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American Morning

President Obama Headed to New Hampshire for Another Town Hall Meeting; Plane and Helicopter Collision Have Some Asking About Traffic Safety Over the Hudson River; American Banks Collecting More than $38 Billion in Overdraft Fees; Kuwait Authorities Stop Al-Queda Attack on U.S. Military Base; Hospital Fees Include Hidden Costs

Aired August 11, 2009 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning once again, we're coming up on a couple of minutes before the top of the hour on this Tuesday, August 11th, glad you're with us. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, I'm John Roberts. Here's what's on this morning's agenda, the stories that we're breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

President Obama heading to New Hampshire this afternoon for a town hall meeting on health care reform. No one is sure what he'll encounter there. Meetings like these across the country have turned into shouting matches like this one last night in Towson, Maryland.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to kill the -


ROBERTS: In a moment, Tom Foreman from that town hall in Towson, where average Americans really opened up about their hopes and fears for our health care system.

CHETRY: All right. Also divers going back into the Hudson River today. They're going to be looking for the last of nine people killed in Saturday's midair collision between the helicopter and a small plane. The plane wreckage also still under water.

They have located it, but it's been really rough going trying to bring it back up to the surface. The accident raising some questions about air traffic safety over the Hudson Rive this morning. And just ahead we're going to be talking to former FAA chief of staff Michael Goldfar.

ROBERTS: And American banks collecting more than - listen to this -- $38 billion in overdraft fees this year. It's a record windfall and most of it is coming from the accounts of Americans who can least afford it. Stephanie Elam is minding your business for us this morning.

CHETRY: President Obama says that it is OK to have a spirited debate in America about health care. But in the face of mounting criticism he's also retooling his message when he takes his pitch for reform to a town hall meeting today. It'll be in New Hampshire. Many of these sessions have been turning into shouting matches as we've seen. A lot of people saying they fear reform. Like one woman in a town hall meeting in New Jersey last night.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's my opinion that we have the best health care in the world. People from Canada have come here for life- saving procedures. Where are we going to go if this health care gets passed and you know this president only -


CHETRY: (INAUDIBLE) In Towson, Maryland, last night where the Democratic Senator Ben Cardin was booed repeatedly. The crowd was told to calm down so he could even speak.




CHETRY: Cardin's been defending the president's plan in health care reform and he says that it will give more people more choices and more Americans will be covered.

Our Tom Foreman was there, he was taking the temperature of the people on a very hot night in Maryland.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. Senator Ben Cardin came her to the outskirts of Baltimore to meet with about 500 people, about 500 more could not even get in to the university hall where this event was being hosted. Outside, people were sweltering in the heat and getting more heated by the moment as they talked about this issue. Some in favor of it, a great many more against health care reform.


BILL FOSTER: There's nobody that understands what it is, the congressmen haven't even read this bill. It's 1,000 pages plus, they don't know what's in it themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you don't see any transparency in this?

FOSTER: Absolutely not.

RICHARD ALDERMAN, JR.: I'm a union guy, a big strong supporter of my union, but I don't think that we should be forced into an option that you may or may not want.

MARA BROWNING: I'm just an average citizen who believes that the people have a right to speak. LIAM DAVIS: Do you compare the United States to a lot of developed western nations, there's a number of things we're falling behind. We're falling behind in life expectancy...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why does everybody out from the world come here for health care then?

DAVIS: They come here because we have the good facilities. Now, what I would do -- I would favor a system where it kind of -- can you let me speak, sir? Do you mind if I speak?

FOREMAN: Inside the hall, it was much the same way once the meeting got underway. The senator has tried to take questions from the audience many times, booing broke out, jeering, people got very involved in the conversation.

Listen to some of the exchange that happened as he tried to explain his position and others tried to make theirs, as well.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: The answer is that Congress, federal employees, all will be covered by the plan. We want to have the co-ops or the public plan available for those who may need it. If I were to lose a job -- which you never know -- I might need it.


FOREMAN: In the end, however, the meeting did manage to go the full length. They were able to get in a good many questions from the audience there. And despite all the booing and carrying on, by and large, the senator was able to answer the questions -- whether or not the crowd liked his answers afterwards -- he said he was pretty happy with the fact that Americans have a right to protest, happy that people came out to listen -- whether or not they wanted to listen very much -- and there will be a lot more changes to this bill before it will ever become law.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Tom Foreman for us this morning -- Tom, thanks so much.

For the president, it's a make or break month on health care. Americans bitterly divided on the issue are going grassroots, making signs, going to meetings, flooding the Web. So, what kind of reception can President Obama expect today in Portsmouth, New Hampshire?

Our Jim Acosta is there this morning. He is live. He's already talking to people on both sides of the fight this morning.

Now, Jim, we should point out that at least inside the hall, the president should operate in a more controlled environment than some of the town halls that we've seen. But it still leaves open the possibility of some interesting debate.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You just never know who's going to get inside one of these town hall meetings and fire off a question at the president. And he just might get a taste of those rowdy town hall meetings later today here in Portsmouth. The White House is expecting about 1,800 at this town hall event in Portsmouth. But there may be hundreds more gathered outside of the event.

And asked if the president might be shouted down by one of the protestors, a White House official says Mr. Obama expects a, quote, "vigorous debate."


ACOSTA (voice-over): Opponents of Democratic plans for health care reform aren't just sounding off at congressional town hall meetings.

