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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Congressman Ron Paul; Will Any U.S. Troops Remain in Iraq?; Cell Phone Alerts Aim to End Bill Shock; Paul Tracy Discusses Crash that Killed Dan Wheldon; Ron Paul Presents Plan to Reduce Government and Balance Budget; Awaiting President Obama; President Obama's Policies in Jeopardy?
Aired October 17, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, on the eve of CNN's Western Republican Debate, one contender is unveiling a controversial new plan to change the federal government drastically. My interview with Texas Congressman Ron Paul. That's just ahead.
President Obama about to take the stage in the first of a three day push to jump-start his stalled jobs bill. When it happens, we'll bring it to you live.
And possible relief for the millions of cell phone users in so-called bill shock. The deal that could save you hundreds of dollars.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Las Vegas.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You're looking at a live picture from Millers Creek, North Carolina, where any minute now, President Obama is expected to speak about jobs, the economy and more. It's all part of a three day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia designed to breath life into his ailing $447 billion jobs plan.
Let's get straight to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.
She's traveling with the president in North Carolina -- Brianna, the president is about to speak.
What do we expect to hear from him?
What are officials saying?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we expect that he will call on Congress to pass his entire jobs plan, but to do it in parts. This is a follow on what he heard this morning a couple hours down the road in Asheville, North Carolina. And he'll say this, in part, because the Senate, of course, failed to pass his bill as a whole and because House Republicans have made it clear they only want to vote on the parts of the bill that they agree with.
KEILAR: (voice-over): On the tarmac of the Ashville Regional Airport, President Obama kicked off his bus tour to promote his plan to create jobs.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:
As you may have noticed here, I came here on a plane. It's a pretty nice plane. But I'm leaving on a bus.
KEILAR: He billed the three day trip as a listening tour. But he had sharp words for Republicans who united with two Democrats who opposed his $447 billion jobs plan in the Senate last week.
OBAMA: They said no to putting teachers and construction workers back on the job. They said no to rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports. They said no to cutting taxes for middle class families and small businesses, when all they've been doing is cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
KEILAR: The Senate will begin a piecemeal approach to passing the president plan, starting first with billions of dollars in aid to states to retain or rehire teachers, firefighters and other public employees.
OBAMA: Maybe they just didn't understand the whole thing. So we're -- we're breaking it up into pieces. If they vote against taking steps that we know will put Americans back to work right now, right now...
KEILAR: North Carolina is key in the president's reelection strategy. He won here by a slim margin in 2008. And Virginia, where he'll visit Tuesday, is another must-win state he's hoping to hang onto. The bus tour has a decidedly campaign feel.
OBAMA: Are you all (INAUDIBLE)?
All right. Let me say hi.
KEILAR: Complete with visits to a barbecue joint, a general store and a deli and stops for photos with babies.
Republicans are hammering President Obama for what they say is a blatantly political trip, the toughest words coming from former rival, John McCain.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think the question might be, though, is that appropriate on the taxpayers' dime, since it is clearly campaigning? And, I must say, again, I've never seen an uglier bus than the Canadian one. He is traveling around on a Canadian bus touting American jobs.
(END VIDEO TAPE) KEILAR: Now, Wolf, in August, when we covered the Midwestern bus tour, you were there. I was there. It was widely reported that this Secret Service bus was, in fact, at least the shell of it, purchased from a Canadian company. It was initially purchased from a Canadian company. The government actually purchased it from a Tennessee company that did the outfitting, the interior and so forth.
But when it comes to this issue of whether this is taxpayer funded, it's true, it is. White House officials say taxpayers picking up the tab for this entire trip.
But they contest, Wolf, any assertion that this is a campaign trip. They say he's campaigning for economic growth and for jobs, not for reelection -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And that's why the taxpayers are paying for this trip.
All right, thanks very much, Brianna.
We'll check back with you once the president gets into it over there in North Carolina.
But let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Gloria Borger.
She's here in Las Vegas with me -- Gloria, I -- I guess the Republicans will all say this looks like a campaign swing, sounds like a campaign swing, so why are American taxpayers paying for it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I think the argument can be made, as John McCain just made, that when you have a president who's in North Carolina and Virginia, two key states, that it is a campaign swing. But, you know, he is -- he is -- everything is about the campaign from now on.
