pass this bill. So this is really the Democratic majority in, frankly, a kind of arrogant way, saying we're smarter than you are, Americans, we're going to give this to you whether you want it or not.
CROWLEY: Given -- you've mentioned the polls a couple of times. You know, the news media lives and breathes on polls, and they're always important, but one of the calculations here, when people are looking at this, the critics of the Republican Party say the reason they're doing this is they have looked at those polls and they don't want to give the president a break, they don't want to move forward for this country because they believe this is an issue that's going to win them seats in November. Dissuade me of that.
MCCONNELL: Look, this is not about the president. This is about America's health care. This is not about the -- the Democrats even. It's about the American people.
And they have followed this issue, Candy, like no other. I don't think that everything we do ought to be poll-driven, but we've had a six-month, very detailed debate about this issue. Three hundred million Americans, regardless of age, care about their -- their health. They have really followed this like no other issue. They know what's going on. They do not want this package. And the majority is basically saying to the American people, "We're smarter than you are. You sort of sit down and shut up and get out of the way, and we're going to give this to you whether you want it or not."
CROWLEY: Senator, let me ask you a couple political questions in our closing minutes. The first is, do you think you're going to pick up Senate seats this November? How many?
MCCONNELL: Oh, gosh, who knows what the environment will be like in November? Obviously, we're optimistic. I think the elections in Virginia and New Jersey -- and particularly Massachusetts -- were encouraging.
But in the meantime, we need to be doing the people's business and not trying to predict what the environment may be in November. If the election were today, we'd have a very good day.
CROWLEY: And let me ask you about the Tea Party, which is -- the Republicans are trying to embrace, but it's proven difficult, because in some cases, in Senate races as well as in the House races, sitting congressmen and senators are being challenged on the right from the Tea Party. Do you think that the Tea Party helps the Republicans in every case?
MCCONNELL: I do. I think it's going to be -- it's an indication of the energy out in the country. A lot of people principally driven by this outrageous federal debt that we have are -- are energized and want to change the country.
Most of them are going to be participating in Republican primaries. Those primaries will determine who our nominees are in the fall. And then I think that energy will be beneficial to us, yes, I do.
CROWLEY: Senator Mitch McConnell, coming to us from his home state of Kentucky, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it, and I hope you'll come back.
MCCONNELL: Thank you.
CROWLEY: Up next, we're going to get some perspective from two terrific journalists who have been closely following this whole debate on health care. We will ask them how things are likely to pan out and, most importantly, what it all means for you.
CROWLEY: Joining us now to discuss the next step in the health care battle in Washington and what it means for you and your family, Ceci Connolly is the lead health care reporter for the Washington Post, Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, thanks both. I'm glad you're here.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
CROWLEY: So let me ask the "what next" question, because I think people are out there going, "Reconciliation means they're fighting"? I think it has this whole backwards feel to it. So the most simplistic terms you can give us, what happens next?
CONNOLLY: Well, if they proceed with this thing called reconciliation, it means that they would only need a simple majority, which is important in the Senate. Instead of the 60 votes to pass a filibuster, you'd only need 51.
This reconciliation bill would be -- think of it as the fixes. So in other words, the things that the House members don't like in the Senate bill -- and they've been doing some negotiating on -- this little reconciliation, some people call it a sidecar -- would be the fixes to that.
So it won't be the entire health care bill, but it would be many significant changes from what we've seen so far. And even though everybody says simple majority, as you well know, Candy, it ain't simple. CROWLEY: Simple. And it's not simple in the House, either. I think you -- I asked six ways from Sunday, do you have the votes, do you have the vote? But the House speaker says they're working on the substance. Do they have the votes?
WALTER: Well, I mean, I have to say, she deserves a tremendous amount of credit for getting the bill through the House in the first place, and she was right when she said we haven't had an easy vote yet, right? When you -- when you think about the energy bill and all of the stuff that's been pushed through, that's been very difficult.
