Return to Transcripts main page

Lou Dobbs Tonight

Battle over Public Option; Obama's Czars; California's Unions; Czech Republic Health Care

Aired September 08, 2009 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Tonight, the White House says President Obama is going to be more forceful with Democrats as he struggles with his top domestic priority. President Obama is now squarely in the midst of the health care debate on the eve of a critical moment in his presidency.

Also tonight, the battle over the public option. Supporters say there won't be a deal without it, opponents say they want no part of it. Tonight, two of the nation's most influential senators, Republican Judd Gregg and Independent Bernie Sanders join us for the "Face Off" debate.

And all the president's czars. A top czar has quit, the White House plan of bypassing the vetting process and bypassing Congress, hitting new troubles.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and analysis for Tuesday, September 8th. Live from New York, "Mr. Independent" Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. Tonight, the White House crafting a new approach to health care at a pivotal moment in the Obama presidency. President Obama tonight trying to assert his authority on the issue as he prepares for what will be a make or break address to a joint session of Congress.

The health care fight has all but exhausted the president's political capital and severely damaged his standing in public opinion polls. We have complete coverage tonight from Capitol Hill and the White House with Dana Bash and Ed Henry. We begin at the White House where President Obama today met with Democratic leaders. Ed, what happened?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Lou, what we know from people familiar with the meeting is the president was really pushing the Democrat leader Speaker Pelosi as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that there was a real sense of urgency now. Now is the time to act and type (ph) -- aides to the president tell me that's really the approach, the tone the president is going to be taking as well tomorrow night in a joint -- in a speech to a joint session of Congress, really trying to take the bull by the horns and really try to show, assert himself, be more aggressive than he has been in this debate before.

This is a real high-stakes forum. You'll remember that 16 years ago this month, then President Bill Clinton used the same venue, a high pressure venue to try to sell health reform. He failed then. And that's partly why there's so much pressure on this president, as well as the Democratic Party now, that there's not a repeat. That they fail on health reform and then a year later really take a beating at the polls in those midterm congressional elections. What is really interesting is after the meeting Speaker Pelosi emerged still pushing very hard on this public option even though there are others in the Democratic Party who don't want it as badly.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: On the public option, I believe that a public option will be essential to our passing a bill in the House of Representatives because as the president has said, and I listened to him very carefully, he believes that the public option is the best way to keep the insurance companies honest and to increase competition in order to lower costs, improve quality, retain choice. If you like what you have, you can keep it, and expand coverage in a fiscally sound way, that is saves money.


HENRY: But advisers to the president are suggesting that maybe Mr. Obama will be not quite as aggressive tomorrow night in pushing the public option. That he will continue to say that it's an important tool to try to drive down costs and in his words keep the insurance companies honest, but that this is essentially not a deal breaker for him. That if it's thrown out, he in the end wants a deal, Lou.

DOBBS: He wants a deal whether it has what he wants in it or not. Sort that out for us if you will, Ed.

HENRY: Well part of it, Lou, is what I mentioned about 1994 and Bill Clinton. When you talk to senior advisers to this president, what they read -- and it could be wrong -- but what they read into 1994 is that Democrats paid a political price for getting nothing done at all. And so what I'm told the senior advisers to the president are telling top Democrats on the Hill right now is if you try to make essentially the perfect -- be the enemy of the good and don't walk away with at least half a loaf here, Democrats will pay a price for spending all this time, spending all this political capital and walking away with nothing.

Essentially trying to make the case that something is better than nothing. They can come back next year, the year after and try to finish the job. However, there are some people in this country right now who obviously feel that something is not better than nothing and that actually no reform might be better than what the president is pushing, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, Ed, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid also seemed to be caught off guard when they were asked about where were the Republicans at the White House? Let's listen to that and then get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why was there no place for Republicans at the table today, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, today...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Today, why no Republicans at the table today at this meeting?


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: You know, I think that...


REID: ... we have had a large table on the Finance Committee and the Health Committee and the Senate. There's always a place for them.

PELOSI: The president was meeting with the speaker of the House and the Democratic leader of the Senate. He has other meetings that we're not invited to that Republicans are at, so I don't know what the point of the question is.


DOBBS: Well, Ed, help the speaker out.

HENRY: Well, I'm not sure why she didn't understand the question. A fair question by (INAUDIBLE) of Bloomberg saying why were there no Republicans in the Oval Office today? It was just the Democratic leaders, the president and the vice president. Look, they essentially were trying to say Republicans have been at the table before. They have been much earlier in the process.

