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CNN Live Event/Special

Health Care Showdown

Aired March 21, 2010 - 18:00   ET


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought for sometime, he needed to hit the "reset" button in his leadership. And this may now a prompt -- you know, that pivot to a more effective time of leadership.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, could he have done this --

GERGEN: I also wonder whether this -- yes, go ahead, please. Please.

BLITZER: Could he have done this a long time ago if he wouldn't have delegated the writing of this legislation to the House and the Senate, if he would have come up with his own bill to begin with?

GERGEN: Absolutely, and I think there are people around him who believe that in retrospect they over-read the lessons of the Clinton experience, and instead of keeping all the power in the White House, they give it all to the Congress to write. And he should have been more forceful right from the beginning.

But, you know, now that he has done it at the end, you know, you have to give him credit for what he has done. Even though there are many people who don't like the result, it has been effective leadership these last few weeks. And I must say, Wolf, I think it's also worth debating -- this is not just a historic moment for President Obama, but it sure is for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

I can't remember in recent years a more dominant and effective House leader. And I wonder of whether she won't be remembered --

BLITZER: All right.

GERGEN: -- in history in a new and fresh way now.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys -- because the Republican leadership is holding a news conference up on Capitol Hill right now. I want to listen in.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: We are looking at legislation that contains within it the largest expansion of publicly funded abortion in history -- in history. I've been here 30 years. I've been in the pro-life movement for 38 years. And this legislation will massively subsidize, facilitate, and expand abortion-on-demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

I read, and I know my colleagues have as well, an executive order that was put out by President Obama, or will be put out. It has not been released I guess yet as official text. But in looking at it, and especially section two -- you know, unfortunately, Obamacare that's before the House, when it left the House, it had ironclad, comprehensive language that precluded public funding in the facilitation of abortion. When it came back -- and this was by design, not by accident -- it was filled, riddled with pro-abortion provisions that will massively expand abortion.

The Senate bill, for example, permits health care plans and policies funded with tax credits to pay for abortion so long as the issuer of the federally-subsidized plan collects a new congressionally-mandated fee from every enrollee in that plan to pay for other people's abortions. But rather than taxing everybody, the people enrolled in that plan will be taxed themselves. So, it's a subset. But nevertheless, it's a congressionally-mandated tax to facilitate abortion.

So, if you're in a small business, for example, and Blue Cross Blue Shield happens to be the health care that your small business provides to its employees, and they have abortion-on-demand right up into the moment of birth being funded, you will then be hit with a new tax imposed upon you by this legislation per enrollee to pay for the abortions of all the other people inside of that plan. I read the Barack Obama executive order, and all he talks about in section two is how he will implement it. As a matter of fact, he talks about the segregation of funds.

We've seen that game, that trick, used over and over, over the years where they somehow say, oh, we have a pot of money here and a pot of money over here, and if we just separate the funds somehow, that makes it ethically OK. Nothing could be further from the truth. Money is fungible, plus the line of demarcation between the two is false. The bottom line is, that unborn children and mothers will be killed by abortion in larger numbers as a direct result of this legislation should it be enacted into law.

We call upon our Democratic and Republican friends who value the sanctity of human life to vote "no" on this legislation.

REP. JEANNE SCHMIDT (R), OHIO: Thank you. I'm Congresswoman Jeanne Schmidt from Cincinnati, and I'm chair of the Pro-Life Women's Caucus.

And I am deeply disappointed to hear about today's agreement. Simply put, an executive order issued by the president is not worth the paper it is printed on. It is not the law of the land, and it can be rescinded in the blink of an eye by the jot of a president's pen. Some of the Democratic colleagues on the other side of the aisle have already said an executive order doesn't trump law.

This could be potentially something that will be changed the moment it is signed. It could potentially happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. But whenever the president signs it, he can change his mind in an instant. There are no guarantees, especially when an executive order is signed by a president who has, unfortunately, a record of turning his back on hard-fought pro-life principles. Groups who have fought tirelessly for the rights of the unborn universally oppose this decision. Among those most notably are the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life committee. They have not bought this language. They disagree with it. They see its flaws. They see its holes.

I stand before you tonight to do the same, to fight for the life of the unborn, to oppose this agreement, and to encourage all of my colleagues -- especially my pro-life colleagues from across the aisle -- to reconsider their positions.

Thank you and God bless the United States of America, born and unborn.