In New Hampshire last week, protesters descended on staff members of Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in the middle of a routines constituent's services meeting. It wasn't a town hall forum and the senator wasn't even there. The protesters recorded the confrontation and put it on YouTube.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: One constituent who was there wound up almost in tears where our staff person had to be escorted out with a police escort.

ACOSTA (on camera): And have you ever seen anything like this in all of years of public service?

SHAHEEN: Never where people have been encouraged to be disrespectful.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats charge the people shouting health care questions at members of Congress these days are being encouraged by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, whose Web site compares the reform supporters to Nazis.

But Corey Lewandowski, with Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that's backing the protest, insists the anti-reform movement is real.

(on camera): How do you respond to the charge that this is all orchestrated and artificial if it's -- if it's all coming from talk show hosts and Web sites?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY, NEW HAMPSHIRE: I think if that were the case, then you wouldn't see the massive turnout that you've seen in each and every event. I mean, you know, the average person is at work when Rush Limbaugh is on the radio.

ACOSTA (voice-over): As we were talking, almost out of nowhere, a bystander listening in our conversation came right up to us to say ditto.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

ACOSTA (on camera): And you happen to agree with this gentleman?


ACOSTA (voice-over): But Democrats are also flexing their grassroots. These former Obama volunteers are back in campaign mode.

EILEEN FLOCKHART, SUPPORTS OBAMA'S HEALTH CARE PLAN: I really think you've got some folks who are very anxious about change, who really love to play the fear card.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Corey Lewandowski says it's about facts not fear. But time and again, he falsely compared Democratic health care proposals to a Canadian-style universal system.

(on camera): The ones coming out the House are not Canadian- style universal health care. And you know that.

LEWANDOWSKI: Universal health care in any way, shape, or form is a bad notion.


ACOSTA: The White House administration have set up a page on the White House Web site called the "reality check" to counter some of these bogus claims. And as for Senator Jeanne Shaheen, she's not even sure whether or not she's going to hold her own town hall meeting in the state. But this event today, John, is not just geared towards people in New Hampshire, just across the river from Portsmouth, as you know, John, is the state of Maine where two key senators, Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, will be key votes in this health care debate, John.

ROBERTS: And lots of protests planned from outside the venue there, as well, Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right. Yes. There's going to be a lot of people out there, and not just opponents -- on both sides, those Obama supporters that you saw drawing up those signs in our piece, they plan to be out there, as well. They have spread the word through the Democratic Party/White House organizing machine. That has also gotten a lot of people fired up for this.

So, you may see competing sides of this debate going at each other outside of this event later today, John.

ROBERTS: Powerful lobbies at work on both sides of this issue.

Jim Acosta for us in Portsmouth -- Jim, thanks.

A beautiful place to be at any rate. I'm envious.

The health care debate also has you fired up. Calls have been pouring into our amFIX hot line, and here's some of what you're saying.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) MICHELLE, CALLER FROM TEXAS: I'm very disturbed at the town hall meetings and the misinformation that's out there on health care. I think it's really, a lot of Americans don't know what's going on and so they're just ranting.

DAVE, CALLER FROM KENTUCKY: This is absolutely the worst bill that's ever been introduced in Congress. It will take us to socialism and socialized medicine, and will do anything to make health care higher.

CHRISTY, CALLER FROM MISSOURI: I live in Branson, Missouri, and I've got to tell you, there is so much bigotry down here and death threats about Obama and his health care. They don't care about whether it gets fixed. All they care about is trying to destroy what he's doing.

ROBERT, CALLER FROM TEXAS: We do not want people telling us what kind of health care insurance we want. Please, do not pass this.


ROBERTS: And we want to know what you think about the president's health care reform plan. Drop us a comment at We'll read some on the air, or you can call our show's hot line at 1-877-MY-AMFIX, and leave us a voice mail.

And in 20 minutes' time, we're going to take a closer look at these town hall uproars. Is the debate out of control? Democratic strategist James Carville and Ed Gillespie, former counsel to President George W. Bush will join us live.

CHETRY: Nine minutes past the hour right now.

Also new this morning, a member of a great political dynasty has died. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former President Kennedy died at Cape Cod Hospital in Massachusetts at around 2:00 a.m. Eastern, according to her family. Shriver was 88 years old and suffered a series of strokes in the past few years. She spent her life improving the welfare of the mentally-disabled. She founded the Special Olympics.

The family released a very heart felt and emotional statement just a short time ago, and in part, it reads, "Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing."

ROBERTS: New this morning, two powerful earthquakes have rocked Asia, 6.5 magnitude quake near Tokyo killed one woman and left more than 60 injured. And a 7.6 magnitude quake in the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami warning that was later lifted.

CHETRY: A court in Myanmar has found pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of violating her house arrest, but she is not going to prison. Instead, she will be allowed to serve a 1 1/2 year sentence under house arrest. ROBERTS: And Hillary Clinton wants to make one thing perfectly clear, she is the secretary of state. The secretary lost her diplomatic cool when she thought a student in Congo asked what her husband, the former president thinks about a Chinese trade deal with Congo.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state, I am.


CLINTON: So, you asked my opinion, I will tell you my opinion, I'm not going to be channeling my husband.


ROBERTS: OK. But it turns out that the student really wanted to know President Obama's opinion. The translator kind of got lost in translation and said Clinton instead of Obama. So, it's the reaction from the secretary of state. But apparently, everything's turned out fine. Everybody shook hands and all agreed to go out and have a beer and get over it.

CHETRY: They had another beer summit? Really?