They really have -- the Republicans have not been at the table other than that gang of six in recent days. They haven't really been at the White House lately. I think the bottom line is that while the president tomorrow night we're told will continue to say he wants a bipartisan deal, it's clear the Democratic leaders there were suggesting the Republicans didn't necessarily need a seat at the table today here at the White House.

And I think the broader point is that the Republicans are not really the Democratic leaders' problem right now. The problem is that they cannot get consensus on the Democratic side. That's been the problem throughout this whole debate for the Democrats and until they somehow sort that out, they're not going to get a deal.

DOBBS: All right, Ed Henry, thank you very much from the White House.

The so-called gang of six leading Democrats and Republicans who have led bipartisan efforts in the Senate over health care legislation also were meeting today. Dana Bash was outside the meeting on Capitol Hill and Dana, after what has been a summer with no agreement and plenty of discontent, senators are now racing to make a deal before the speech tomorrow, is that right?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are trying. Ed talked about the sense of urgency at the White House after that meeting. No place do we see more of a sense of an urgency than outside the meeting of that so-called gang of six meeting. The bipartisan negotiators who have been meeting for months and months and the reason is because they know full well that the White House simply doesn't think that they're going to get a deal, that the Republicans, especially two Republicans you see on the screen there, Charles Grassley and Mike Enzi, they simply don't think at the White House that they're going to at the end of the day sign on to a bipartisan plan. That is why Max Baucus, the chairman, came out and told us this afternoon that he is giving them until 10:00 tomorrow morning to come back with counter proposals and that he hopes to decide whether or not they can go forward with this bipartisan deal by tomorrow afternoon. Listen to what Max Baucus said.


SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: (INAUDIBLE) a lot of this comes down to political...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, is there...

BAUCUS: I'm just hopeful that when the president gives his statement tomorrow night that that's going to help move all forward and (INAUDIBLE). The rubber is starting to meet the road here.


BASH: Now Lou, this is the 18-page proposal of what Senator Baucus sent around to that -- five other senators. He did it over the holiday weekend and that's what they were discussing in the meeting today. And I can go over for you some so of the highlights that both -- many of these senators do see as points of compromise.

First and foremost, that public option is not in this. Instead, it is -- there are nonprofit, so-called cooperatives that would take effect. There's no employer mandate, no mandate from employers to give their employees coverage except that there is a penalty for companies that have 50 or more employees if they don't give their employees coverage.

There is a mandate for individuals. All individuals in this country to get health insurance coverage. Now for people at or above the -- right above the poverty level, they will get subsidies for the government. But if not, if just for example, a family of four making $66,000 a year, if they don't have health insurance coverage, they would be fined a penalty of $3,800 if they don't have health insurance coverage. Those are some of examples of what's in this proposal. I can tell you that one of the Republicans, Olympia Snowe, just told our Ted Barrett that she doesn't think that they can get a deal by tomorrow night. If that's the case, Max Baucus might move on without the Republicans. We'll see.

DOBBS: Well move on without the Republicans, how about the rest of the country? When you start fining people $3,800 in this country, Dana, for not having health care insurance, I mean, that takes on certain -- well, authoritarian tones, does it not?

BASH: Well that's certainly what we heard from Republicans who are not in this -- in this meeting today. John McCain went to the senator floor and blasted that idea. We haven't heard very much from the negotiators on that. We're waiting to hear what they say, whether or not they can sign onto this.

DOBBS: I don't understand something. Perhaps you can sort it out for us. Max Baucus set a 10:00 a.m. deadline tomorrow?

BASH: 10:00 a.m. deadline tomorrow for...

DOBBS: And the president doesn't speak until tomorrow evening at that joint session. And he says he needs Obama to help move forward any possible compromise, but he's got a deadline that will take place hours before the president speaks. Sort that out for us.

BASH: Sure, what he said is that he wants the other senators to come back with their problems with this. He insisted there were only four or five major issues and that the group is going to meet again tomorrow afternoon. He didn't lay down a line to say absolutely we're going to you know make or break this before the president's speech, but he absolutely is using the, you know the deadline of the president having a speech in the hopes of moving this group along.

He's not wedded to you know to saying we're going to fish or cut bait, to use his words, by tomorrow night, but he certainly is trying to put the pressure on big time because he knows the pressure is on him because the White House simply doesn't think that this is the forum for the health care proposal that the White House can ultimately sign on for. He wants to prove them wrong because he has been working for months and months to get this bipartisan deal.

DOBBS: And a certain amount of desperation on Capitol Hill, would you say?