Remember, Jimmy Carter, though, Wolf?
He used to say, oh, I'm stuck in the Rose Garden, right?
This is kind of an anti-Rose Garden strategy.
What Barack Obama is going to do is instead of staying in the White House, he's going to get outside the White House as much as he can, to try and connect with the American people.
Now, that's part of his job. But I think everything from now on is also part of the campaign.
BLITZER: Yes. Because it's going to be a long, long brutal campaign. As much as this may be a problem or a distraction, the Canadian bus, American bus, whatever, there are new poll numbers that we just released today, our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll numbers, on whether or not the American people think his policies have been successful or a failure. And those do not bode well for him.
BORGER: You know, 59 percent of Americans think that his policies are going to fail. And so that kind of pessimism is really a problem. But, also, 76 percent of Americans like his surtax on millionaires. So he's got to walk a fine line.
I would argue that the fact that so many people believe his policies are going to fail is really a reflection of Americans believing that they don't trust their government to do anything any more that can actually work, more than it's a reflection on Barack Obama.
But here's the key for the president, and it's important, which is that two-thirds of Americans hope that he will succeed. So they still like him and they still want him to succeed. And that's very important for the White House as they go into this campaign. People don't want him to fail. They're afraid he will fail.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney, I think it's fair it say, is the candidate -- the Republican candidate the White House fears the most.
BORGER: He is the candidate the White House fears the most. We've been hearing the White House talk about Mitt Romney. But I think there is a little -- a cynical side to this, too, which is they want to remind Republicans why they don't like Mitt Romney, they want to remind Republicans -- remember that flip-flopper in 2008, well, he's still here.
They don't want Romney to have an easy ride to this nomination. They want to make it difficult for him. They want Perry to start -- to start increasing and then they just want to remind Republicans why they didn't like him so much in 2008.
BLITZER: There's a lot of reminding going on over here.
All right, Gloria.
Thanks very much.
Let's check in with Jack.
He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Correct me if I'm wrong.
Wasn't John McCain riding around campaigning for president while he was a full-time member of Senate for months on end a few years back?
It seems like I remember that.
BLITZER: You do remember that well, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Yes. That's what I thought.
Anyway, Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, is breathing down Mitt Romney's neck. And much of the attention he's getting is focused on his 999 tax plan. CNN talks about this plan and how it would stimulate economic growth, he says, a lot.
Now whether you agree or disagree with the tax plan, there is no doubt it would simplify our complicated tax code.
And lord knows, we could use that, right?
The 999 plan would get rid of almost all of the current taxes and replace them with 9 percent flat federal individual income tax, a 9 percent flat federal corporate tax and a new 9 percent national sales tax.
Not everybody is sold, though. Far are from it. Some economists, along with other Republican presidential hopefuls, are questioning the plan. Critics say it would give the government a new revenue stream, the national sales tax, while not protecting families from paying more. Some insist it would raise taxes for the poor and the middle class while cutting taxes for those at the top.
But Cain insists that while some people will pay more under his plan, quote, "most people will pay less."
He told NBC News that despite Congressional opposition, he thinks could push this thing through Congress if he is president.
Meanwhile, it's worth pointing out that the 999 Plan is just an early step in Cain's tax reform plan and strategy. Ultimately, he supports a fair tax -- a kind of a national sales that would replace the current tax code and all of the credits, deductions and exemptions therein. So, for example, while mortgage deductions would disappear, it would be a lot easier and a lot cheaper for many.
And it seems people are intrigued. Cain has surged in the national polls. He's essentially tied now with Romney in a new CNN survey. He's also statistically tied with Romney in the crucial early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. And he's in second place in New Hampshire.
Here's the question -- would Herman Cain's 999 tax plan get to you vote for him?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack.
And don't forget, please be sure to join CNN for the Western Republican Presidential Debate right here in Las Vegas tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Republican presidential contender, Ron Paul, unveiling a dramatic proposal to cut the federal budget by $1 trillion.
