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Live Coverage of the House Of Representatives Health Care Reform Vote

Aired March 21, 2010 - 12:50   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Welcome back. As promised, I'm now surrounded by some of the best political team in television -- and some of the best doctors on television as well. Sanjay Gupta, our extraordinary medical correspondent, Doctor Sanjay Gupta, who confided to me that your really excited to be here to watch whatever is going to unfold, unfold.


CROWLEY: Alex Castellanos, a Republican consultant, Donna Brazile, we just saw you, a Democratic consultant, our Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger-and a man who needs no introduction.

BLITZER: Just Wolf.

CROWLEY: Like, Cher.


CROWLEY: That's right.

So we're not that far from getting something, or not getting something.

BLITZER: It's going to be a few hours of intense debate and there's going to be some drama. The Democrats keep saying they have the 216 votes they need to get this passed. The Republicans saying, not so fast, we'll see. You know what, the proof will be when the roll call actually happens.

CROWLEY: I think what we're finding is there were various Democrats on morning TV, including on "STATE OF THE UNION." We had Congressman Larson, who is head of the Democratic Caucus, saying we've got the 216, and others were going we don't really have it yet but we will have it. I think one thing we can bet on is there will not be a vote until they have the 216.

BLITZER: Right. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, the leaders of the Democrats, they can control the House of Representatives. When they're 100 percent sure they have those 216 votes in hand, that's when the roll call will begin.

CROWLEY: And probably the precautionary note that we ought to tell all of our viewers is while this may be a historic vote, one way or the other, it's not the final vote.


CROWLEY: This is not health care today that we're getting.

BLITZER: It will be the final vote on the Senate version. The Senate version, if it passes, will then be signed into law by the president of the United States. And that will be the law of the land. Now, it depends on how long it takes the Senate to go ahead and pass the fixes, the reconciliation bill, as it's called. But if the House approves the Senate version today, the president later today or tomorrow morning signs that into law, with or without a lot of fanfare, that is health care reform. It will be the law as approved by the Senate and the House and signed by the president.

CROWLEY: We are going to watch it all unfold with members of the best political team on television. We are about 10 minutes away from the House opening up for business. We will be with you all afternoon long and into the evening so stick with us.


BLITZER: Huge day here in Washington, on Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives getting ready to vote on health care reform. It's been 13, 14 months in the making, and today a critical vote. The Senate has already passed health care reform, the House will today consider that Senate version, as well as a separate so-called reconciliation bill, that will make some significant changes in what the Senate passed.

But once the House passes the Senate version, it will go to the president. The Senate version for his signature. That will be the law of the land. Let's bring in Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent.

Dana, the voting will start after 2:00 p.m. Eastern, is that right?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Maybe even closer to 3:00 now, depending on how it goes when the House comes in, in the morning. We understand that when the House comes in, at the top of the hour, they will go through what is traditionally the opener of the House. And that is one-minute speeches. We expect that to happen for about an hour, and then there will be an open of-again this is procedural, but an important procedural motion. An open of debate on what is called the rule, and that vote will essentially set the terms of the debate.

There was a whole bunch of controversy we've been reporting all week that perhaps that vote on the so-called rule would actually be a vote on the Senate bill. That is not happening now, so what we are going to see is a vote on the so-called rule. We'll have two hours of debate on the Senate bill. We will have a vote on the Senate health care bill that will be the most important vote. That is what we are going to be looking for, to see if the House Democrats have that critical 216. Assuming they get that, they will move on to that package of fixes you were talking about with Candy just a short while ago. That is also very, very important. Assuming that passes, they will move on. But there is something that we really are going to be looking for here and that is what the Republicans are going to do. They have all kinds of tricks up their sleeve. They're not letting us know exactly what they are, but they have a lot of ways that they can delay this.

First of all, they have one option that we know they are going to have a vote on and it's called a motion to recommit. That is something that is always given to the minority party, and they can use that for whatever subject they want. And I've got to tell you, Democrats were worried that they would use that for something as explosive as abortion. We don't know what they're going to do. That is going to be part of the drama we'll be watching for on the House floor.

BLITZER: We know there will be a lot of drama before this day is done. And there's no doubt, Dana, that unless Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, is 100 percent sure she has 216 votes to pass the Senate bill, she's not going to ask for that roll call, is that right?

BASH: It would be hard to imagine she would do that, absolutely. There were times in recent history when Republicans were in charge. Tom Delay was notorious, for example, when he was the Republican whip, for agreeing to take something to the floor, not quite have the votes and just twist arms while they're there. It doesn't seem as though Democrats will go down that road. They are saying that they are feeling very confident. Most Democratic leaders are saying -- are being very cautious not to say, yes, we have the 216, but they are saying they are very confident.