BASH: Oh I think that there is definitely, you know desperation is one word. I think that there's definitely a desire by many, many Democrats to get something done, and they understand it's going to be very tough to do it unless they compromise. And that is why -- you talked about this a little bit with Ed, Lou -- that is why you are hearing some different points of view on whether or not this so-called public option will ultimately be in this. Nancy Pelosi is standing firm, but more and more Democrats, even liberal Democrats today, Lou, made it clear that they are willing to go along with something that doesn't necessarily have a government-run option if it means getting a bill.

DOBBS: And as you and I have discussed, does this also mean the likelihood that the public option that would be reasserted during conference?

BASH: That is such a great question and that's going to be a question that many a conservative Democrat is going to ask, and it will probably be -- the answer to that question is looking at where the votes are potentially now, it will be very tough to do that and get this through the Senate and the House and get it to the President's desk with that public option, very tough (INAUDIBLE) White House knows that.

DOBBS: All right, Dana Bash from Capitol Hill, thank you.

The battle over health care is diminishing the president's approval ratings. According to the Gallup daily tracking poll, the president's approval rating is now 51 percent, just a point off (INAUDIBLE) 50 percent in the Gallup poll. Forty-one percent disapprove of the president now.

President Obama giving a back to school pep talk broadcast to thousands of class rooms across the country. After an uproar over the past week his speech avoided politics. Instead the president delivered a somewhat predictable stay in school message to the students.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need every single one of you to develop your talents and your skills and your intellect so you can help us old folks solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that, if you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself. You're quitting on your country.


DOBBS: Controversy over the president's speech exploded last week after an initial attached lesson plan asked students to write about what they can do to help the president. And a Oprah Winfrey- produced video calling on students to figure out how they can serve President Obama. Parents across the country outraged is what they see as political interference in the class room.

The president's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, dismissing and even trying to trivialize those critics by saying they were simply starting an animal house food fight, as he put it. The White House today insisted the speech was not altered because of the controversy.

Democrats applauded the president's back to school speech today, but their reaction was completely different when George H.W. Bush was president. He made a similar speech to the nation's children back in 1991.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not here to tell you what to do or what to think. Maybe you're accustomed to adults talking about you and at you. Well, today, I'm here to talk to you and challenge you. Education matters and what you do today and what you don't do can change your future. Every day...

(END VIDEO CLIP) DOBBS: And what happened then? Democrats, the majority party in Congress at the time accused President George H.W. Bush of exploiting children for political gain. They even ordered an congressional investigation and they held hearings on the issue and the national liberal media promoted the storyline as columnist Byron York pointed out today in the "Washington Examiner". "The Washington Post" at the time ran a front page story that began quote, "The White House turned a northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props." The hearings and investigations found no wrongdoing and President Bush's "work hard, stay in school" speech 18 years ago was as unremarkable and ordinary as President Obama's speech today.

Up next, the public option. Will there be a health care deal without it? That is the subject of our "Face-Off" debate. Also tonight, "JOBS NOW!"


OBAMA: Even if you're not a union member, every American owes something to America's labor movement.



DOBBS: We'll tell you what's behind the big comeback for union workers and how you're paying for it.

And all the president's men and women. The Obama administration planning to bypass Congress. Well that plan to bypass Congress is exploding, not just backfiring. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Washington tonight still abuzz about the sudden resignation of the so-called green job czar, Van Jones. There are more than two dozen czars reporting to the Obama White House, far more than in any other administration in history. None of the so-called high level advisers are subject to congressional vetting or approval. Lisa Sylvester has our report.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pick a topic and there's likely to be an Obama administration czar -- car czar, climate czar, drug czar, and pay czar, all told, some 30 specialized czars. Some congressional lawmakers feel like they were cut out of the vetting process.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: The Constitution makes it very clear that they should be put up by the president and confirmed by the Senate. And these czars are simply deliberately circumventing that process.

SYLVESTER: Van Jones was until last week President Obama's green job czar. He resigned after it was revealed Jones signed a petition by a group that believes that the Bush administration allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen as a pre text to go to war and separately that he used a vulgar term to describe Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well the answer to that is they're (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

SYLVESTER: FOX News anchor Glenn Beck was the first to criticize Jones. This after a group co-founded by Jones the "Color of Change" tried to lead a boycott of Beck's TV sponsors. The Van Jones controversy has led to new scrutiny of other Obama appointees. Among them, Mark Lloyd, recently named as chief diversity officer of the Federal Communications Commission. In 2008, Lloyd made these comments at a media reform conference in which he appears to praise leftist leader Hugo Chavez.