ROBERTS: No. They didn't.

CHETRY: Really?

ROBERTS: I just threw that in.

CHETRY: Did you see how tall the guy was who was walking behind her? He had to duck to get out of the door frame. All right.

ROBERTS: She's a little sensitive about it.

CHETRY: Well, yes, she is. And she had been fielding a lot of questions earlier in the week, of course, about the North Korea hostage rescue, the two journalists that her, you know, the former president was able to craft and so -- maybe she wanted to talk about herself for a little while.


CHETRY: All right. Anyway, still ahead, we're going to be talking about whether or not it's time to rewrite traffic rules for planes and helicopters that fly over the scenic view of the Hudson River.

Michael Goldfarb is former chief of staff of the FAA. He's going to join us to talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHETRY: This is a live look right now of the Hudson River where divers are heading back into the water today. They are trying to bring up the last of the nine victims, and also the plane wreckage after Saturday's midair collision between a small plane, a fixed-wing Piper and a helicopter, a sightseeing helicopter. We're also hearing the first 911 calls that were made in the moments after that crash.


911 OPERATOR: What is the nature of your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Hoboken, New Jersey, in the Hudson River, helicopter just landed on the corner of Fourth and River street.

911 OPERATOR: Fourth and River street. Stay on the line. Do you see anybody injured?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. They're probably totally injured.

911 OPERATOR: OK. It landed or it crashed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's gone. It crashed.


CHETRY: All right. Well, nine people died in that accident. It's raising some new questions about the air safety over the Hudson, and whether or not the FAA should step in.

Right now, we're bringing in Michael Goldfarb. He's the former FAA chief of staff.

Thanks for joining us this morning, Michael.


CHETRY: As we've been learning in the days after this accident, the air space in this area is virtually unregulated for small planes and also the very popular sightseeing helicopters that can fly under that 1,100-foot ceiling and it's basically visual flight rules. Is it time though for the FAA to start rethinking whether or not there needs to be more regulation in the skies over the Hudson?

GOLDFARB: Oh, it's way past due, Kiran. They can issue an emergency order this afternoon to airmen and airwomen, basically restricting that air space. There's no public safety value having those small aircrafts there, basically not under air traffic control on their own.

Some pilot described it that he had an electronic box in his aircraft like a GPS, and every time there was a plane that came near him or a helicopter or some other kind of vehicle, it would squeak traffic and it was a constant traffic, traffic, traffic. That's how busy it is. So, you're asking a pilot, some of whom have not gone through that kind of air space to not only be seen and be seen, visual flight rules, but they're also sightseeing, looking at the Statue of Liberty. It's past time to get those small aircraft out of that space. They have LaGuardia at 1,100 feet above them. They have Newark airport to the right. Too much congestion and too many airplanes.

CHETRY: Yes. And it's interesting that you say that, because a lot of times -- I mean, this is something that people love to do. I mean, in the months after 9/11, where they talked about permanently restricting that air space and there was a big, big lobby to open that back up again. It's lucrative, I'm sure, for the sightseeing helicopter companies that do that, but also, it's a pleasure for general aviation.

So, how do you fight against that?

GOLDFARB: Well, the small plane lobby is as tough as the gun lobby, and at FAA, they are constantly fighting between the rights of the large aircrafts, and saying, you know, we don't have bicycles on the interstate, we don't need small planes in the busiest air space in the world.

So, that's a tough battle, but let -- make no mistake, FAA has the authority today to close down that air space and to keep those aircraft out of there. And I think the public would appreciate that to help reduce some of that congestion.

CHETRY: All right. Well, you know, it's interesting -- a number of local officials gathered yesterday. They were right there with the Hudson River behind them, and they were weighing in; different officials calling for different things.

I want to run by some of the regulations or suggestions and I want you to tell me just, you know, how feasible it would be and whether or not it would make sense. One of the recommendations was to split the air space -- meaning, reserve the lower altitudes for the helicopters and then maybe slightly higher altitudes for the fixed- wing private planes. Would that be something that could work?

GOLDFARB: Bad idea. Air traffic controllers would be very unhappy with that. It makes already complex air space even that more difficult. And it also affects weather.

So, you're giving a smaller corridor for smaller planes and helicopters who to occasionally deal with bad weather. So, that idea is a work around. It doesn't get to the heart of the issue.

CHETRY: Another suggestion was to limit the number of hours, perhaps, that either planes or helicopters could be in the air. Would that work?

GOLDFARB: Well, I mean, it would reduce it somewhat. But we have another problem with the helicopter industry. NTSB has made 16 recommendations since 2002 about the problems, or the higher risk that you face when you get on those tourist helicopters. They're largely unregulated, the pilots fly longer hours. In general, they have less experience, although this pilot I believe had quite a bit of experience.

So, we have a situation where, once again, these are -- these are on the margin of reforms. They need to just take this problem head-on and do it, and do it quickly. And I believe, a couple months from now, Kiran, they will. But why wait?

CHETRY: And what is -- what is your suggestion then for the FAA?

GOLDFARB: To issue an emergency or an immediate rule, restricting that air space, to work with the board to find out the cause of this crash. But essentially, in that narrow canyon above the Hudson, small aircraft, like on the East River, they're not allowed -- ought not be allowed to fly, and let them yell and scream about it, but I think public safety would be improved.

CHETRY: And also, given your experience, would you -- if you were a tourist or had some friends coming into town and they said, "Hey, I want to take one of these sightseeing helicopter tours over the Hudson," what would you say?