Having said that, there are some compromise talks in the works to try to pull over some other Democrats, who are anti-abortion Democrats, and just given the fact that they're having those discussions makes you think maybe they're not -- they just want to be really, really sure that they have plenty of votes here.

BLITZER: This session on the House floor could go until 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. or much later depending on whether they have the votes, depending on the Republican parliamentary maneuvers so this is open- ended. Let's go to the White House. Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent, is standing by.

How confident, Dan, is the president and his top advisers?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I tell you, Wolf, right now they're not acting like this is a done deal just yet. A White House aide saying that the president will be making phone calls, also receiving phone calls, from those members of Congress as he tries to push health care reform across the finish line. The sense of urgency we've seen the last couple of days. In fact, they have reached out to former President Bill Clinton, who of course failed on health care reform, but they still believe here at the White House that he has the ear and the respect of many Democrats, so he's helping in reaching out and making phone calls as well to try to convince those Democrats who are still sitting on the fence, Wolf. BLITZER: And assuming they pass the Senate version on the House floor, when will he sign that into law?

LOTHIAN: I'm told my a senior administration official that despite what had been out there that perhaps that he would sign it tonight that he would not be signing that into law, if it passes, tonight, perhaps tomorrow. But they're not giving any time frame, just that it won't happen tonight.

BLITZER: And is it going be a big deal? Will he invite the whole world over, or is it going to be a relatively modest signing ceremony?

LOTHIAN: The guidance we're told, Wolf, is it will be low key because they still say, as we all know, that this process still has several other steps. The Senate will still be making some critical votes, so it will be very modest. There won't be any grand celebration yet, just an acknowledgement of what has happened, and there's still a lot more work to be done.

BLITZER: All right. Dan Lothian, stand by.

David Gergen, is our senior political analyst, he will join us throughout the afternoon into the evening as well.

A little historic perspective on this day, David, big deal? Not such a big deal, what do you think?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: This is one of the most important moments in American social history since the mid-1960s, Wolf. That's when Medicare and Medicaid and Civil Rights 1, and Civil Rights 11, were passed, momentous decisions that reshaped our country for a long time thereafter.

Here we've now come to that juncture where we have to decide are we going to reshape our health care insurance system. And so it's a -- this is a bill that's an idea, a dream, that has been pursued by presidents steadily since Harry Truman back in the mid-1940s, late 1940s.

It's eluded every president. I was there in the White House when Richard Nixon went down over health care. I was there in the White House when Bill Clinton went down over health care. Barack Obama has already brought this farther than anybody else. All eyes are not only on Barack Obama, but Nancy Pelosi. I can tell you, Wolf, that the eyes of the country are on this one today. I've been here, back in Boston for a couple of days and every conversation I've had has ended with how's it going to come out on health care. Are they going to get it done, or not?

BLITZER: David, I want to show our viewers some video. The House floor is getting ready to come into session within the next moment or two. They will bring down the gavel. As Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent pointed out, they will have these one- minute-it's going to be almost like a regular business hour, the voting won't start at least until after 2:00 p.m. Eastern, maybe even closer to 3:00 p.m. Eastern on the first rules resolution that will have to come forward before they formally take up the Senate bill.

David Gergen, stand by for a moment. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, is here watching all of this unfold with us.

Sanjay, assuming, it's still an assumption because the drama is there, 216 is the magic number for passage, or for failure, of this senator bill. But assuming the Senate bill passes and the president signs it either later tonight or tomorrow, that is the law of the land. Practically speaking, whatever the Senate does on the sidecar, the reconciliation bill, the tweaks, the changes, what does that new law of the land mean for average folks watching?

GUPTA: For a lot of people who are not sick and have employer-based coverage, it may not mean a lot to them, frankly, right now. The people who will be most impacted at least earlier on are people who are uninsured, and have some sort of medical problem, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, you're not going to be as easy to cancel someone's policy after they become sick. Think of that as a consumer protection. And also this idea that ultimately this pre-existing condition term gets thrown around quite a bit. They're not addressing the pre-existing conditions, right away, but they are creating these high-risk pools, where people can, if they had an illness in the past, they have been unable to get health care insurance as a result of that, they can join one of these pools. Those are two big things.

We talk about kids being covered up to the age of 26 under their parents' plan. That's something else. The Medicare issue is part of this companion bill, or whatever we're calling it exactly, so we don't know exactly how that's going to play out, at least in the months to come.