MARK LLOYD, FCC CHIEF DIVERSITY OFFICER: (INAUDIBLE) Chavez really had an incredible revolution (INAUDIBLE) saying we're going to have (INAUDIBLE).

SYLVESTER: Conservative radio show hosts like Rush Limbaugh have also narrowed in on Lloyd for a report he co-authored for the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, in which he argues that commercial private radio shows that aren't diverse enough should pay a fee to public broadcasters. Lloyd in a statement to CNN defended himself saying quote, "The point I was trying to make was that there was dramatic social change in places like Rwanda and Venezuela and that media played an important part in that. I'm not a Chavez supporter. I do not support any political leader other than the president of the United States. I do believe all Americans would benefit from more opportunities to participate in media and that the answer to ugly speech is not censorship but more speech."


SYLVESTER: Mark Lloyd, who worked at CNN in the 1980's, also has the title of associate general counsel at the FCC in addition to chief diversity officer and like President Obama's czars, he does not have to go before the Senate for confirmation. The only individuals who need congressional approval at the FCC are the commissioners -- Lou.

DOBBS: Lisa, when you talk about diversity, so that we might be clear, Mark Lloyd isn't talking about ethnic, racial or religious diversity. He's talking about more liberals on the air.

SYLVESTER: That's absolutely right and when you look at this paper that he co-authored at the Center for American Progress, a very liberal think tank in this town, it's very clear that what he wants to do is to go after some of these conservative broadcasters and try to essentially give a leg up to more liberal voices out there.

DOBBS: In other words, he wants to turn the market upside down and supplant the market with government fiat.

SYLVESTER: That's what some of the concerns are, Lou. DOBBS: All right, Lisa, outstanding. Thank you very much and thank you for sitting in here while I was taking a quick breather, if you will.

SYLVESTER: Glad to do it...

DOBBS: Lisa Sylvester. Thank you so much.

Now our continuing series of reports, "JOBS NOW!" The fourth quarter outlook remains grim. A report out today predicting an additional three percent decline in the number of jobs through the end of the year. With construction and the hospitality industry taking the hardest hits. But in California, those job losses turning into a big gain for the state's unions. Casey Wian has our report.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most people don't consider California a union stronghold. In fact, California has more union members than any other state and ranks sixth nationally in the percentage of its workforce belonging to a union. Now the golden state is leading a recovery in union membership nationwide. After decades of steady decline, the United States percentage of union workers has risen slightly by four-tenths of a percent during the past two years according to a new UCLA study. California's unionization rate has increased five times as fast and now exceeds 18 percent of the state's workforce compared to 12 percent nationally.

LAUREN APPELBAUM, UCLA: It's actually quite amazing that unionization rates are increasing in this recession. And I think that what that says is that workers are seeing unions as their best chance to have a decent wage, to have some job security, to have some health care.

WIAN: Another factor is that during the recession, millions of private sector jobs in manufacturing, residential construction, and other industries with low unionization rates have disappeared. At the same time, government jobs which are highly unionized especially in California have remained stable. The California Federation of Labor claims 200,000 new unionized workers during the past 18 months.

ART PULASKI, CHIEF OFFICER, CALIF. LABOR FEDERATION: Remember, after the great recession, depression 75 years ago, that's when we had by far the greatest influx of people wanting to join unions. It was a massive movement toward unionization.

WIAN: Unions also have a friend in the White House.

OBAMA: Labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. Even if you're not a union member, every American owes something to America's labor movement.

WIAN: Hundreds of union supporters are gathering in the nation's capital this week to lobby for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize work places, and which the president supports. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Labor experts say without that change in the law, unions may have a difficult time continuing to grow, especially because so many states are facing budget shortfalls. State and local governments are just now beginning to experience the job cuts the private sector has endured for two years, Lou.

DOBBS: Well in fairness though, Casey you report that over the past two years union -- unions as a percentage of the total labor force have risen in California and substantially, two percent, I believe, over that period of time. What is driving this? Is it simply the unionization of government jobs in California?

WIAN: It's both. It's the fact that so many private sector jobs in industries like residential construction and manufacturing, which have low rates of unionization, have completely disappeared while government jobs here in California have slightly increased over the last couple of years, and those government jobs in education and state government, local government, those jobs are highly unionized and they just continue to grow, Lou.

DOBBS: I guess to put it in context, the two very basic questions here that we need to answer. One is what percentage of the private workforce in the sate of California is unionized? And what percentage of the government or public sector workforce is unionized?

WIAN: I don't have those answers on the tip of my tongue, but I can get them for you real quick.