REP. JOE PITTS (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you. I'm Congressman Joe Pitts of the 16th congressional district of Pennsylvania.

From a pro-life perspective, I find absolutely no comfort in this executive order. This puts the fate of the unborn in the hands of the most pro-abortion president in history. This is a career-defining vote on the life issue. Any member of either party who votes for this bill will never, ever be able to claim that they have always stood for the most important and fundamental of all human rights. I congratulate the many pro-life Democrats who continue to hold firm on principle and who will join us in voting against this terrible bill later today.

And I commend the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life organization, and many of the other groups who have spoken up strongly with statements and memos against this executive order procedure. Even Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, congresswoman, pro- choice, said, "Well, it can't be changed by an executive order. An executive order can't change the law," end quote. She said that earlier, I saw on television today.

And so, there are problems with this procedure. It can't overturn a statute. It can be easily overturned by a court decision or revisited with another executive order.

It is full of loopholes -- nothing but a reiteration of the segregations of the funds, accounting gimmick that we've discussed. There's nothing to apply the Hyde Amendment restrictions on funding for insurance that pay for abortion-on-demand. It doesn't do anything contrary to the underlying statute.

So, I urge all of my friends on the other side of the aisle to reconsider and vote against this terrible bill.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: You know, by large majority as Americans, men and women, 70 percent-plus, believe that federal government -- that federal taxpayer dollars should not be used on abortion. That has been for the last 30 years protected by the Hyde Amendment. And then most recently, we had this debate come to the forefront with the health care debate. And the Stupak language -- the Stupak amendment that passed in the House made it clear that this would continue to be the law of this land, that federal taxpayer dollars would not be used for abortion. When the Senate Democrats changed that language, they knew that it would make it much more difficult to get this bill -- get that language through the House, and yet, they were willing to do that.

The only way to really ensure that federal taxpayer dollars are not used on abortion: it is to defeat this Senate health care bill in the House. And we continue to urge our colleagues to do that.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: As a courtesy to members of the media, members are voting and will come back upstairs for question and answer and additional statement.

Let me say this is a disappointing moment for millions of Americans who cherish the sanctity of human life. And it's also a disappointing moment for millions of Americans who understand that it's morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of pro-life Americans and use it to promote abortion at home and abroad.

While there's been great division in this country over the years on the subject of elective abortion, there's been wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of pro-life Americans and use it to promote abortion at home and abroad. While there's been great division in this country over the years on the subject of elective abortion, there's been overwhelming support in this country for prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to provide and promote abortion at home and abroad.

The legislation that is poised to pass the Congress today would, for the first time, provide public funding for elective abortion in America. And it is opposed on that principle alone by an overwhelming majority of the American people.

We've been grateful for the stand that pro-life Democrat colleagues have taken up to today on this issue. House Republicans worked in concert with our Democratic colleagues to add the Stupak/Pitts amendment to the House passage of the bill, to preserve 30 years of pro-life protections in the statutory law of the United States. But now, remarkably, several of our pro-life colleagues -- remarkably, several of our pro-life colleagues have decided to exchange 30 years of pro-life legislation for a piece of paper from the most pro- abortion president in American history.

And nobody's buying it. Nobody in the pro-life movement is buying it. Pro-life Americans aren't buying it. And we urge our colleagues at this 11th hour in this debate -- stand on your commitment not only to the right to life but to protecting pro-life taxpayers in this country. Reject this political ploy that is the executive order and stand with us, and we will stand with you to ensure that any health care legislation contain the historic protections of the Hyde Amendment from this point forward.

BLITZER: All right. So, there he is, Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, together with his colleagues, making a last-ditch appeal to those Democrats who oppose abortion, like Bart Stupak of Michigan, to change their minds and oppose health care reform legislation. They say they are on board now. They trust the president -- this executive order. He says he will sign into law immediately after the Senate -- the House of Representatives passes the Senate version as well as the subsequent reconciliation bill, that that bill will then go back to the Senate for consideration.

It looks like the Democrats will have the 216 votes they need, but you can see the bitterness, the anger, the disappointment -- deep disappointment, on the part of these Republicans who had thought that Bart Stupak and these other Democrats would continue to oppose the Senate version because of the language on abortion funding.

Our coverage of this important day in Washington will continue right after this.