The environment now is, obviously, even worse than it was in November. A lot of these members are getting polls back now for the first time and seeing what -- how health care is polling in their district, how their own re-election looks in their district. Things are not any better.
And the problem with reconciliation, of course, is -- and this is what I hear from a lot of members -- is that the policy piece -- we can do all these fixes, but the fact is, it will be overwrought by the -- by the process story, that you had to do all these deals and side deals and et cetera to get it done, and it just looks like, why should we trust you in the first place, because you had to go through all these hoops to...
CONNOLLY: I'm a little bit of two minds on that, Candy. On the one hand, I think that it is possible that it will play into an already strong sentiment out there that Washington is sort of in the backrooms cutting dirty deals. On the other hand, we all know this process has been used for many other pretty significant pieces of legislation, tax policy, the Medicare prescription drug benefit. So it's not unheard of, but it may just fuel that already frustration out there.
CROWLEY: Let me play you something just on a -- and I think it's part of why we see swings in the public opinion about this health care bill. This is from Thursday's summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER: The Congressional Budget Office report says that premiums will rise in the individual market as a result of the Senate bill.
OBAMA: No, no, no. Let me -- and this is -- this is an example of where we've got to get our facts straight. Here's what the Congressional Budget Office says. The costs for families for the same type of coverage as they're currently receiving would go down 14 percent to 20 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: I think this is why people just want to tear their hair out when they listen to Washington. And then all the fact checks came out and said, well, they're both right. So having -- having studied this -- and you're so all over this -- explain this. CONNOLLY: Well, and you're not going to like me, because there is a little bit of truth in both of these arguments. Here's the bottom line. This is total guesswork.
When you are talking about reshaping one-sixth of the U.S. economy, which is what the U.S. health system is, you're guessing. The Congressional Budget Office does it best at modeling.
What we do know is that under most of these bills, there is a belief that the terrible growth rate -- it's been double-digit increases for a lot of years -- would really be slowed down, they'd start to rein in some of those big increases, that if you're an individual who has to go out and shop around for your own health insurance, A, it would be easier, and it probably would be more affordable. But there are many Americans that would definitely be looking at higher health care bills. There's almost no way around that.
CROWLEY: And then...
WALTER: And that's the political problem, right, that we can say, all right, the process piece could go away, right, if by November we all woke up and said, isn't this great that a health care is passed, because now I can do all of these things that I couldn't do before?
There's not going to be an immediate benefit to anybody in this process, even if a bill is passed tomorrow, so that it's going to take that amount of time for these things that you say are, "Well, we don't really know exactly what it's going to look like," to play themselves out. That could help the president if things look better by 2012. Certainly for members of Congress who are on the line in -- you know, in November, that's not -- that's not so easy.
CROWLEY: This is Amy Walter and this is Ceci Connolly. We are going to be back with both of them right after this.
CROWLEY: We are talking with Ceci Connolly of The Washington Post and Hotline editor-in-chief Amy Walter.
All over the Hill this week, all I heard was, if it's not done by Easter, it's not getting done.
CONNOLLY: Well, and that's a reflection of we know Congress. First of all, they always need deadlines, but in the case of this health care debate, they've blown every single deadline.
And by Easter break, they have got to be focused 100 percent on their re-election campaigns.
I think, though, from a policy perspective, as somebody who has been looking at our health care system for a number of years now, there's a real sense that, if it doesn't happen this year, it will be another 15 years before we return to this very difficult subject. And these problems -- President Obama is right when he says they're not going to go away.
CROWLEY: What do you think, politically, they've got to -- I mean, don't they have to turn back to jobs?
I mean, that's the other thing I hear, is that people are going home and they're hearing about, you know, high unemployment and, you know...