DOBBS: Well sounds good and we'll pick that up here later in the broadcast. Casey, thanks, an outstanding piece of work.

Coming up next, the public option, should it be in the final version of any health care plan? Should there be a final version of what these folks in Washington call health care? That's the topic of tonight's "Face Off" debate.

And the quality of health care in the Czech Republic. We continue our series of special reports on the LOU DOBBS TONIGHT show, bringing you the health care systems that seem to be working and not working all around the world. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Well, we continue our coverage of health care systems all around the world and we're comparing them to health care in this country. Tonight, we take a look at the Czech Republic. All citizens of the Czech Republic are covered under a variety of plans. And the Czech system has undergone a lot of overhauls since the country moved away from its communist system and became a Republic in the early '90s. Life expectancy in the Czech Republic is 77 years. Kitty Pilgrim has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the Czech Republic people choose any doctor, any hospital they like under a virtually free of charge system. Some drugs, even spas are covered if advised by a doctor, and people in the Czech Republic pay the lowest out of pocket expenses in all of Europe. Only about five percent of the total cost about two to four U.S dollars per visit.

PROF. RICHARD SALTMAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: So far, it's worked very well. The main concern right now, of course, is the economic downturn. However, the health insurance funds had set aside reserves in the last two years when the economy was doing well, and this year, at least, they will be fine. The concern is what happens next year.

PILGRIM: Nine privately run insurance funds cover everyone. Health care is funded 75 percent by payroll taxes, 25 percent by the government. Because of their communist past, Czechs still tend to expect free and frequent service without thinking of cost. Armin Fidler, a health strategy adviser for the World Bank, points out they average 15 doctor visits a year more than three times the average in Europe, and few think about costs.

ARMIN FIDLER, THE WORLD BANK: For doctors to basically submit patients to hospitals when there are no downside risks associated with that or financial risks associated with that.

PILGRIM: Hospitals are run by the regional government. Under the old communist system, hospitals were paid more money if they were bigger. But now there are too many hospital beds and too many doctors and regions are resisting cuts. There is one doctor to 277 people in the Czech Republic compared to one for 416 in the United States.

The government controls cost by paying doctors low salaries and negotiating hospital reimbursements. Insurance funds are not allowed to make a profit and can only spend 3.5 percent on administrative costs. For that reason the Czech Republic only pays 6.8 percent of GDP for health care compared to some 16 percent for the United States. Life expectancy is 77 years is improving as the population moves away from the old Soviet style habits of smoking, drinking and obesity compared to 78 years in the United States.


PILGRIM: Now in 2005, money from the European Union boosted the revenues for the health care as the organization helped fund the Czech Republic. Now, with the recession, a lot of the entitlements and aging population, it's almost impossible to see how they're going to fund their country.

DOBBS: It sounds almost communist in some ways because they're just moving the money around.

PILGRIM: Certainly, the psychology is in that everyone hasn't come to the terms with the fact that everything is free all the time.

DOBBS: Over the course of 20 years, it's got to be an adjustment for what was a communist country. But the number of doctors, 1 for every 77 Czech citizens is good, and they're thinking of that as, if you will, too good?

PILGRIM: They used to get pay bide the number of doctors.

DOBBS: Particularly in this country when we're trying to find a way to incentivize more doctors. Kitty, thanks very much.

Tomorrow, we continue our reporting on health care systems around the world. Argentina tomorrow. Later, Chile and Mexico, and I'll have a few thoughts about health care in this country and particularly the debate on health care. Join me on the radio Mondays through Fridays. Get your local listings in your area for the Lou Dobbs show on the radio and follow me on

Up next, the health care debate returns to the nation's capital. Is there still hope for a bipartisan solution? Is that truly hope? That is the subject of the face-off debate.

A massive California sinkhole, and we're not talking about Sacramento. This one swallows a 22 ton fire truck. We'll have the story as we continue next.


DOBBS: The battle over health care rages on in Washington, D.C. opponents of the president's plan still trying to eliminate the public option. And we think the president is continuing to support the public option. Which some say is necessary and in the house, they're pressing to keep it in. Joining me tonight are two influential senators, Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire who says a bipartisan bill is necessary. Good to have you with us. And Senator Bernie Sanders. Independent of Vermont who says the public option is absolutely necessary. Gentleman, let's start with the president's joint session speech tomorrow. First, you, Senator Gregg, what do you hope to hear from the president to influence you positively on health care legislation?

SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: It would be great if he would indorse the efforts of Senator Baucus and Senator Grassley to reach a bipartisan solution and get to some solutions. The president's been very general in what he supports. He hasn't been very strong on specifics. When you get down on the details, that's where you get to the issues that are important and make a difference in how the whole process works and whether we get a better healthcare system or not. So there's a lot of specifics coming out of this joint group that is negotiating. Senator Baucus, Senator Grassley, I think if the president were to say give that group his support that would move things down the pike a long way.

DOBBS: Do you agree, Senator Sanders?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: No, I don't. I would hope the president comes forward and explains the very serious health care crisis that we're facing, Lou. You know, I'm glad we're talking about health care internationally because every viewer should know the United States today embarrassingly is the only country in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care to its people, and yet we end up spending twice as much per person on health care as any other nation and our outcomes in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, deaths, are larger. I hope he urges Republicans to come on board. Bottom line is, we need health care reform so that we cut the costs of health care spending and make it affordable and guarantee health care to all people.

DOBBS: Let me ask you this, because it seems to many in this country that very little has been done in the way of public hearings, putting intelligently and comprehensively, facts on the table about health care in the country, about who owns what when it comes to pharmaceutical companies. What is the role of the doctor and what is their compensation? How will we make up for a deficit of doctors in this country whether we follow health care reform or whether we follow the status quo? Those are public policy questions that aren't even being discussed for millions of Americans by their elected representatives in the house and senate. And frankly, many in the national media cannot begin to understand why there has been this reluctance to hold substantive, open, forthright hearings whether it be on part of the Obama administration, under the leadership of Senator Reid, or by Nancy Pelosi. Let me turn to you, Senator Gregg.

GREGG: There's no question the president tried to rush through this through because he didn't want people to pay attention to it and then as people started to pay attention to it and the implications for their health care, the fact that literally millions of people would be forced off their health care system which they generally like. About 180 million people have health care that is privately delivered, and most of them like that. They may not like their insurance company but they like their health care. They like their doctors, and they usually their hospitals. And as a very practical mater, as you look at the plan which came forward which Senator Sanders supports, which is a government public plan or a single-payer plan, most of those folks or a large percentage of those folks would have lost their private insurance. As people started to focus on that, they got a little upset.

I do think it was moving quickly. I do think you have to take time on something this complex and I do think it has to have a lot of discussion and a lot of airing and I don't think we should try to rush it through because if you do, you get a lot of unintended consequences like people losing their health care who like their health care.

SANDERS: Well Lou, I mean I think you're asking a good question, and I think certainly if I was directing the nature of the debate, I think we would have started off by saying how come we spend twice as much, almost twice as much per capita as any other country, twice as much as France, for example, yet we have 46 million uninsured even more under insured? And this year, we're going to have close to 1 million people going bankrupt because of medically related illnesses. So the bottom line here is why do we spend so much and why is the outcome not so good? And one of the reasons is we spend almost 30 percent of every health care dollar on administrator costs. Not on doctors. We need more dentists, we need more nurses. Yet what we're seeing an explosion is in health care bureaucrats working for private health care insurance companies that are telling us we're not entitled to the benefits we thought we paid for. I think we have a wasteful and inefficient system. And I agree with you. That should have been exploited.

DOBBS: Senator Gregg, you were smiling as Senator Sanders was saying that.

GREGG: If you want to see an explosion of bureaucrats, just turn the entire system over to the government. Bernie's very forthright about this. He says that he wants a single payer plan, he wants a nationalized system. A very honest statement. He believes in that. He ran as a socialist and he actually believes that. I don't think that gets you good quality health care. I think it stifles innovation. I think in the end it causes a lot of people in the country who are quite comfortable with the health care system, literally millions, tens of millions, they have to have to leave that system and move to something that is very unpredictable which I think would be massively bureaucratic and would inevitably lead in my opinion to a government that puts bureaucrats between you and your doctor.

SANDERS: Well right now, as I think every viewer knows the bureaucrat between the physician and the patient is often somebody working for the insurance company and is telling the doctor, and doctors by the way are widely upset about this, what they can prescribe and what kind of therapy they can use. I happen to believe in a Medicare for all program. I think Medicare works pretty well. In fact, in terms of administrative costs, they spend less than in distraction than do the private insurance companies. But a single payer Medicare for all is not on the table. What is on the table is a public option and the right of the American people to be able to choose a Medicare type option as opposed to private insurance.

DOBBS: Let me ask you --

GREGG: Medicare works. This point needs to be made. Medicare works. It works because it pays about 80 percent of the full cost. The extra 20 percent is passed on to the private sector and people paying private insurance. And in addition, there's a lot of treatments that aren't allowed.