BLITZER: You know, they're just doing the opening prayer. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, has gaveled the session. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For us, Lord, it is spring. The equinox has silently occurred, but we may not have been aware, because our Earth was spinning so fast and we did not notice our tilt to your sun. Help us, lord, to understand our ever-changing world better. Never let us lose perspective. Although it is spring for us, for another half of the world it is the beginning of fall. Help us to hold on to you, Lord, now and forever. Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair has examined the journal of the last day's proceedings and announces to the House her approval thereof, his approval thereof, pursuant to clause one of rule one. The journal stands as approved.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For all purposes the gentleman from Oregon arise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I request the question be put on agreeing to the speaker's approval of the journal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is on agreeing of the speaker's approval of the journal. Those in favor, please say aye.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those opposed, no.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes have it. The journal stands as approved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let the gentleman from Oregon arise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I respect fully request the yeas and nays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas and nays are requested, those favoring the vote by the yeas and nays will rise. A sufficient number having risen, they are ordered pursuant to Clause 8 of Rule 20, for the proceedings on the question are postponed.


BLITZER: All right, so they're beginning the process. They have got a lot of parliamentary maneuvering that they're going to be doing in this, the first hour. They'll also allowing members to have some one- minute presentations of their own. We're going to be going back and forth and watching what's going on very carefully.

The real substance of this historic day, this important day here on Capitol Hill won't really take effect at least for an hour, so there's some ability that we all have to digest what is going on. We're going to watch it very closely. We'll go back to Capitol Hill.

This is a Sunday Candy Crowley that's not like any other Sunday here in Washington. Normally these ladies and gentlemen in the House are not working on Sundays.

CROWLEY: Well, they would take issue with that. Some of them are back home in their districts, as they like to say, on their work period, working district. So they would argue with that. But nonetheless they're not here in Washington. They tend to get out of town on Friday and go back home and raise money, or hold town hall meetings, whatever.

So obviously this is a very -- has a very different feel to it. And one way or the other, pass or fail, it's historic. If they can't get this passed, whoa. Katie bar the door, it's a whole different game. If what we expect will happen is that it will pass, it's still a big moment. I mean not since-as David mentioned-not since the 1960s have we seen this massive a piece of social legislation.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, remind our viewers why we're all here today, exactly 72 hours after this legislation was formally posted on the web?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are here today so the Democratic Party can pass health care reform, which they have been working on not only for the last year, Wolf, but they have been working on it for the last 16 years, shall we say, since Hillary Clinton tried to pass health care reform in 1993-and even-and even before then.

This is really a defining moment for this presidency, and for his party. We expect this to pass along party line votes. There are some things that are still not resolved, which is why we're not sure what the votes are going to be. And I was just talking to a Democratic source who said that they think they're working out a compromise with those anti-abortion Democrats, perhaps an executive order coming from the president which says that no federal money will be used to pay for abortions in any way.

But this is definitional. For the party, for this presidency, and also for the future of what Barack Obama will be able to accomplish as president of the United States.

BLITZER: We're going to bring Donna Brazile, who's here, Alex Castellanos who's here, we're going to continue our assessment of what's going on. Will Bart Stupak, for example, the Democratic congressman from Michigan, very anti-abortion, will he go along with some sort of compromise, and vote yea, in favor of health care reform if, for example, the president of the united states signs an executive order reaffirming the so-called Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal money from being used for abortions.

Stand by, the debate is only just beginning. Our coverage will continue right after this.


REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Asked me why my braids were so tight, but I know there is a better way. And I know that because members of the Congressional Black Caucus worshipped this morning at the Mount Zion Baptist Church. And Pastor Smith said to us, to call upon healing the land. We'll be able to heal the land by voting this evening on a health care bill that will help those who cannot help themselves. Those single mothers, those people with pre-existing disease, and I have the dishonor of being a member of Congress representing the state of Texas that has the highest number of uninsured.

And so today, there will be no shame in my vote, because I'll vote for those Texans who are not here and cannot speak for themselves. And seniors will have insurance. And 95 percent of Americans will have insurance. This is a day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman is correct. Come to order. Would members take their conversations off the floor. This young lady deserves to be heard. BLITZER: Sheila Jackson Lee, the congresswoman, was briefly interrupted. She's going to finish up, and there will be a Republican response. These are one-minute presentations they're making. There's a little bit of disorderly conduct. Let's listen in to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

LEE: The courage will be the call of the day. I yield back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For all purposes, the gentleman from Pennsylvania rise.

REP. TIMOTHY MURPHY, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: Have permission to address the House for one minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman recognized for one minute.

MURPHY: Over the past 14 months I have held 235 meetings and town hall meetings --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order. Will members take their conversations off the floor. The gentleman deserves to be heard.

BLITZER: All right. A little drama on the floor of the House of Representatives. They're making these one-minute presentations, brief presentations by Democratic and Republican lawmakers. The congressman speaking, but there's been a little bit of conversation going on, shall we say, a little disorderly conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman will continue.

BLITZER: As a result, there was that pause. But let's listen in briefly and then we'll resume our discussion here.