GOLDFARB: Well, I get very nervous. I've flown a lot of helicopters back in my career, but I would say no. There's a 50 percent greater fatality rate on what's called onboard, on-demand -- excuse me -- aircraft. Those are primarily sightseeing helicopters around the country.

They're unregulated, 60 percent of them are over 20 years old. There's no requirement to look at the older aircrafts from a maintenance standpoint. It's just not where it ought to be. And the board itself has been upset about this and the inspector general just released a report 30 days ago admonishing the FAA for dragging its heels once again on helicopter safety.

So, I would say, take a circle line if they still have that or stay on the ground.

CHETRY: All right. You're talking about the boat -- the boat tours around the Hudson.


CHETRY: All right. Michael Goldfarb -- great to get your point of view this morning, former FAA chief of staff. Thanks for being with us.

GOLDFARB: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: So, how many times has this happened to you? You write a check to pay for something, and it comes back about a day later, and you got, overdraft charge, 10 or 15 bucks. Well, banks have discovered that they can make a whole heck lot of money doing this. So, they're jacking up the overdraft charges and wait until you hear how much money they have made on overdraft charges this year alone. Our Stephanie Elam has got that coming up for you. It's 19 1/2 minutes after the hour.



ROBERTS: It's going to be a very nice day in Atlanta, sunny and 76 degrees. Later on today, it's going to be hot, though, 92 degrees. And, of course, the ever present chance of thunderstorms when it gets that warm there in Georgia.

CHETRY: And Stephanie Elam joins us this morning. She is "Minding Your Business." She joins us now.

So, we're talking about these overdraft fees. Thanks for looking for more and more ways to make money in this downturn and in the tough times. And one of them is targeting people who maybe don't check their balance enough?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They don't manage their finances well enough, basically here.

ROBERTS: Unlike this one who's never had an overdraft charge in her life, I discovered in the break.

CHETRY: Only because my parents threatened me with like an inch of my life when I was younger and also...

ELAM: That's one of those things. It's a good thing. You know, that's like the good geek type of stuff. That's a good geek.


CHETRY: I mean, don't get me wrong. I don't balance my checkbook, that's far too confusing. But I just have, like they draw it from savings if you accidentally mess up, right?

ELAM: Yes, right. Some people do have that factored in. But not everyone knows to do that. Not everyone knows you could go to your bank and you can say, "I have this much money in my savings, if I ever don't have enough in my checking, pull from there, don't charge the fee."

CHETRY: Right.

ELAM: That is one option out there. But overall, people, we are spending a lot of money on overdraft fees as a nation. In fact, the banks are expecting to make $38.5 billion this year on just overdrafts. That's a huge amount of money. And it's almost double the near $20 billion in 2000 that the banks were collecting from these fees.

Now, these fees have also increased this year, and that's something that has not really happened in many decades -- something like 40 years during a recession, have we seen fees like these go up, and they have. But according to Moebs Service, which tracks this kind of little tidbits of information here, the average amount, the national median overdraft fee has risen to $26 from $25 in 2008. For large banks, however, though, the charge is $35 on average. Really showing you how much we're spending per mess up, because that's what happens. It's not for all of them for the year, right? This is for once.

So, it's making the banks a lot of money. This is a fee that's been around for a while. They're making more off of this than they are in net income. So, something like that when you see how much pain the banks have been going through, it's not going to go away. But what they want to see happen is that people are more aware of what's going on with their finance because 90 percent of these errors are happening by 10 percent of the population that has accounts with these banks.

So, it shows you it's the same small subset of people who are making the mistakes. But, it's all people, rich people, poor people, just people who aren't managing their finances. It's from all walks of life.

ROBERTS: People who aren't balancing their checkbooks?

CHETRY: No, I mean ...


CHETRY: Do people balance checkbooks?

ELAM: No, you don't need to balance it anymore.

CHETRY: I go online.


CHETRY: ... by a penny or five, it drives me crazy. Now, I just go online and just double check everything.

ELAM: Yes. Do you balance your checkbook still?

CHETRY: Do you balance your checkbook?

ROBERTS: Heck no.


ELAM: He's got the old school register. Do you remember that in the book? It's usually -- I had my first checking account like that. It was like, it looked like a passport.

CHETRY: Yes, he still has them in there.

ELAM: Yes, OK.

ROBERTS: I just do it all online. ELAM: Right. It's so much easier. And in that way, hopefully, if you do it often enough, you can get an app for your iPhone for some banks, if you do it often enough...


CHETRY: ... to get that complicated.

ELAM: That's easy, then you know.

ROBERTS: Really getting into geek-dom.

ELAM: Hey, geeks are hot. I always said that.

CHETRY: I agree.

ELAM: Yes.

ROBERTS: All right. Stephanie Elam, "Minding Your Business" this morning -- Stephanie, thanks so much.

Coming up right after the break: James Carville and Ed Gillespie. We're going to talk about the town hall uproar. Why was Congress trying to buy executive jets? And has President Obama weighted into yet another controversy by saying that he favors an immigration program with a, quote, "path to citizenship"? We'll find all of that out -- coming up.

Twenty-six minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Twenty-eight minutes past the hour.

Now, we check our top stories.

And sad news this morning, former President Kennedy's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, passed away this morning at the age of 88. Her family says that Shriver, well known as the founder of the Special Olympics, died around 2:00 Eastern Time. Statements are pouring in. Shriver's brother, Senator Kennedy, says that, "My sister and Jean and I, and our entire family, will miss her with all of our hearts."