WALTER: And then this is -- right, so this is the conundrum that they're in. They so, all right, if we don't get it done, then we go another generation before we get a health care bill. But we've spent a year doing this and not talking about jobs and the economy, and so we're going to get hit for it whether we pass it or we don't, because we either wasted too much time not talking about jobs and not passing something or we passed something, and then we get attacked for the -- maybe not even the substance, but the fact of the process of this bill.
It's, sort of, a lose-lose situation. There are a lot of Democrats that I talked to who say, we're going to get hit anyway; let's -- let's at least get some policy completed, make this vote, and then move forward and be able to talk about jobs and the economy.
CROWLEY: Would it be your bet they're going to have to bring this down to a smaller bill than what they've got now? CONNOLLY: There's a distinct possibility of that. Again, from the nerdy policy wonk perspective, health care gets tricky because there are so many interlocking pieces. And when you do one little thing, it has an impact on others. So small gets tricky, but there are certainly people that are thinking through smaller versions.
CROWLEY: We call that "the knee bone connected to the thigh bone theory of putting health policy together."
I want to show you a couple of polls that we have just out. One of them -- the question was, do most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected?
Thirty-four percent of Americans said sure, most of them deserve to be re-elected; 63 percent said no.
But look at this. "Does your member of Congress deserve to be re-elected?" Well, 51 percent said yes. I wouldn't say that's overwhelming.
And we see that all the time, you know, that, you know, your guy is better than all those other guys. But 51 percent -- if you're a Democrat and you're an incumbent and there's -- and most of the incumbents are Democrats up for re-election? Trouble?
WALTER: Right, and this is spread over nationally, right?
So you say, let's take that number of does your own member deserve to be re-elected in a swing district, as opposed to a very safe Democratic district, and that number is probably going to be upside down, 44 percent re-elect, 51 percent not.
The frustration goes beyond just the individual candidates. It's the whole body itself, right?
Unfortunately for Democrats, they run the place. So I know there is a lot of talk from Democrats -- I heard Speaker Pelosi say this -- about, you know, this is -- that Republicans, sort of, have to come forward and show us their ideas, that this anti-incumbent sentiment somehow is going to spread between -- you know, to Republicans as well as Democrats, but we all know that it's Democrats, and the voters know that it's Democrats who control the place. So they really will come down on them more so than the Republican Party.
CROWLEY: Well, and Amy is the expect on this, but I suspect there are going to be more retirements still to come this year, as well. A lot of them are just, kind of, fed up or they're in fear, right?
WALTER: And that's what they -- they see the numbers coming back. And it's funny, we are seeing a lot of retirements, too, from Republicans, which is interesting because you'd think, boy, not that long ago, when you told the party out of power that, hey, we have a chance to get back in majority, that would keep them from leaving, right; that was going to be a great incentive.
And now you're seeing just as many Republicans saying, it's not very fun to be here; as Democrats are saying, it's not worth it to go through another election.
So this place feels, for a lot of members, like it's just not worth coming back, whether they're majority or the minority.
CROWLEY: You know, I have some friends that think, if a health care bill is passed, the president's numbers will go up; Congress's number will go up, because they've done something. And the whole idea is what are they doing?
And then (inaudible) oh, yes, please, let's pass this thing and see what happens to the numbers? Do you have a sense of that at all?
CONNOLLY: I think it's tricky, but, listen, you always like to have a bill signing ceremony, with all of the hoopla. You certainly like to be talking about something that you've done, as opposed to wasting an entire year on.
The other thing is, if they pass a bill that provides health insurance to 30 million Americans, that's a big deal. We keep forgetting that, but that's a big deal to those people and a lot of other people out there right now who don't have health insurance. And I do think that the White House is pretty savvy about being able to go out and sell some of those things.
CROWLEY: They are. But how soon does that kick in?
CONNOLLY: Oh, yes...
CONNOLLY: ... it's going to take a little while.
CROWLEY: Are we talking about more than a year?
CONNOLLY: Yes, absolutely. It could take a period of a few years. But at least they would be talking about something positive, as opposed to the interminable reconciliation, cutting deals, compromising, whatever it is.