MURPHY: There is much we can agree on with each side of the aisle but we still did not fix the underlying problem of health care. We still will have $700 billion in waste, we still will have $50 billion wasted each year in hospitals infections alone. We'll have a Medicare program that is going bankrupt, instead take another $500 billion from Medicare, we take $52 billion from Social Security.

We cannot confuse anger with action, passion with policy, or rancor with results. We have to understand that we will not give up on real health care reform that really cuts costs and saves lives to make it acceptable to all. We will never, never, never give up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will members to my left please control their comments. The gentleman deserves to be heard.

BLITZER: All right. So still some extracurricular activity going on, on the House floor that's interrupting these one-minute presentations by Democratic and Republican members of Congress. It's only just beginning. It's probably going to heat up as this day continues. That was Timothy Murphy, the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. Earlier Sheila Jackson-Lee the Democratic congresswoman, very, very different perspectives. Alex Castellanos and Donna Brazile will be helping us better appreciate some of what's going on right now. Donna, very quickly, you're well plugged into these Democrats. When they say they have these 216 votes, otherwise, they wouldn't be doing this extraordinary Sunday session today, do they have the 216 votes in the pocket right now?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. I talked to a few lawmakers, including my own congresswoman, who unfortunately she doesn't have a vote but she has a loud mouth, and a great voice, champion for democracy here in the District of Columbia.

What Congressman Norton told me today, as she was preparing to go up there, she said, look, we have the votes and clearly some members will be told that this is a vote of conscience. If you can't cast this ballot, we understand. But there's no question that they have the votes. And, Wolf, you have to give Speaker Pelosi a lot of credit for being able to bring the caucus together, to get these votes and to unify the party soon after the vote is cast tonight.

BLITZER: You've been talking to Republicans, Alex. And this is a dramatic day, you know. The Democrats may say they have the votes and Donna Brazile is very well plugged in. She thinks they have the votes. The Democratic leadership, they say they have the votes but earlier we heard from John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, not so sure. What do you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, right now it appears that they do. They certainly wouldn't be bringing it to a vote if they hadn't. But this is a seminal day. This is much bigger than even just health care. This is the day where we're seeing the beginnings of a realignment in American politics. Democrats are hoping that this is a renewal of the New Deal. A new middle class entitlement and this will lock them in for 25 years.

Republicans are thinking the Democrats are touching a hot stove here and debranding themselves as a party of economic responsibility, and the party of the center, and this will be almost like a Reagan Revolution starting today. So this is a big day.

Republicans, you know, have been telling Democrats don't vote for this, you are going to imperil yourself. But it's not because Republicans care that much what happens to Democrats, they're just trying to make sure this thing does not pass. They see it as a danger to the country.

BLITZER: There will be a few dozen, Donna, Democrats who will not vote for this. Hold on a second because Dana Bash has been working her sources up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, there's been a lot of intrigue, a lot of interest on this day on some of those House Democrats who are fierce opposed to abortion. And they are not in line, they don't like the abortion language that's in the Senate version. Bart Stupak, from Michigan, among them. What are you hearing? Is there some sort of side deal that will allow Bart Stupak, for example, to vote yes in favor of the Senate bill? BASH: The answer is they are working on it but they're not there yet. Bart Stupak, himself, just told our Lisa Jansen moments ago, he is still a no, on this health care bill. However, he has been working with lawyers from the White House and even met with them this morning. And what they're working on to bring Bart Stupak over the line is an executive order, by the president, obviously, that essentially restates the law. And the law being, on abortion, that there would be no taxpayer dollars used to fund any abortions. That's really the bottom line for Bart Stupak and he, and maybe about seven, at the point, seven other anti-abortion Democrats simply say that they don't trust that the way that the language is currently written in the Senate bill, which is what they're all going to vote on, goes far enough in making that clear that that's the law of the land.

So because the House speaker has said he's not going to get any more votes on the House floor today, the compromise deal that they're working on is the president writing an executive order. We've talked to many, many members of the Democratic leadership this morning. They all say they're fine with it. Abortion rights Democrats say they're fine with it. At this point it's just getting the language right of it, and it sounds like Bart Stupak, when they get that, he will probably be a yes, and bring, again, maybe bring six or seven Democrats along with him, which would be really critical. No question that would put Democrats over the line probably relatively comfortably if that happens. So we're going to watch it.

BLITZER: That would be very, very significant if in fact that happens and it would guarantee a Democratic win on the House floor. There's still doubt, a little bit of doubt. There's no guarantee at this point but if Bart Stupak and some of those other Democrats who oppose abortion decide to vote yes, it looks like that would clearly allow this legislation to go forward.