BLITZER: White House is releasing photographs of the president of the United States showing he's working. He's watching this unfold. There's a photo in the Oval Office. You see David Axelrod sitting on the sofa over there as the president is on the phone. Don't know who the president is speaking to, presumably speaking to some Democrat on the Hill, trying to make sure that that Democrat votes in favor of health care reform.

The House will be voting on the Senate version over the next few hours, will vote separately on a separate package of changes to the Senate version. So, there are still several more hours to go and at some point later tonight.

And we're just guessing at this point -- maybe during the 10:00 p.m. Eastern, the president will address the nation from the East Room of the White House. But these are loose, this time. It could be a little bit earlier, a little bit later.

We're here for the duration. We're watching all of this unfold because this is important, very important, for the United States of America.

David Gergen is watching all of this unfold together with us.

When they release these photos, obviously these are official White House photos, David. We saw an earlier one with Rahm Emanuel and some of the other top aides to the president, showing he's on the phone, he's working. It's designed to do what? Why do these release these pictures?

GERGEN: Oh, I think there's a certain amount of human interest and to -- and to also draw attention to the fact that the president is engaged. And, you know, they put out the fact that for late in the week, for example, that he'd made 64 phone calls or visits.

And I think they want to drive home that this is very much an Obama victory. You know, I think it's a shared victory, Nancy Pelosi and many others, but they want to drive that home -- to say, you know, he's been a president who's been flagging, who hasn't had a major accomplishment. This is big for him. So, it's natural.

What I'm surprised about, Wolf, we're getting these sorts of long shots of him. We don't see much up close. We don't see his face. We don't see a sense of, you know, a very, very intense president that I thought we'd see in these kinds of photos. But, nonetheless, they help, and I think -- they give us a sense of inside feel on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

BLITZER: All right. David, they've now started the actual vote on the rule. The rule -- if it passes, will allow two hours of debate on the Senate version followed by a roll call. They're just starting this vote right now. It's done electronically in the House of Representatives and you can see the numbers behind me over here. You can see right over there, you can see a yes: 201, no: 188.

This will pass, John, and then we'll hear a substantive two-hour debate on the pros and cons on health care reform.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And what a fascinating day in our Capitol. We too often -- you know, sometimes we get loose in our language and we use terms like "historic" and "landmark" about days that are important but not quite up to that threshold. This is up to the threshold.

Whether you're for this, against this bill, or like many Americans, probably confused about this bill, this would reach everybody -- from the youngest American to the oldest American, if this becomes law, their lives will change in some way. It is a huge consequential policy debate we are watching unfold today. And it is also a remarkable political day. Just go -- just go back a few minutes to the anti-abortion Republicans essentially rebutting the anti-abortion Democrats who cut a deal earlier in the day.

There are so many puzzles in American politics. In a mid-term election year, when voter turnout tends to go down a little bit, you need the activist groups, people who are engaged. Maybe they are engaged on the education issue and this issue, the abortion issue.

We'll watch the labor unions who don't like some parts of this bill. How will all these different pieces that make our politics work and decide who does turn out to vote, who doesn't to vote; who can raise money, who doesn't; which of these guys is going to go home and have signs outside his office saying, "thank you," and signs outside saying, "go home, we're going to retire you" on Monday morning.

This is all playing out, wonderful politics, fascinating politics, around something. And we can't lose this point, that is so consequential.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And think of where we were just in January, President's State of the Union speech. We were all counting how many minutes it took him to get to talk about health care reform after the Scott Brown special election. They just lost their 60th seat. Lots of us, myself included, believed that they were going to end up going with some kind of scaled-back version of health care reform. The president himself in an interview on ABC seemed to indicate that maybe he would do that.

And then things changed. And then maybe it was Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, who's going to get a lot of credit for this among Democrats. Whatever it was, the president -- and this is where you learn about presidential leadership and what presidents are all about -- this is a president who said, "You know what? I'm not going to scale it back. This is what I promised." And he's an all-in kind of guy.

So, the pot is all pushed in the middle right now on this vote, and how will it affect him in the future? Will it make it harder for him to get Democrats because they've walked over the ledge here with him? Or will it make it easier? We don't know.

KING: Donna, you know the speaker very well from your career in Democratic politics. How much to her -- she knows there will be fewer Democrats barring something totally contrary to our history. She knows there will be fewer Democrats in her caucus next year. She might still be speaker? There's a chance she won't be speaker.