What would it mean for government workers?
Stand by for my interview with Ron Paul.
Plus, a two time Indy 500 champion loses his life in a jaw-dropping crash. Up next, you'll meet a driver who was on the track when the tragedy occurred.
BLITZER: The racing world is mourning today after a horrific 15-car crash left two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Dan Wheldon, dead.
Driver Paul Tracy, the second car spotlighted here, was involved in the tragic crash.
Dan is joining us now.
Dan, first of all, my heart goes out to you. Deepest condolences to everyone who knew Dan Wheldon.
Tell us what happened, based on your eyewitness personal recollection.
PAUL TRACY, INDYCAR DRIVER: Well, Wolf, it was just a -- you know, obviously, it's -- it's a tough day today for all of the auto racing world, as this is something that you never want to happen. But the dangers are -- are always out there. And its our condolences are to Dan and his family and his wife and kids.
You know, it was just a situation where the cars were -- it was early in the race. Cars were running at speeds of 225 miles an hour. We were in a tight group, a pack of cars.
And just up in front of me I saw two cars that touched wheels. And the one car started to fish tail and slide sideways. And then I was trying to slow up and got on the brakes. And then from there, it was just -- it was just carnage. I got into the back of another car. Another car flew over the top of me.
And from that point on, all I could really see was fire and parts flying and smoke. And when it all came to a stop, it looked like something out of a movie set of "Days of Thunder" or -- it just didn't seem real. And instantly we knew that Dan was in a bad way. And the emergency crew was there and right on top of him. And you know, myself and couple other drivers were helping other drivers to get out of their cars that were kind of stuck because the open wheel cars are very small and hard to get out of once you're in it. So it was just a bad day.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": When you had some of those cars flying over you and you saw all of the flames, did you ever think it was over for you as well?
TRACY: Well, I mean, you never think of that, that thing. Obviously when you sit back and look at it now, I mean, I've had a long career. I've been racing over 20 years now in Indy cars. And my wife has just said to me last night, I mean, you got enough trophies and we have enough money. Do we really need to do this anymore? And after seeing one of your friends die, and you know, knowing the family and, you know within that's the question mark that I have to answer for myself.
And you know, obviously Dan's legacy as champion and Indy 500 champion twice, I think you know, this is a huge tragedy for Indy car. But I hope that out of this tragedy comes some good in terms of improving more in safety, like when Greg Moore died and Dale Earnhardt senior and now Dan Wheldon, the innovations that come about from that in terms of improving the driver's safety needs to be kicked up another notch. So we hope that that's what will happen.
BLITZER: So what about you? Do you think you will race again, or do you think it is over? Is it time to retire?
TRACY: I don't know. That's something I need to think about. Obviously my wife would like -- she wants me to retire. My mom and dad have called out to me and said, hey, you've raced 20 years. I need a couple days to digest. Obviously it's -- I have only been racing the past three or four years part-time. I've kind of ban there, seen it all, done it all.
And what happened on Sunday was not a great thing that I want to see. It is the first time I've seen that firsthand in my career and not something I want to see again. But ultimately as a race driver, you know what the risks are when you go out there.
It is like Mario Andretti said to the driver's yesterday, look, if you think this is -- this business you got into is safe, then you're under the wrong sport. We know what the risks are. We know that there is danger. We are all thrill-seekers at heart. We all take risks on the race track. This sport isn't for everybody.
You know, obviously it is -- we like to see improvement. I think there can be improvement made in the catch fencing. There's been so much improvement done with safer walls and head and neck restraint systems and seats in the cars have gotten safer and safer. But what really stayed the same is the catch fencing along the walls has really stayed the same over the past 100 years. And you know, my thoughts are, why can't we have some type of ballistic type of Plexiglas or safety glass that would still allow the fans to see the race track but keep cares from getting tangles in the fencing like a web, like a spider web? Once the cars get in there it just starts ripping the cars apart. So maybe that's the next thing that needs to happen in terms of safety for race events.
BLITZER: As you know, Paul -- as you know, Paul, there's been a lot of questioning now over the past 24 hours whether this track, this racing track in Las Vegas, was really big enough, safe enough, a lot smaller than Indianapolis as you well know. Looking back and all of us are smarter with hindsight, was it safe for the number of cars and size of this track given what was going on?