We'll take another quick break. As we go to break, let's listen in to see what's happening on the House floor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or will we choose to go the way of a European nanny state, where government forces choices upon us? Will we choose to uphold the sacred motto "we the people" or will we return to the chains and slavery of government and choose "we the subjects"? Our choice is clear, the American-



BLITZER: The discussions on the floor of the House of Representatives are continuing right now. These are very brief presentations by members of the House, Democrats and Republicans. One-minute presentations and they're timed, pretty much usually, if they go more than a few seconds over, they're gaveled down, they're told to effectively shut up. One minute is one minute in these presentations. They want as many of these 435 members of the House to get a chance to make their little statement. Those statements are significant. Candy Crowley, because a lot of these members, they will have that videotape of their one-minute statement, if you will, and they'll send it back, put it up on their web, they'll be able to use it for whatever political purposes they want.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Make no mistake about this. Win or lose, today, this health care bill, this will be an issue, maybe not the issue, believe it or not, in the November elections. It may be more the economy than health care, but nonetheless what you will hear today are the political arguments beginning to take shape as they move into November.

BLITZER: And they're also doing, by the way, some other business even as these do these one-minute presentations, on National Women's Business Month, for example. That's coming up. I suspect there's going to be a lot of support for that legislation.

CROWLEY: I think so. It's going to be real popular.

BLITZER: I don't think there is going to be a lot of opposition. You were going to make a point, Gloria.

BORGER: You know, heading into this, I think the Democrats know this is a real political risk for them, obviously. And if they hadn't pursued comprehensive health care reform where would they then be. That's the calculation now. If they pass comprehensive health reform, maybe they'll lose 10 or so more seats. But if they had done nothing, their calculation is that they would have -- could really have lost control of the House.

Now, some Republicans, Alex, say they're going to lose control of the House because of health care reform. But their argument is people will see some of the impact within the next six months, and that that in the end will be good for them, and they look like they're a governing majority at least that can get something done.

CASTELLANOS: I think most Republicans would tell you, though, that passing something now is going to hurt the Democrats with this argument. That this is going to be a brake pedal election. Washington is out of control that, we've had elections in New Jersey and Virginia, even in Massachusetts, the most Democratic state in the world, telling Democrats don't do this. And guess what they're doing anyway. So now it's not about health care, it's not even about the economy.

You're doing health care, not listening to people on the economy. It's Washington has just lost touch with us completely. And it's a populist revolution that's out there. The Tea Party is only the tip of the iceberg, so, you know, would the Democrats have been better off if they had grown the economy first? And concentrated on that and dealt with unemployment? I think so. Now I think a lot of Democratic congressmen are going to have their own unemployment issues in November.

BRAZILE: Well, what's interesting is that whether it's the economy, whether it's health care, whether it's job creation, Republicans have made the calculation that it's better to sit on the sideline and say no than to get in the thick of the game and help move the ball down the court when it comes to moving the agenda forward.

CASTELLANOS: That's not what Republicans have done, Donna.

BRAZILE: That's the history. All you have to do is look at the debate and listen to what we'll witness in a few hours. The cost of inaction is great. Because if we fail, if the Democrats fail to act today, they understand that they will go back to their constituents and say, you know what, I spent one year debating this issue, and using up all our political capital. Right now we can't help you with your premiums we can't help you with your small businesses.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Hold those thoughts for a moment because Dana Bash is up on the Hill and she's getting some information. I want to take a quick break. As soon as she clarifies what she's learning, we'll go to her and our coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go right to Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill. What are you learning, Dana?

BASH: You know, even as we get closer to the vote, some of these formerly undeclared Democrats who we've been watching or breaking and they are before the vote giving how they're going to decide. And Gabrielle Giffords, we just learned, is going to vote yes for this bill. She is one of those -- she is really one of those who is at ground zero politically. She's from Arizona. She is a new member. She is going to probably have a very tough re-election this year and one of those when we talk about members who are kind of on the bubble and may really have to fight for their job to keep their job because of this vote. She is one of them. She was on the fence and she is now saying she is going to vote yes.

And Brian Baird is another one from Washington State. It was unclear how he was going to vote. He is now saying he is going to vote yes. So a couple of good breaks for the House Democratic leadership just in the last couple of minutes.

And I want you to look at what's behind me. You can probably see a little bit of commotion. What just ended was the Democrats' last big rally, Wolf, and the Democrats last big meeting. The House speaker was there, all of the leadership and most of the Democratic caucus for the leadership to give them one last push, one last hurrah, if you will, to say we really want to get this done.

Democrats like to meet, they meet a lot, but for this particular meeting it was quite important given where they're about to head and I just saw the house speaker and the rest of the leadership go from there and head out the door to walk over to the Capitol to begin this debate and to be presiding in earnest.

BLITZER: Dana, correct me if I'm wrong, with these two undecided Democrats now deciding to vote yes in favor of health care reform, they must be right around 216 by now, I assume?