President Obama and the first lady told the family their thoughts and prayers are with them. And former President George W. Bush added that Shriver helped build a more compassionate America.

ROBERTS: He's already in trouble for abandoning his state to see his soul mate in Argentina. Now, there are new calls this morning to impeach South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. A Republican state senator says the governor broke the law by not taking the cheapest flights on state trips on trips to London and China a few years ago. South Carolina requires its governor to charge the state the lowest fare possible.

CHETRY: And the results are in but the L.A. County coroner's office is keeping Michael Jackson's autopsy sealed because of the ongoing investigation into his death. Police are still trying to determine whether anyone should be charged. We know from a source that Jackson's physician, Conrad Murray, gave the singer the powerful drug Propofol in the 24 hours before he died.

ROBERTS: Well, the August recess hasn't provided much of a break from politics. Protestors are shutting down health care town halls. There's so much ranker on both sides of the aisle. Where is this all headed?

Joining me from Washington to discuss all of this and more: Democratic strategist James Carville; and Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush.

Gentlemen, good to see you.

James, let's -- actually, Ed, let's start with you for a change here. These town halls -- why is there so much anger, mistrust, and misinformation going on?

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER COUNSELOR TO PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, for one thing, John, health care is a very personal issue. And when you're talking about making reforms to a system that most people, 88 percent by one account, are satisfied with, they're concerned about that. They're scared, frankly, that they're going to see a diminishment of their quality of care. They're going to see their costs go up.

They're worried about the deficits. This is a $1.6 trillion proposal, at least one of the proposals is. It's going to increase the deficit by $250 billion.

So, people are legitimately concerned and they're expressing those concerns and they're worried that this is going to be rushed through. Remember, the goal was to get these done before these town halls will have a change to take place. So, people are legitimately concerned.

ROBERTS: Do you agree with that, James? Are people legitimately concerned here?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think these people are frustrated. You saw it in Delaware where this woman was, you know, saying that the president wasn't even born in the United States and you see this sort of death panel thing, which is laughable, if you will. You see this stuff all the time. These are just people that haven't had very good election cycles, didn't see the economy getting better, and, you know, they are afraid they might not have a good one in 2010, so they express themselves.

That's just part of the American political process that we're watching unfold in front of us. And I think you're seeing it's actually better if the Democrats just let it go on.

And I think the Republicans are getting a good chance, these are funded by health care lobbyists, funded by bit insurance companies, and funded by people who believe that 88 percent of the people think we have a top-notch health care system in the United States.

ROBERTS: And what about some of the claims we've seen and from some prominent people in the last few days, Sarah Palin saying on her blog that President Obama wants to establish quote "death panels." Newt Gingrich was on with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" talking about the slippery slope toward euthanasia. Opponents of the health care bill saying it would fund abortion. None of those things are true.

ED GILLESPIE, LED ROBERTS, ALITO IN CONFIRMATION PROCESS: Well, look, the fact is, there are -- what's going to happen with the Medicare and the cuts in Medicare is you're going to have to have people make decisions about care at end of life.

Some of the language, I grant you, is not the most thoughtful in terms of how to characterize these things. We ought to have a thoughtful debate about this. This is very important.

And in the same way, I don't think it's helpful for the speaker of the house or the majority leader to talk about people as un- American or for James to say they're funded by lobbyists. These are people with legitimate concerns about the proposals that are going to affect their quality of life.

ROBERTS: James, was that --

GILLESPIE: Allow them to have the conversation.

Let me just way one thing, John, by the way, House Republicans for years have had people come to their town hall meetings from the unions, from Sierra Club, antiwar protestors, Code Pink,, stand up and challenge their members of congress. No one said a word about it. That was considered dissent and patriotic back then.

CARVILLE: To say that Dick Armey and Rick Scott is behind this is like saying there's water in the ocean. I mean, maybe this is a party that you obviously argue evolution, we argue evolution. You guys really like believe the earth is 5,000 year -- of course it's funded by health care lobbyists. They're sending out stuff, they're all out there. There's nobody's denying that. It's a fact.

GILLESPIE: No, no, it's not a fact.

CARVILLE: You can't deal with something that's not factual --

GILLESPIE: To say that anyone who stands up in a town hall meeting.

I saw a clip of a doctor the other day who stood up and asked a question, had been trying for three days to get a meeting with his member of Congress. The member of Congress attacked him, said who sent you here? He said I'm a doctor, I have a concern about this. Nobody sent me.

ROBERTS: So Ed, so some of this may be grassroots and organic, but is James right? Is at least part of this funded by the health care lobby?

GILLESPIE: I don't know if part of it is funded by the health care lobby or not, but so what if it is? When unions fund people and pay them to come to town hall meetings and raise a question, does that mean they don't have a right to raise the question? If you're in insurance industry, you don't have a right to go and say I'm in the insurance industry?

What if you're getting private health care and you're concerned you're going to get forced into this public option, into a government- run system and that your costs are going to go up. This is a distraction.

I have to give James and the Democrats credit. They would rather talk about this and talk about the object over here than talk about the fact they're going to raise costs on Americans, they're going to push 88 million people into a government-run system.

And James said 88 percent of Americans are satisfied with their care.

ROBERTS: No you did it. You mentioned the 88 million figure, and so now we've got to let James respond. I really want to get in one other topic, at least, so go ahead, James, respond to the 88 million people forced into government health care.