TRACY: Well, I mean, it's hard to say. Obviously, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a world class facility. I've ban resident of Las Vegas for the past 15 years. I just recently moved. And I saw the track be built. It is a world class facility. It's no different than any other racing track around the world. It has the same type of walls, fencing system, as any other race track.
Really, this is just a factor of, you know, you've got a lost cars racing in close quarters. The Indy cars now, they inspect the cars to where they want the cars to run a bit more in in a pack like NASCAR. And these cars are not designed really to run and bounce and bang wheels with each other at 225 miles an hour. Our wheels are exposed. NASCAR cars are closed body cars like a street body car.
So once have you two cars touch each other, you don't have any control of what can happen. So we need to look at what the future is. We have a new car coming in 2012 that we will hope stops the cares from interlocking wheels. They built body around the wheels.
But my concern now is the fencing I think is the problem with motor sports. You see stock cars fly and get up in the air when they get backwards and they get into the fencing and the cars just kind of get ripped apart. And it is very much the same for Indy cars. So my thoughts are, you know, and I think the cars right now are pretty safe. But I think the next thing needs to be done to the fencing.
BLITZER: Good point. Finally, Paul, tell us something about Dan Wheldon you would like to share with all of our viewers in the United States and around the world.
TRACY: Dan was just a guy who loved life. I mean, I never saw Dan in the ten years that I knew him without a smile on his face. Without a twinkle in his eye. Whether he add good day on the race track or bad day, you know, this season for him was only a part-time season. He lost his ride, lost his sponsor and was around the track trying to find himself a ride, always smiling, always talking to everybody, meeting with the fans and never upset about it. Never bitter about it.
He picked himself up at Indy 500 ride this year and won the biggest race in the world. And, you know, that's the highest of highs that you can have, and yesterday was the lowest of lows. But, you know, what we can remember of Dan was a guy who just loved life and loved being a race driver.
BLITZER: Paul Tracy, thanks very much for sharing some thoughts with us about Dan Wheldon and the tragedy that occurred here in Las Vegas. Appreciate it very, very much.
TRACY: Thank you.
BLITZER: And once again our deepest condolences to Dan Wheldon's beautiful family and all of his friends as well.
We will take a quick break. More of the news from Las Vegas right after this.
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We keep working at things until we get them fixed.
BLITZER: President Obama speaking about jobs in Miller's Creek, North Carolina right now. Let's listen in for a minute to hear what he is saying.
OBAMA: We can fix it. We just got to stay on it. We have to be persistent. We've got keep trying things until folks are back to work and the economy is growing again. And we have got to muster that spirit right now, a can-do, not a no, we can't spirit, but a yes, we can spirit.
We don't need a why we can't attitude, we need a why we can attitude.
I know that sometimes everybody watches television and you see what is going on in Washington and you get discouraged. But I just want you to remember that we have been through tougher times before. This is a country that's been through a revolutionary war, a civil war. We got through slavery. We got through depression. We got through World War I. We got through World War II. We have been through tougher times before. We are going to get through this and we will get through it together, because Americans don't quit.
So let's meet this moment, let's get to work, and let's show the world once again why the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth. God bless you. God bless North Carolina. God bless the United States of America.
BLITZER: All right. There you have the president of the United States. He's on fire right now. He is excited. He's talking about jobs in North Carolina, a key battle ground state.
Let's assess what is going on, on the jobs front, on the Republican presidential campaign front. The Texas congressman Ron Paul, is running. He just unveiled a huge plan of his own. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
So let's talk a little bit about your jobs proposal. We heard a little bit from the president of the United States. He has his ideas. Yours is the most revolutionary, shall we say. Want to cut $1 trillion in spending over how long.
RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Over three years. But the first year is $1 trillion, balanced budget in three years, so cut $1 trillion the first year.
BLITZER: The first year. And you want to do that by eliminating, one, two, three, four, five cabinet positions, right?