BASH: They certainly are getting there. They are being very, very cautious about telling us they have reached internally that magic 216 number to say that explicitly.

However, there certainly is a lot of optimism and a lot of Democratic leaders smiling and feeling good. So there's no question they do feel confident. Actually I just want to tell you, I just got on my BlackBerry, we're talking about the confidence but there are some things that are not breaking their way.

John Tanner, he is a retiring member from Tennessee, he is somebody who actually voted no last time. Democratic leaders, they were hoping that they would be able to switch him because he is leaving. He doesn't have the political baggage, if you will, of voting for this. He's actually going to vote no. He's going to stick with his no vote so there's something that's not breaking the Democrats' way.

They were actually hoping to hold him in the bag, if you will, and keep him for the last minute if they needed an extra vote, they would ask him to come along. He's saying now he's voting no. Maybe that is actually an indication that they don't need him to do that later.

BLITZER: That's interesting. One quickly, Bart Stupak, the Democratic congressman from Michigan, Dana, just clarify what we know right now. He is fiercely opposed to the Senate language on abortion in this legislation but he is sort of sending some signals that if something happens, he might still vote in favor of it? What do we know?

BASH: That's right. We know that they seem to be very, very close to a deal that will bring Bart Stupak into the yes column on this health care bill. He himself told our producer, Lisa Jensen, that just a few minutes ago. He and some of his colleagues who are fellow anti- abortion Democrats have been working with the White House, White House lawyers specifically, to try to come up with language on an executive order that the president would sign to make them feel more confident in what their goal is.

Their goal is that they do not want taxpayer dollars to be used to fund abortions. Many people who are voting for the Senate bill feel that the language in the bill sufficiently explains that and prevent that from happening, but Bart Stupak and some of his colleagues, they are not so sure. So that's why they're working on this executive order. It sounds like they're very close to working it out. If they do, that will bring Bart Stupak and probably about seven other Democrats who are against abortion staunchly over to the yes column. That would be very big for the leadership.

BLITZER: That would be huge because it would give them some significant cushion going over 216. Dana, stand by. I know you're working your sources. A dramatic day up on Capitol Hill.

David Gergen is watching all of this, our senior political analyst. David, the White House makes the point that there's the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal taxpayer dollars from being used for abortion and that really that's the law of the land and nothing else is required, nothing in the Senate language changes it, the House language, which was a little tougher, certainly didn't change the Hyde amendment.

Why is there -- why are there these doubts that Bart Stupak and these other anti-abortion Democrats are having as far as federal funding for abortion is concerned?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there have been two different approaches on how to carry out the Hyde amendment. One was the Bart Stupak amendment placed in the original House bill, which was very airtight in the eyes of many pro-choice Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi. It was actually a step backwards. It would have diminished women's access to abortion.

And then there's the Senate version, which in the eyes of the Catholic bishops and Bart Stupak, does set up two different funds, but they think that while the money is compartmentalized that the federal government will be indirectly subsidizing abortions, so Bart Stupak and his colleagues have held out for something closer to the original House version. They're not going to get that.

This executive order is interesting because it's hard to see how the executive order will be anything more than a promise that the Senate bill will still be the law of the land. The Senate version would still be the law of the land, this indirect subsidization as Stupak sees it. But even so, if Bart Stupak apparently is going to come over based on this promise by the president to enforce it as closely as he can, as you say, Wolf, if he brings Bart Stupak along with his colleagues, it's a done deal and they will win handily.

So we're really watching this minute-to-minute to see because I think this is going to be the clear turning point if Bart Stupak agrees to the executive order.

BLITZER: That will give them more than enough to get over 216, 216 plus is what they need.

And I just want to clarify one thing. In that side agreement, the reconciliation bill, the changes to the Senate version, they can't change the language on abortion because the reconciliation process can only deal with funding, with appropriations matters, can't deal with policy issues. That's why they can't tweak the language on abortion in the reconciliation legislation. We'll take another quick break. We'll continue our special coverage on this important day in Washington right after this.


BLITZER: We're watching what's happening on Capitol Hill and we're going to be here all day long. This is a moment in American history when health care reform may or may not pass in the next few hours. We will know whether or not it will become the law of the land. I'm Wolf Blitzer here. We're reporting it together with the best political team on television, including Candy Crowley, who is here. Candy, as we watch this unfold in the next hour or so, they're going to probably have the first of several votes.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: They have three important votes. A vote on the rule, which just sort of sets up the terms of the debate, unlike the Senate where you can pretty much debate ad nauseum and often they do and then they will have a vote on the Senate health care reform bill. That then goes to the president if they vote yes. And then they have a vote on the fix-it package, which is basically the things they didn't like about the Senate reform bill and that bill is the one that goes to the Senate, which is why we're not quite at super, super Sunday yet.