DOBBS: I have to bring it to a close. Quickly, can I ask you for a yes or no? Every viewer, every listener answering this question, would the senators and congressman be willing to put aside the plan, the health care insurance that they have now and take on the one that they would create? Senator Gregg, you first?

GREGG: I actually sponsor a bill that does that. It's a bipartisan bill that has ten Democratic sponsors, ten Republican sponsors.

DOBBS: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: If the public option were there and was better for me than the Blue Cross/Blue Shield I have right now, I certainly would take it.

DOBBS: What if it wasn't? SANDERS: Like every other American, I surely wouldn't take it. It's a choice. Nobody has to take it. People should have that choice.

DOBBS: As Senator Gregg said, and honest, forthright Senator Sanders. Thank you for being with us. Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Judd Gregg.

Joining me now with an update on the other stories we're following here tonight, Ines Ferre.



Tonight we're following a number of stories in California. First, wind gusts have caused dangerous flare-ups in the station fire burning in Los Angeles County. The fire, a result of arson, has burned more than 250 square miles and is now 60 percent contained. The state is offering $150,000 in rewards for information leading to the arsonists.

Also police escorted drivers over the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge as it reopened this morning. The bridge was closed for scheduled construction when inspectors found a crack going halfway through a steel link. Contractors worked through the night and the bridge reopened a day earlier than expected.

In Los Angeles, a broken water main caused a massive sink hole trapping a 22-ton fire truck. Firefighters who responded to a call about flooding were trying to back out of the area when the road gave out beneath them. All four firemen on board managed to escape without injury.

DOBBS: Ines, thank you very much.

Up next, the president's new approach on health care advocacy. He gears up for tomorrow's big speech. The white house promises a, quote, very forceful case for reform. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Joining me now from Washington, D.C. white house reporter for Politico, Nia-Malika Henderson. Great to have you with us. Here in New York, Republican strategist, former White House political director, CNN contributor, Ed Rollins. Good to have you with us. I wanted to work my way up to it.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You can put a lot of titles behind it.

DOBBS: And Democratic strategist, CNN contributor and so much more, Robert Zimmerman. Good to have you with us Robert.

Let's take a look at the Van Jones controversy. I've got to start here. Here are just some of the comments today. Let's start with David Sirota, a left wing columnist. "The white house is listening to the right wing's political terrorists, people like Glenn Beck." Howard Dean, former DNC chairman, "I think he was brought down. I think Washington is a tough place that way. I think it's a loss of the country," the Van Jones loss to the White House. And David Gergen, CNN's political analyst said, "It's a sad day to see a man of good work get so little credit. I mean there's just no balance to understanding how many good things he's done." Let's share some of the good things that are going to leave a giant hole on the Obama administration on his departure.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's no question the man has an extraordinary record in his terms of his work with green jobs.

DOBBS: How many did he create?

ZIMMERMAN: I can't give you a specific number, but that's not the point. The point is the man should have resigned his position because the statements he made which were ignorant and reckless, really did call upon him to leave his post but that doesn't mean he didn't have the intellectual achievements and the strength of character to do the job in the white house. Unfortunately though, you can't make those kinds of comments and serve the president.

DOBBS: Was he a national hero?

ZIMMERMAN: I didn't say he was. He was recognized by "Time" magazine for his achievements. He's been widely recognized for his work in the development of green jobs and his innovative thinking.

DOBBS: What do you think?

ROLLINS: When you get in a public role, which I have and David Gergen said, you pop off from time to time. You state opinions that obviously are embarrassing to the man you work for, then you basically have to step aside. That's what he did. He was a low-level guy, whatever the czar title was, he didn't even have mess privileges at the white house. And at the end of the day, to try to make him a hero at the white house is absurd.

DOBBS: That's exactly what the left is doing here. Nia, your thoughts?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes I mean he definitely was very much a hero to the left and to progressives and they very much felt like the president should have stood up for him and not let Glenn Beck win on this. I think going forward, the conservatives are certainly emboldened by this and have trained in their sights other czars that they're targeting now, so it will be interesting going forward if they're able to bring other folks down, too by combing through their records.

ZIMMERMAN: This is not a victory for Glenn Beck. This is not about liberal verse conservative. Van Jones made reckless, ignorant, and in many respects, extraordinarily irresponsible comments in his private life before he joined the white house staff. And you can't serve in government if you're going to behave that way. It's just about common sense and it's not the realities of public service. I would not call this a victory for the right wing or for that matter a defeat for the progressive agenda.