PAUL: Right. The problem we have is I think the radicals have been in charge. The people who believe in spending and deficits don't matter and we can be in any place in the world and can you print up money forever. And they've been doing this for about four years. So this is an inevitable problem we have today.
And yet I think the country, people are waking up. People in Washington, you know, the bureaucrats and the other politicians, the other candidates running for this office, I think they are living in a different world.
BLITZER: This plan is pretty radical. Let's take a look at this. You would cut, and correct me if I'm wrong, the Department of Energy, 100,000 jobs right there, the Department of Education, 4,200 jobs, Department of Commerce, 38,000 jobs, Department of Interior, 70,000 jobs, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 9,000 jobs. That's 221,000 government jobs you would seek it eliminate over three years.
PAUL: Yes. But they are nonproductive.
PAUL: They're nonproductive. They are not productive jobs.
BLITZER: These people working these jobs, they think they are pretty productive.
PAUL: I know, but when the government spends your money, they don't spend it as wisely as you do. You spend it more diligently and smartly and investments are much better. So governments aren't smart enough.
BLITZER: The Department of Energy, all of America's nuclear power is related to the Department of Energy. What are you going to do with America's nuclear arsenal?
PAUL: Why subsidize anybody? Why subsidize nuclear over solar? I mean, let the market decide.
BLITZER: So would you just get rid of the nuclear bombs that the United States has?
PAUL: Well, you don't need -- we have enough to blow up the world about 20 times. And people are arguing for more. They want more military spending. I want less military spending. But we can blow up the world 20 times, and they want more weapons?
BLITZER: So you would eliminate that nuclear arsenal?
PAUL: No, I wouldn't eliminate it.
BLITZER: Not completely?
PAUL: I'd have enough to defend our country.
BLITZER: Your plan also has a huge cut in defense spending and in the number of jobs at the DOD, the Department of Defense.
PAUL: Right. I don't cut anything from defense. I cut military. There's a big difference. Defending this country is one thing --
BLITZER: So explain the difference.
PAUL: Militarism is buying weapons to subsidize the military industrial complex to build weapons that we don't need. I mean, why do we need 7,000 drones dropping bombs on any speck of the earth in order to defend this country?
BLITZER: So the $700 billion a year Defense Department budget which obviously finances the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, what would it go down to in a Ron Paul administration?
PAUL: Well, over a period of time, drastically lower, but the first year I think it goes down $200 billion.
BLITZER: Two hundred billion in the first year alone?
PAUL: Yes, because it doesn't really help us. It harms us by doing this. And we need a stronger national defense, not a weaker one. Just spending money doesn't necessarily help us.
BLITZER: I suspect that when it comes to this issue, defense spending, you are further apart from your fellow Republican candidates than you are from the Democrats.
PAUL: Yes, but I'm closer to the people and I'm closer to the military. I get more money from the military, acting military duty, twice as much as all the other Republican candidates put together.
The military people know exactly what I'm talking about. They know these wars aren't going well and that we shouldn't be there. We literally, in the last 10 years, have added $4 trillion of our debt because of this militarism around the world.
BLITZER: Because I remember you and Barney Frank have actually cooperated in seeking to cut defense spending.
PAUL: Yes, and I think the American people know this. I think they are tired of paying for Germany's defense, Japan and South Korea. I mean, what's the purpose?
BLITZER: So is this going to resonate in a Republican presidential contest? Because right now, you're trying to get the Republican presidential nomination. You go out there. Are Republican voters in Iowa, in New Hampshire and Florida, South Carolina, are they going to listen to you?
PAUL: So far so good. I think it's going very well. And I think when they hear the truth, they know they are hearing the truth.
And I really think the people are way ahead of the politicians. I believed this for many, many years. And that's why you have to have Tea Party movements and sit-ins on Wall Street, because the people are annoyed with this.
They know these bailouts and the spending cannot last. We cannot continue to do this. Our national debt goes up $4 billion a day. I mean, where are we going to -- I think the easiest place to attack is overseas. All the foreign aid and all the militarism --
BLITZER: So you'd bring all the foreign aid to zero? PAUL: Sure. I mean, unless you want to donate yourself. Everybody can donate what they -- and they're going to be richer, and they can pick out their friends and their country, and it used to be that way.