BLITZER: And then Gloria, in the Senate, that could take a week, two weeks or forever for them to consider the changes in the Senate, given the rules of the Senate. Even though it's reconciliation, you only need 51 votes to pass it, you don't need a super majority of 60. There are delaying procedures, amendments, all sorts of stuff the Republicans can do to try to change it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And you think they'll do it, Wolf? The answer is?

BLITZER: I'm sure they'll try to make some significant changes.

BORGER: And when you have unlimited amendments in front of you and you have an election out there in November and Republicans want to make points, knowing full well that they may lose on most of them, but, you know, the question is what if they propose something that is irresistible for Democrats to join, that they can put on this bill and if it gets changed in any way, shape or form, this fix-it package, then it's going to have to go back to the House and those House people who already distrust the Senate, you know, more than they distrust Senate Republicans. I mean House Democrats are very, very nervous about their Democratic colleagues in the Senate. They're going to be really angry. They tried to get a letter in writing saying you're going to do exactly what we want you to do. I mean this is -- you know, this is not a healthy relationship between Senate Democrats and House Democrats.

BLITZER: The House Democrats clearly don't trust the Senate Democrats.

BORGER: Right. And so Senate Republicans are going to come in and they're going to sort of have a little fun with this, I think.

CROWLEY: Also it's not up for a vote either until -- because they're going to go to the parliamentarian. The Republicans are going to go to the parliamentarian. And if the parliamentarian rules with the Republicans, the Democrats are going to, in order to keep the bill intact, are going to have to disagree with the parliamentarian and overrule him, which then starts a whole other thing.

BLITZER: Take a look at this videotape we're just getting in. You interviewed Congressman Larson earlier on "State of the Union." He and some others were involved. Take a look at these pictures we're just getting in. Some of the protesters were out there, they were urging them to get more actively involved. But let's listen to Congressman Larson right now.


REP. JOHN LARSON (D), CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: Our final caucus on health care, a record number of caucuses. Now we're locking arms behind a man who led a nation across a bridge 44 years ago, 45 years ago. And today, today is going to lead us across this street and to vote for health care for the American people. Thank you so much, speaker of the House.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER: I'm carrying this gavel that was just given to me -- correction, lent to by my Chairman Dingell. It's the gavel that he used to gavel -- it was used in the enactment of the Medicare law. I will use it this evening when we cast a very successful vote for this important legislation. It's been a complete team effort, not only a team effort, a partnership with our leadership and every member of our caucus. We look forward to making this historic day known to the American people about we're doing this one for the American people, for their health, for their opportunity, for their job success and for the education of our children -- thank you.


BLITZER: All right. So the Democrats having a little pep rally just before this -- these key votes are about to unfold. Key word -- key words from Nancy Pelosi, this evening she said the vote, suggesting we're going to be here for a while. But we're going to watch every step of the way. This is an important piece of legislation, a critical piece of legislation, whether you're for it or against it. You want to know if the way health care is provided in the United States stands or changes, how much change there is. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, is here. He's going to help us break down what exactly will change if in fact this passes today and our coverage continues after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives where over the next few hours there will be several votes that will have an immediate impact if in fact the Senate version of health care reform is passed by the House and they're getting very close to the magic number of 216 votes.

There will be immediate impacts out there and several long-term impacts, irrespective of what the Senate does on the separate reconciliation bill, the legislation that includes all sorts of, quote, fixes or changes in the Senate version.

Sanjay is here. And you spent a lot of time, Sanjay, taking a look at what really happens. Give us a little primer on the immediate and the long-term impact of this Senate bill becoming the law of the land, if in fact it passes the House, and the president signs it either tonight or tomorrow.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, if you look at people who are going to be the most impacted right away, it's probably people who are uninsured and have had some sort of medical problem.

BLITZER: Like 40 million Americans.

GUPTA: Well, there's a lot of people who are uninsured, but this group of people in particular, they've had some sort of medical problem which has made it really hard to get insurance because the premiums are exorbitant.

BLITZER: What they call pre-existing conditions.

GUPTA: Pre-existing conditions. So they want to set up I think within 90 days of an enactment if this passes, these high risk pools -- pools across the country so that if you had a hard time getting insurance, you can go to one of these high risk pools and get insurance. You've been waiting for medication, get some therapy, get an operation.

BLITZER: And you can't be denied.

GUPTA: You can't be denied. And the way they're going to do this incidentally is they're going to help fund these high risk pools. I think about $5 billion tentatively possibly going to fund these high- risk pools.

So that's something that's going to take place, you know, quickly, within about three months. But there are other things as well. And a lot of them sort of think about them as consumer protection.