HENDERSON: I'm just giving you a sense of what a lot of progressives are saying. We heard in the top of this segment what some of the progressives were saying, that it was essentially a loss and they're also kind of angered that Glenn Beck essentially won this round.

ROLLINS: We see it as a loss too as conservatives, we would like to see him on the microphone every day and bring Reverend Wright around and do everything we can to get back in the game again.

DOBBS: We'll be right back with our panel in just a moment. Stay with us, please.


DOBBS: We're back with our panel let me turn to you, Nia. The controversy of the number of czars remains a new czar is brought in for manufacturing as the old czar for green jobs is departing. Has the Obama administration made a mistake by this sir couple vengeance of the congress and putting in so many czars?

HENDERSON: Well I mean if they have, they certainly aren't backing off from appointing czars, as you said yesterday Ron Bloom is going to be the new manufacturing czar and he took over as car czar earlier in the summer. He does have quite a few czars, you heard John McCain joke that he's got more czars than Russia. I think the number is at 33.

DOBBS: We have the number at 35 but what I think is interesting is no one seems to come up with a tally they're willing to bet on.

HENDERSON: I think it depends on the definition of czar essentially. It's 33, it's 35, it certainly is a lot. And this is going to be a continued talking point from folks from the right and even from the left. Robert Byrd himself expressed concerns with the number of czars.

ROLLINS: I don't agree with Robert Byrd's concerns in the sense the White House ought to have the kinds of people it wants. The problem that you have is management. If you have a car czar, what does the secretary of transportation do? He's got cars and national highway traffic safety and what have you. If you have someone like Carol Brown who's the former EPA administrator who is now the environmental czar, what does the EPA administrator do? There's a conflict that's built in and I think that's the significant problem.

DOBBS: It makes it look like anybody who took a secretary's job is an idiot.

ROLLINS: Used to be you have an office in the west wing.

ZIMMERMAN: There's an institutional question that has to be judged. It's not a partisan issue, but I'm saying whether the president has a right to put the staff around him he chooses to and what the role that congress has in terms of confirming presidential staff.

DOBBS: Advise and consent is a constitutional requirement.

ZIMMERMAN: For cabinet positions.

DOBBS: And a cabinet person who would have a czar encroaching on 3/4s of his department might be something that you would want to dismiss.

ZIMMERMAN: In our modern presidency, we have had czars from both parties.

ROLLINS: At the end of the day, they have a big office and no staff. So they don't get to do much.

DOBBS: The highest number of czars pre-Obama was Mr. Clinton's ten czars. Tomorrow Mr. Obama talks health care to a joint session of congress. Nia, what does he got to do?

HENDERSON: Well, he's got to get specific. He's got to show some passion as well and he's got to convince the progressive base to get behind him and we heard from folks today, Pelosi and Reid, they were in the oval office sessions with the president today talking about the public option. It looks like that might not be completely, you know, thrown overboard but it's certainly walking a plank at this point.

DOBBS: Nia, we have about 30 seconds. Robert, public option, in or out, what does the president have to do?

ZIMMERMAN: The president has to first and foremost reassure his base and mobilize his base and he also has to reassure individuals they're going to have the insurance they have.

ROLLINS: He has to convince the 45 million people on Medicare that they're not going to lose their benefits. And equally as important 85 percent of Americans are covered by health insurance and are pretty happy with it, that the system is not going to get messed up.

DOBBS: Did I just hear you all say he's got to convince people to perform his good but the status quo will be preserved? Nia, thank you very much. Thank you so much Ed. Robert, thank you.

Coming up at the top of the hour, Campbell Brown. Campbell, help us out.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Lou, well tonight, we are also looking ahead to President Obama's big speech to see if he -- to see if we can get past some of the wild attacks, some of the crazy rhetoric we have heard from both sides in the last few days and actually focus on fixing health care.

Also are we really making any head way in Afghanistan in Anderson Cooper and Michael Ware are joining us from the front lines tonight.

Also our newsmaker, Mrs. D-list herself, Kathy Griffin, her personal life, her plastic surgery and her relationship with Levi Johnston, all ahead, Lou.

DOBBS: Sounds like a lot of laughs, appreciate it Campbell. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Well to hear my thoughts on the health care debate and much more, join me on the radio Monday through Fridays as well for the Lou Dobbs Show. Go to to get the local listings in your area. And subscribe to our daily podcast on and follow me on loudobbs on

Thanks for being with us tonight. Join us here tomorrow. For all of us, thanks for watching.

Next, Campbell Brown.