BLITZER: You have been in some major disputes in other presidential debates with Republican candidates over U.S. policy towards Iran. Last week, the Justice Department said that Iran, at the highest levels -- they didn't go how high -- at the highest levels, they said, were seeking to assassinate the Saudi president in Washington.
If you were president, and that report came to you from your CIA, your Justice Department, your FBI, what would you do about that?
PAUL: I'd check it very carefully for the facts, because now the facts are filtering out. They have arrested him, and that's fine. He could be a very dangerous person.
Maybe he will get a day in court, but I predict they won't, because I don't think they have much concrete evidence. But at least he is captured and he's in court and is going to do it. But the same --
BLITZER: But why do you think -- because various Republicans and Democrats, Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- you know him -- he believes that the evidence is strong. Dianne Feinstein --
PAUL: I think it's mostly war propaganda. They've been itching to go to war against Iran for a long, long time. This is exactly what they did leading up to the war in Iraq, and the danger was not there.
I don't think the Iranians are that stupid. And yet, the people here right now are getting pretty excited about it.
The same people giving us this information gave us Fast and Furious. Why? They are having investigations in Washington. Fast and Furious is a fraud. But all of a sudden, they believe this? No.
The same people are telling them the same thing. They need to look at it very carefully.
As president, I would like at this type of intelligence very carefully. I certainly wouldn't advocate going into another war. These people are using this one episode, the possibility of this one guy doing something. Was it a sting operation? We don't know.
People are suggesting we go to war over this. That is such a careless attitude.
BLITZER: I just want to make sure I heard you right. You said these allegations are war propaganda on the part of the Obama administration. Is that what you're saying?
PAUL: No. The people who are jumping up and down and saying this is wonderful, wonderful. It's all the way up to the top. Yes, I think people whoa re suggesting that this is a horrendous problem would like to see us go to war against Iran. They have been preaching this for years. I mean, they are just looking for the opportunity.
What I'm saying, he's a bad guy, he's off the streets. Give him his day in court, but let's wait and see if he really does get a day in court and we get all the facts on the table. That's what I would demand.
BLITZER: Congressman Paul, as usual, thanks for coming in.
PAUL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Next time you have to tell us how you really think.
PAUL: OK. I'll work on that.
BLITZER: Good work. Thanks very much.
Please be sure to join Ron Paul, all of the other Republican presidential candidates -- a total of seven of them, actually, I should say -- at the western debate here tomorrow night in Las Vegas, tomorrow, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN, the Western Republican Presidential Debate.
The future of U.S. troops in Iraq could be up in the air right now. The one thing that is holding up an agreement between Washington and Baghdad, we'll share the latest information just coming in.
Plus, steps to keep millions of cell phones users out of the so-called bill shock syndrome. The details of that new plan, much more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Turning now to Iraq.
Most U.S. troops are expected to be out of the country by January. Indeed, almost all of them. But now an Iraqi request for a small American training and assistance force to be left behind could be in serious jeopardy.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is following the latest twists and turns.
Chris, this hinges on whether or not the Iraqis agree to grant immune to any U.S. troops stationed in Iraq after January 1st. What's the latest?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
The 39,000 troops that are left have it now. The issue is whether any troops after the first of the year will keep it.
Our sources over the weekend were saying this was a done deal, it was dead, they were not going to get immunity. But today, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said there is still hope for a deal, and he says the two sides are still talking.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): A senior military official tells CNN the U.S. and Iraq could not agree on giving American troops immunity past the end of the year. About the negotiation to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past December 31st, the official says the discussions on numbers are over. But Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the two sides are still talking about whether the U.S. military will provide thousands of trainers and advisers.
LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: At the present time, I'm not discouraged because we're still in negotiations with the Iraqis.
LAWRENCE: And while a Pentagon spokesman said time is running short, Panetta says there is no specific day when it will be too late to negotiate.
PANETTA: There is no drop-dead date.
LAWRENCE: But go back a few months to mid-summer, when the secretary was clearly frustrated and wanted the Iraqis to move quickly.