So for example, people do get sick who are insured but there's a cap on how much an insurance company will pay for them. Those caps both annually and over a lifetime will start to go away. That should take place this year as well. They also talked about things like young adults, you know, people who graduated from college for example but haven't gotten their first job being covered under their parents' plan until the age of 26.

Medicare is something that we talked about a lot and they talk about these drug discounts for seniors. The donut hole I think, Wolf, most people sort of understand that concept now but basically you get some sort of subsidies at the beginning of paying for your drugs. Then there is a hole in the middle and then you get subsidies near the end of your drug costs. They want to shrink that donut hole. It won't be shrunk right away but there will be some money toward that as well. So I think those are some of the big things that happen at least initially if this passes by the end of the year probably.

BLITZER: Those are some of the things that a lot of folks will like, Gloria, but there will be other things in there that a lot of folks won't necessarily like. For example, some of the costs of all of this.


BLITZER: No free lunch for example. There is going to be some -- there will be some cuts in Medicare. Half a trillion dollars in fact over the next 10 years. BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Or $50 billion a year. There's going to be some increased taxes on wealthier Americans. There is going to be a mandate, if you don't have health insurance and you haven't bought it, you're going to buy them. If you're small business owner, you're going to be forced to provide health insurance or pay a significant fine to the federal government.

BORGER: You're going to have to pay a fine and if you're an individual, you're going to have to pay a fine just like we require people to have insurance on their automobiles, you're going to have to buy into health insurance because that's the only way this can really work, Wolf.

And I might point out, it's something that Barack Obama opposed, these mandates when he was running for the presidency but discovered you can't do health care reform unless you have these mandates because you have to make the pool larger.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue our assessment of what's going on, the dramatic developments up on Capitol Hill. We're not going away. We're here for you. We'll be watching all of this unfold. Stay with CNN for complete coverage.


BLITZER: All right. They're getting ready for the first of several votes on health care reform on the floor of the House of Representatives. They're not there yet but we're watching very, very closely to see what's going on, our continuing coverage here on CNN.

Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos are watching this unfold as well. Donna, the Republicans made a huge deal that this is going to be very expensive when all the dust settles and that right now in these tough economic times when so many people are unemployed, you can't start imposing all these new taxes and all these fees and it's going to undermine the economy.

But before you answer that question, I'm told there's a little protest going on on the House floor. I'm curious to hear what's going on. All right, they've actually closed the mikes so we don't hear the protests.

This vote that they're having, this roll call is on a technical, totally different measure, nothing to do with health care reform right now so don't be confused by those votes, those tallies you see on the screen right there. But there was a little commotion going on. There's a lot of raw nerves right now, very hard feelings. As you know, a lot of Democrats, they want this. A lot of Republicans say this is going to be a disaster, the country simply can't afford it.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know Wolf, we've been looking at this through the prism of politics. And that's very important because I'm a political animal myself. I think for most Americans, they are going to look at it in terms of their wallet. And right now they understand that they're going to be paying more in premiums this year because we have no health care reform. If you're a small business owner, you're paying more because you have to go into the individual market.

If you have an existing plan, you're spending at least another thousand dollars on uncompensated care. So long term, this will reduce cost. This will reduce the deficit. This will help many Americans stay healthy and I think rather than look at, you know, some of the underlying politics we need to look at what's in the bill, what's good for the American people, what Sanjay just rattled off in terms of some of the immediate benefits. I know the politics is a lot more sexier, and in fact, I like the sex part of it, too. The truth is that --

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's a benefit for that if they get the bill out.

BRAZILE: Hopefully it's a small benefit. Let's not go there too early in the morning. I haven't gotten all my confessions out yet. But the truth is that right now the American people will see their premiums rise unless we have something in place that will help them pay for health care in the future.

CASTELLANOS: To make health care costs less, we're going to spend a trillion dollars more. That doesn't add up for the American people. And on top of that, the Democrats I think are going back to a very old way of thinking, old, industrial-age thinking that somehow Washington is going to make something cost less.

Washington doesn't have that good a track record on things. You know, big government does big, simple things well, build a road, blow something up. But complex things like as health care, the most complex thing in the country, to manage that politically and artificially from Washington and say you're going to reduce costs is very tough as opposed to the Republican approach was manage it bottom up. Put the price control mechanism at the bottom with doctors and patients. And so I think this is doomed to fail and most Republicans do, too. It's going to cost more.

BRAZILE: Alex, you have 16 years to put all those marketplace solutions in place. You had the last eight years when the Republicans controlled everything and you didn't put not one of those major initiatives in place. But here's one thing that the Democrats --

CASTELLANOS: Actually we tried. We tried to do things like cost and tort reform.

BRAZILE: The Democrats have incorporated so many Republican ideas. Once again, you were for these ideas before you were against them and right now the American people, they see what's in the bill and they're going to support it.