CARVILLE: I think these are a lot of frustrated people. You saw it with the birthers, you saw it with the death panels. And there are probably very important Republicans that are saying anything because they know they have a group of people out in this country that are willing to believe anything.

This is just something that we got to -- we've got to deal with. What they need to do is start telling these people the truth. And of course, the health care lobbyists are funding this. If we get to a point where in a political debate where can't say there's water in the river, then we ought to just say there's air in the river.

But of course they're playing on people's fears. And I think the Democrats have to expect this and deal with this. That's all I'm saying.

And the truth of the matter is, people do want some change to this health care system, and I suspect they're going to get it at the end.

ROBERTS: And just because I'll get tons of e-mails on this, let me point out that the number of people who go into the government system depends on how the public plan is written and it hasn't been fully fleshed out. So we don't know how many people will go in that.

GILLESPIE: I cited a Luan (ph) study estimate, and the numbers I cited also on the budget impact were from the Congressional Budget Office, James. I'm sure you think they're a bunch of birthers over there, but I think they're actually numbers crunchers. ROBERTS: We should point out though, too, Ed, in all fairness, that the Luan numbers go from a range of 119 million down to 10.4 million or 10.7 million, depending on how this is written.

Hey, I wanted to get into Congress trying to buy itself some executive aircraft, but I think we're out of time. So we'll leave that for another day.

CARVILLE: I think that's not going to happen anyway.

GILLESPIE: It's something James and I agreed on.

ROBERTS: Well, they trimmed that back. But James, quickly, what the heck were they thinking? We remember last year the excoriated the auto execs for flying there in private planes, and then Congress tries to slip $550 million into the Defense Appropriation Bill to buy five 737s and three G-5s. What are they thinking?

CARVILLE: I'm not sure somebody was thinking, and I think there's some dispute how this got into the bill. But I'm sure that'll be covered a lot here in the coming days.

GILLESPIE: In a dispute between the Pentagon and the leaders in Congress, I think I know where the public is going to see that dispute.

CARVILLE: I'm very big on the Pentagon since now global warming is the biggest threat to our security. They're not global warming in ours, I promise you that.

ROBERTS: The Pentagon didn't ask for the aircraft, somebody did. James Carville, Ed Gillespie, it's always great, thanks for joining us this morning.

GILLESPIE: Thank you.

CHETRY: We had some people weighing in. We asked for blog comments on whether or not you think this whole health care debate and some of the comments have gone too far.

We had one person, Karl, writing in that "Caring Americans want reform. They're tired of preexisting conditions and overpriced services. Insurance companies are paying big money to prevent reform through scare tactics."

Charles says "Too far? Not at all. It was continually said during the last election that people were participating in greater numbers. So this isn't one-sided. It's America. Protest is part of your basic rights."

ROBERTS: As we saw last hour, those two brothers so deeply divided, the Woodhouse brothers so deeply divided over this issue. You've got to wonder how the country's ever going to come together on this.

CHETRY: We want to keep the comments coming, by the way. Head to our website

Still ahead, speaking of planes and nightmare, passengers stuck for some 10, 11 hours, forced to spend the night in one of those small commuter regional planes.

ROBERTS: It's not like they were stuck on a 777.

CHETRY: No, not that that would be ideal either. But they were running out of food, they were running out of water, and running out of bathroom space, if you know what I mean. We're going to talk about how this was able to happen.

It's 37 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

If it hasn't happened to you, chances are you know somebody who has an airplane horror story to tell. Well, 47 passengers who flew Continental Express from Houston to Minneapolis certainly have a story to tell everybody they know.

CHETRY: Yes, flight that normally takes about three hours ended up lasting 12, and most of the time the passengers were trapped in a stuffy plane with little or no food and water, the stench of the restroom and several crying babies.

And what may be more infuriating is that some airport officials say it didn't have to happen.


CHETRY: Rochester international airport was supposed to be a pit stop for passengers on board one flight. But they ended up spending the entire night stuck inside a small commuter plane on the tarmac.

It was after midnight. Babies, several of them, were screaming. And if that wasn't enough to keep you awake, the stench coming from the restroom was. It was a trip Link Christin will not soon forgotten.

LINK CHRISTIN, STRANDED ON AIRPLANE OVERNIGHT: Everybody in the plane was moving, trying to find positions to sleep in. There wasn't any room. The plane was getting warmer.

CHETRY: For six long hours, Christin and 46 others sat trapped and helpless, and through the window they could see the terminal just 50 yards away.

CHRISTIN: The smells were getting worse, the bathroom was getting worse, the babies had obviously started going to the bathroom.

CHETRY: Their flight, Continental Express 2816, was headed from Houston to Minneapolis when it hit thunderstorms. It circled for a while, then had to land in Rochester, Minnesota. From there, it just kept getting worse. Express Jet, which operated the flight, decided to wait for the weather to improve.

CHRISTIN: We were going to wait until the storms got better, so we waited like good passengers for a couple of hours.

CHETRY: At 2:00 a.m., the flight was cleared for takeoff, but more storms moved in. Passengers sat waiting and waiting with no food and no water.

CHRISTIN: Nobody said anything about what was going on.

CHETRY: At 5:00 a.m., cleared again, but then the crew had worked past the legal time limit and couldn't fly. It wasn't until an hour later, six hours since they landed that the passengers were let into the terminal.

Express Jet says they had to wait until security screeners were on duty.