PANETTA: They want us to stay, don't they? They want us to stay. Minister defense, or don't they want a minister of defense? But damn it, make a decision.
LAWRENCE: As far back as April, officials said the Iraqis need to decide within weeks.
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think the most aggressive time frame for our withdrawal will be this summer. That's why that request coming as soon as possible is critical.
LAWRENCE: Spring and summer have come and gone, and apparently U.S. officials' since of urgency as well. A senior military official says the sticking point was immunity. Iraq has not agreed to continue to grant it to American troops. Without immunity, if they were charged with a crime, they could be prosecuted in Iraqi courts under Iraqi law.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN, U.S. FORCES-IRAQ: We have been very up front with the Iraqis throughout this discussion phase, and even before these actual discussions started, that any U.S. service members that we have serving in Iraq would have to have the same sort of legal protections that they do now have under the security agreement.
LAWRENCE: And here is another problem. The Iraqi parliament is in recess until late November. So that would only give them a very short amount of time, a few weeks, to try to negotiate this out before the end of the year. A military official here in the Pentagon says the Pentagon, despite what happens at the end of the year, the Pentagon still wants to create a military-to-military relationship with the Iraqi forces like they have with other countries which could include, you know, an ongoing relationship in years to come. And a senior defense official told me that there is still a possibility, even if the troops have to get out by the end of year, that if this immunity issue could be worked out afterwards, a limited amount of U.S. training missions could be brought in from, say, Kuwait to help the Iraqis -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks very much. Important story for all of our viewers.
Meanwhile, when your cell phone company calls, it's usually bad news. But that could soon change, and it could save you money. We'll explain when we come back.
BLITZER: Cell phone users can now avoid the unpleasant experience of finding their bills are much higher than expected, at least those cell phone users here in the United States, because they exceed monthly limits.
CNN's Lisa Sylvester explains.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Burlington, Virginia, resident Melanie Preston logs a lot of time on her cell phone planning her May wedding. When she went online recently, she was shocked to see a more than $200 monthly wireless bill.
(on camera): So that is almost double what you were supposed to be paying. Is that right?
MELANIE PRESTON, VIRGINIA RESIDENT: Yes.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): The Federal Communications Commission calls it bill shock when consumers trigger hefty charges as they exceed their cell phone plan.
PRESTON: And it wasn't one particular phone call. It was multiple calls. It was a minute here, a minute there. And then, once you do go over, you get charged for even, I think, nightly rates and weekend rates and all of the above.
SYLVESTER: An FCC study last year found one in six Americans had received higher than expected wireless service bills. Sixty-seven percent of them had unexpected charges of more than $100. Twenty percent were more for $1,000.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski says that has to stop.
JULIUS GENACHOWSKI, FCC CHAIRMAN: Well, there's always been a simple technological solution to this. Send out alerts, text or voice, as a consumer is approaching their limits. And let the consumer manage their bills.
SYLVESTER: The FCC has been looking into the issue for the last year and a half and was considering establishing a new mandatory rule for wireless carriers. But under a new agreement reached with the industry, carriers will voluntarily notify consumers when they are getting close to exceeding their monthly limits via a tree text or a voice message.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the idea is that for texting, voice and data, you will get an alert before you reach your limit and once you have reached your limit. And for international roaming, you'll get an alert once you've got international and you'll be roaming on the network.
SYLVESTER: Wireless carriers will begin rolling out the free alert system within the next year. All four alerts must be operational within the next 18 months.
SYLVESTER: So there are a total of four alerts, one each telling you are getting close to your limit for voice, text and data, and another alert for international roaming. And those alerts will be both before and after you have exceeded your plan's total -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Probably a smart idea. All right, Lisa. Thank you.
Jack Cafferty just ahead. And I have a little surprise for him. You are going to want to see this. Stay with us.
Plus, Jeanne Moos and her 9-9-9 overload.
BLITZER: Interesting new video spreading online featuring Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. This was a 1991 appearance at an Omaha press club show when Cain was CEO of Omaha-based Godfather's Pizza. Listen to his rendition of the John Lennon hit "Imagine."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Imagine mozzarella, anchovies on the side --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's pretty cool, huh? There he is, a young Herman Cain in Omaha.