CROWLEY: In the end, is the figure that matters the most the unemployment figure?
WALTER: It is -- it is the figure that matters the most. The fact is, voters have been saying since 2008 the economy is the number one issue that they want Congress to tackle.
And I know that there are a lot of Democrats who say, look, if this unemployment number goes down, the prospects for Democrats holding on to the majority in the House goes up. And that may be fair, and that will boost the president's approval rating, too. But the bottom line goes back to the first number that you showed us, what do we think about members of Congress?
The whole place itself is so tainted right now that I don't even know that members of Congress are going to get credit for any of this, right, like, fine, things may be better but it's not because of you; it's because of everything else that happened.
And so you get the sense that they could come up with a cure for cancer right now and they wouldn't get -- they wouldn't get credit for it.
CROWLEY: Real quick question for you both: I said to Nancy Pelosi, "It's possible you could not be speaker." I wanted to see what she...
... see what she'd say. Do you think it's possible?
CONNOLLY: Long shot is my guess.
WALTER: It's -- it's possible.
CROWLEY: Thanks very much.
Amy Walter and Ceci Connolly, I appreciate it so much.
Up next in our "American Dispatch," a fresh take on what unfolded at the health care summit from President Obama himself, and this without him speaking a word.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: As we mentioned earlier, President Obama's face said a lot last week. I was in the studio where you can watch what which call an ISO, that's the camera focused only on the president as Republicans made their points. We wanted to share.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): Between eight million and nine million people may very well lose the coverage that they have because of this, because of the construct of this bill.
(UNKNOWN): For the first time in 30 years, allows for the taxpayer funding of abortions. What we've been saying for a long time is let's scrap the bill.
(UNKNOWN): What is the consequence of that? We know there are consequences that small businesses will feel because of the impact on job creation.
(UNKNOWN): Both bills hit small business with higher tax rates. The House bill by 33 percent, the Senate bill by 20 percent.
(UNKNOWN): We're here because we Republicans care about health care just as the Democrats in this room.
CROWLEY: All we're saying is this is not the face of a man who ought to play poker anytime soon. Whether you heard it or saw it, the message was pretty clear, patience and the days of debating health care are growing short. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the president will likely make an announcement this week about the next step forward.
Let's check some of the stories breaking this Sunday morning.
A day after Chile's catastrophic earthquake, more jitters this morning, numerous aftershocks reported after one of the strongest quakes ever reported. The 8.8 magnitude quake killed at least 300 people, but the official casualty count could very well rise.
There is a bit of good news. Tsunami warnings triggered by the quake have been lifted. They warnings affected the entire Pacific region. Hawaii and Japan were both directly in the path of the tsunami but they were basically spared, experiencing smaller-than-expected waves.
The nation's main counterterrorism law is in effect for another year. President Obama has signed an extension of several provisions in the Patriot Act. The act was adopted after the September 11th attacks. It expands the government's ability to monitor Americans in the name of national security.
Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union." When we come back, the Toyota congressional hearings and the failure of sorts to communicate. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CROWLEY: Before we go, we'd like to share a moment growing out of the week's other big story, the Toyota safety hearings. Congress demanded that the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda testify in person even though he'd be speaking in Japanese. Chairman Edolphus Towns of New York wanted to know why there wasn't a brake override system in all Toyotas. And he was dissatisfied with the answer he was getting through the translator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): That's what I'm trying to get to, is that a yes or no?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Japanese CEOs aren't used to testifying before Congress. It takes more than English-Japanese translation to bridge the gap.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): I yield to Congressman Heisner (ph) but I'm trying to find out is that a yes or no?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: It was lost in translation. Republicans and Democrats apparently aren't the only ones having trouble communicating these days. Thanks for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. For the international viewers, "World Report" is next. For everyone else, "Fareed Zakaria GPS" starts right now.