CHRISTIN: I think there were a variety of options they could have utilized, not the least of which is to call the manager of the airport.

CHETRY: The airport manager says he never got that call and told a local newspaper that a Delta flight deplaned at 3:30 a.m. and that he would've happily let the Continental passengers in.

But ultimately that decision is up to the airline.


CHETRY: Well, there you see it. That plane eventually got a new crew, but they ended up having to take off in the same plane with the same busted toilet.

Continental called the situation quote "completely unacceptable," and says it's working with Express Jet to resolve the issue. Passengers will be getting a full refund and a voucher good for future travel.

And we asked Link whether he thought that was sort of OK.

ROBERTS: He didn't seem to think that was enough compensation.

CHETRY: He just said that, you know, there were 40 different lives -- 40 different situations and stories, and people might have suffered some irreparable damage from what happened.

ROBERTS: Good thing we weren't on that plane.

CHETRY: Well, we already had our scenarios worked out.

ROBERTS: It's coming up on 44 minutes after the hour.

We're just getting news in from the Associated Press. Authorities in Kuwait apparently have foiled an Al Qaeda-linked plot to attack an American base in Kuwait. Apparently it was only in the planning stages. A number of people are under arrest. We'll have that news for you when we come back. Stay with us.


CHETRY: It's 46 minutes past the hour right now.

And we're tracking breaking news right now. According to the Associated Press, officials in Kuwait are saying they foiled a terrorist attack on a U.S. base in their country, and they say the group behind it was linked to Al Qaeda. They also say that the plot was only in its planning stages.

Right now we bring in CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen who's in Kabul this morning. Thanks for joining us on the phone, Peter.

I want to ask you about this. They claim it was in the planning stages, that they arrested about half dozen people, and that they confessed to buying a truck that they intended to load with fertilizer, chemicals, and gas cylinders and then ram it into the camp.

You've been to that camp in Kuwait. What do you make of this?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (via telephone): Well, this, Kiran, is a major facility in Kuwait. It is used as a major logistical supply point for Iraq. It is termed a temporary base because of the sensitivities that the United States understands about permanent military installations in that part of the world.

But it looks -- doesn't look very temporary. It's a very substantial base with thousands of people on it, buildings that have been up for more than six years now.

Kuwait has been not a place where you've really seen a great deal of Al Qaeda activity. It's a very small country. The whole country, you can drive across it in half an hour. It's a little bit bigger than Washington, D.C.

It's a relatively prosperous country. It is not a country where Al Qaeda has had much of a hold. But, of course, next door is Saudi Arabia, and, of course, next door is also Kuwait (ph). Both places have historically have had substantial Al Qaeda presences.

And if indeed the allegation is true, clearly Camp Arifjan, which is the base that this was directed at, would be a very rich target if this plot had succeeded.

ROBERTS: Peter, it's John Roberts. This is not the first time that the authorities in Kuwait have foiled an Al Qaeda attempt against an American target. Police there in the military service, are they pretty adept at uncovering this sort of activity?

BERGEN: Yes, I think so. Kuwait is, you know, it's not Saudi Arabia where you've had historically a very large Al Qaeda presence. It is a country with obviously very substantial oil reserves. Islamic parties have done somewhat well in the polls there, but that really hasn't really translated into a great deal of support for Al Qaeda.

So I think, similar to Jordan, which has also got a pretty efficient police operation against Al Qaeda, this is a country that, you know, it's quite unusual this kind of thing.

CHETRY: And Peter, just to update our viewers right now, we just got confirmation. CNN has confirmed that authorities in Kuwait say they've arrested six people, a group linked to Al Qaeda, for trying to attack, as you said Arifjan military base.

They point out it's not a U.S. military base but used by the U.S. military.

One of the things that some were talking about is that it would be unlikely that an attack could be successful due to the high level of security. And, as you said, you've been there before. What do you think of that assessment?

BERGEN: Like any military base in the Middle East, U.S. military base, it's, you know, it's in the middle of nowhere. It's highly protected, you know, multiple levels of security.

Even if you succeeded in detonating a suicide truck at a base like this, you know, the actual, most of the people on the base are very far in from the perimeter. So even if the plot had succeeded, these are very tough targets.

ROBERTS: Well, Peter Bergen for us. Peter, thanks so much for the update on that. We'll continue to follow the story.

Again, Kuwait authorities say that they have foiled a plot to try to attack Camp Arifjan there in the southern part of Kuwait, six people apparently in custody. Only in the planning stages, which is a good thing.

We'll continue to follow developments in this breaking story throughout the morning. It's 51 minutes now after the hour.


CHETRY: The high cost of the hospital stay can practically put you into cardiac arrest. Many patients open their bills and they see the charges. They're not only confusing, but they seem outrageous.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us to explain why hospitals charge so much. You hear these stories, and you've seen them yourself. If you didn't have insurance, and for people that don't have insurance and have to get a hospital bill, it really is astounding.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I tried to look at these hospital bills myself and really make sense of them. I can tell you, it is challenging for anybody, because there's a lot of things within the bill that just don't make sense and a lot of things that you never see that should probably be in the bill. We decided to take a closer look.


DEBBIE FRAZIER, PATIENT: And all the x-rays, there's a rotation tool for 119, there's a wrench kit.

GUPTA: On its face, it looks pretty straightforward. But your hospital bill is anything but, something 56-year-old Debbie Frazier found out the hard way when she had surgery in March.