Let's go to Jack.
That was my surprise for you, Jack, but give us "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: It's hysterical. Imagine there is no pizza? The guy has got a sense of humor. I would vote for him based on that, if nothing else. That's what's missing in Washington, D.C. There is none. Got background singers? I mean, this doesn't get any better than this. Imagine there's no pizza.
CAFFERTY: He's got a good voice, too.
The question this hour: Would Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan get to you vote for him?
Bill in Virginia, "I hope and pray I get a chance to vote for Herman Cain beyond the Republican primary. Like any plan, 9-9-9 would not survive as proposed, so I'm less concerned about the details. But he at least has a plan, and it is at a very high level, on the right track. Everyone should pay something. Not like now, where 47 percent of individuals pay nothing, along with a lot of profitable corporations."
Chuck in Florida writes, "No. In Florida, we already have a 6 percent sales tax. Cain's plan would have us paying 15 percent on food and clothing. It would severely impact many here who can barely make ends meet as it is."
Jim in California, "9-9-9 is deeply flawed. It does nothing to rein in federal spending. And not only does it give the government a new revenue stream in the form of a national sales tax, but you can be sure that in the future, Congress would make it 10-10-10, then 12-12- 12. Then there's no limit."
Brad in Portland writes, "Tax cuts for millionaires and corporations? Tax increases for the middle class and poor? What's not to like? Sign me up."
Michael on Facebook writes, "I'm voting for him because of his personality, intelligence, executive experience, and sense of humor. The 9-9-9 plan is a start."
Henry says, "Rome fell when it started to let pizza vendors dictate tax policy. This is a little known historical fact."
And S. in Florida, "It depends, Jack. If my nine-topping pizza isn't here in nine minutes, do I still have to pay the $9?"
If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page.
Imagine there's no pizza -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Imagine that.
OK, Jack. Thanks very much.
A most unusual take on Herman Cain's economic plan. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain may be surging in the polls, but his so-called economic plan, 9-9-9, is the butt of a lot of jokes.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cover --
CAIN: -- my 9-9-9 plan.
MOOS: -- your --
CAIN: This 9-9-9 plan --
MOOS: If you've heard it nine times --
MOOS: -- or 999 times too many --
BILL MAHER, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": 9-9-9. He keeps saying it every day like the count on "Sesame Street."
COUNT, "SESAME STREET": Count up to 9 for me today -- 1-2-3-4-5-6-7- 8-9.
MOOS: It's not Herman Cain's tax plan itself that's driving us batty, it's hearing those numbers.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": He calls it the 9-9-9 plan.
MOOS: Even company like Spirit Airlines are jumping on the bandwagon with a $9-$9-$9 travel plan featuring a few $9 fares. And the Zpizza chain is offering a large cheese pie for $9.99.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Herman Cain and his 9-9-9 thing is just an absolute joke.
MOOS: Oh, there are plenty of jokes --
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil is in the details.
MOOS: -- from Letterman to Leno --
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Michele Bachmann was trying a little too hard to show how smart she is. Like, every time Herman Cain would go "9-9-9," she would go, "27."
MOOS: -- to Jimmy Fallon's slow jam --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 9-9-9, not quite 10.
MOOS (on camera): And 9-9-9 isn't just multiplying, it's spreading to other numbers.
CHRIS WALLACE, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": How do you guarantee that 9-9-9 down the line doesn't become 12-12-12?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do we fix health care? The 3-3-3 plan. Every time you get sick you get three pills, three days off, and three chicken noodle soups.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the 0-0-0 plan.
MOOS: But the 0-0-0 plan is zilch compared to the fame of 9-9-9, which has even been translated.
CAIN: 9, 9, 9.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nein, nein, nein, nein, nein, nein.
MOOS: Forget the tax implications. It's just so taxing to keep hearing it like those annoying car service ads --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 777-7777.
MOOS: (on camera): Maybe what 9-9-9 deserves is to be deep-sixed.
Jeanne Moos --
COUNT: 9, 9, 9.
MOOS: -- CNN --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 9-9-9
MOOS: -- New York.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The news continues next on CNN.