FRAZIER: I just had to have the battery replaced on my defibrator. I was there two days and it was $196,000.

GUPTA: $196,000. That's because once you strip away what you pay for your actual care, there are layers of charges that have nothing to do with your hospital stay.

Take a look at Debbie's bill. Nearly $3,000 a day for room and board, $72,960 for the pacemaker, $44 for two Lipitor pills. But the key is what you don't see on the bill.

JAMES BENTLEY, AMERICAN HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: And I think it would help if they understand that bill represents really four tiers of costs.

GUPTA: There's the direct cost of your care. Then there's the overhead cost, the cost of running the hospital, things like administrative staff, the utilities.

There's also the operating margin. That goes toward things like new medical technology, replacing worn equipment.

And finally subsidy costs or uncompensated care. Insured patients help pay for the uninsured and underinsured who can't pay their bill.

RON POLLACK, FAMILIES USA: It's a significant part of the bill you'll never see it written in the bill, but it's sure there. It's a hidden surcharge.

BENTLEY: If the costs weren't passed on to consumers, we wouldn't be able to care for people who have no insurance, we wouldn't be able to train physicians and doctors for the future, we wouldn't be in a position to maintain the facility.

GUPTA: The American Hospital Association's James Bentley admits it's a complicated system and it's almost impossible to look at a bill line by line and pull out the direct cost of your care.

FRAZIER: That's not the generic. That's not the generic I take anyway.

GUPTA: Frazier says it's time hospitals got creative. She's even got a suggestion. FRAZIER: They need to use generic medication. That would keep their costs down.

GUPTA: And hopefully, those savings would be passed on to you.


GUPTA: So you get an idea there of looking at a hospital bill, four tiers there, and each one of them probably has some room for more efficiencies, which is a big target of everything that we're hearing with regard to health care reform, how to bring down those costs.

Incidentally, Kiran, you look at paying for the uninsured. It's about $1,000 per hospital bill on average to pay for uncompensated care. So that's another charge, as well, that's often factored into your bill.

CHETRY: Many of these hospitals aren't making a ton of money, right?

GUPTA: A lot of them aren't, and it does vary from hospital to hospital and area to area. So you're going to see the same exact procedure, same exact hospitalization, with a completely different bill in Miami, for example, versus Minnesota.

CHETRY: Yes. It is. It's confusing. And I feel for the lady, I mean, opening up that bill and seeing nearly $200,000, wow, mind boggling.

GUPTA: And unable to piece it all together probably for her.

GILLESPIE: Sanjay, thanks for breaking it down for us. Great to see you this morning.

As always, we welcome your comments on our blog, as well,

ROBERTS: The thing that really stunned me, $72,000 for a pacemaker?

CHETRY: I know.

ROBERTS: They're usually $10,000 to $15,000.

CHETRY: Maybe they need to buy the generic version.

ROBERTS: God knows I can't figure it out.

Hey, the CNN Election Express, which we only call the CNN Express now because it won't be the election express really back until next year when we're in the 2010 election cycle, is on the road. Our Ali Velshi is talking about health care with the folks across the country. We'll find out what's on people's minds coming up next.

It's 57 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: As President Obama hits the road to push health care, our own Ali Velshi is on the bus out in the great wide open, taking the pulse of the people.

CHETRY: That's right. He's going from town to town on the CNN Express. And as he found out, the economy is still by far issue number one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're struggling. I've lost $1,400 a month in income. It's not payday to payday. It's running a little short each pay day, trying to keep up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm employed fortunately. I have friends who are unemployed and I think Chattanooga is definitely feeling the recession.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I work in the restaurant business and I know that we have more applications than I've seen in a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know of a lot of smart people who do not have jobs right now and are actively seeking jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of people just taking minimum wage jobs to try to support a family on just to be employed. And I have a 15-year-old who wants the get a job, but, as a manager myself, I can't justify hiring a teenager when there are adults with families to feed.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And that's the story we're getting across America from -- at least for the beginning of this trip. We're going from, we started in Atlanta. We're in Chattanooga right now on the Tennessee River. We're going to head into Kentucky today, into southern Illinois, Missouri, and then into Iowa for the Iowa state fair.

But listen, it's not all bad. I spoke to a real estate agent who actually told me he's seeing things pick up. He's seeing more people looking for houses. He's actually seeing more people signing deals.

The other thing, of course, is health care, a big deal. We're talking to people about how their impressions of health care are formed. We're trying to get a sense of whether these town hall meetings and the media coverage of them is forming people's health care opinions or whether they're doing their own research.

I'm going to be asking that question today. We're pulling out in a few minutes heading north into Tennessee and talking to people all across America.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that, Ali. How long are you going to be on the road? VELSHI: We'll be on the road all the way through Saturday. We'll get to the state fair in Iowa on Friday night and be there all day on Saturday. I'm going to be hitting a few country fairs and another few state fairs on the way.

So, John, I'm going to be a slightly larger fellow as you see me through the course of the week with all of the state fair food I'll be eating.

ROBERTS: A lay off the funnel cakes, because we know the adverse affect that they have on health. And since we're talking about health care, Ali, you want to set a good example.

VELSHI: That's right.

ROBERTS: Ali Velshi, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Laying off the funnel cakes, words of wisdom today.

All right, we'll continue the conversation on today's stories. Go to our blog

Glad you joined us today. Hope to see you back here tomorrow.

ROBERTS: Right now the news continues with Heidi Collins in the "CNN Newsroom."