How much of this is her -- as Gloria said -- when they got to that abyss saying, "I am getting health care reform as part of my legacy and this is the year to get it done"?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Speaker Pelosi takes time each and every week to sit down with freshmen Democrats, sophomores, to listen to them. When they come back from the district --

BLITZER: I'm going to interrupt you, Donna, because you take a look over there. Two hundred and seventeen votes now in favor of the rule. So the rule will pass. It's official. They needed 216 votes. They're now up to 218.

In other words, the two-hour debate for the Senate language will begin very soon. They will -- the Republicans will have an hour to make their case, the Democrats will have an hour to make their case. And then they will vote on the Senate bill. But this is a barometer, this is an indicator that the Democrats have the votes to go forward and pass the Senate version of health care reform.

I interrupted you, Donna, but it's important to remember that when Scott Brown was elected and the Democrats lost their supermajority in the Senate, when you asked the Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- can the House just pass the Senate version and it will be over with? And she said, "No, they can't. We don't have the votes. We don't have the support for the Senate version because of all those kickbacks and purchases and all that stuff."

BRAZILE: And that night, I'll never forget because I said yes, the speaker will find the votes because she is someone that believes in talking to her caucus. She listens and meets with them. And she goes to members individually and she says, "What do you need? How can I help you, you know, go back and explain this to your constituents?"

So, I'd like to give Speaker Pelosi a lot of credit. But also, Chairman Clyburn, I mean, Chairman Larson, the whip, Mr. Clyburn, the leader, Mr. Hoyer. They've worked as a real time to bring the entire Democratic Party together to support this historic piece of legislation. ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: How can something that's so allegedly good for you taste so bad? And that's been the story of this health care bill.

BRAZILE: That's your view. That's your view.

CASTELLANOS: That's been -- that's right. That is my view. But it's also the view of a lot of Democrats because, as we've just said, it's been incredibly hard for the Democrats with this huge majority to pass this bill. And, in fact, it has not gotten more popular since the Senate passed it. It's gotten less popular.

So, yes, you have to give the speaker a lot of credit for holding her majority together, but we're also now seeing the beginnings of the 2010 elections.

BRAZILE: But, Alex --

CASTELLANOS: It's going to be a referendum will on Speaker Pelosi, who is now one of the most unpopular figures in American politics. Did you stand with her or did you stand with us in our district when we said, "Don't pass this thing"?


BRAZILE: No. Did you stand with her or did you stand with those children who are losing their health care because they have asthma? Are you standing with Speaker Pelosi, are you standing with the people with a preexisting conditions.

CASTELLANOS: Or did you stand with a government that has these magic powers that just by wishing things and spending $1 trillion can make themselves?

BRAZILE: I mean, are you standing with her or the 39 percent increase in your health care cost?

BLITZER: Donna, I --

BRAZILE: Simply because health insurance can raise your premium.

KING: It's not an --

BRAZILE: I mean, it's not easy issue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that's what the election is going to be.

BLITZER: I want to recap. This first of three critical votes that's now passed more than 216, 222 votes right now, setting the stage for the second vote on the Senate health care bill and the third vote on the reconciliation bill. All of that will take place over the next few hours.

And then the president, Sanjay, will speak to the nation, and presumably he's not going to take a victory lap because it's not over with yet. The Senate is the last to consider the reconciliation bill, but it's a huge step forward.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it will be interesting to, at that point, again, remind people sort of what it really means to them right now. Because I think, you know, a lot of people -- there is a lot of the politics and the very historic nature as John was pointing out. But I think, you know, for a lot people who sort of have employer-based health care coverage right now, have not necessarily been ill or had some sort of problem, they still may be sort of scratching their heads wondering a little bit: so what exactly does this mean for me? Are my premiums going up? They're going down?

BLITZER: Because a lot of people who like their health care insurance, they want to say, "I don't want any changes. I'm very happy with what I get from my health care provider." They're nervous, though. Is that what you're saying?

GUPTA: Yes. Well, I think -- I think they just don't know right now. And I think that's been part of the problem with trying to get a lot of people really engaged in this issue. I mean, we've been covering this for over a year, and it's just so hard because people who feel like they're doing OK, they got their insurance, they're not feeling sick, they just haven't been as engaged in this whole thing.

BORGER: And that's the political problem with this, really, because when you pass Medicare and when you pass Social Security, people knew, OK, this is a group of people it's going to affect. Here, the uninsured, yes. But the rest of the American public, it's not so clear.

BRAZILE: Let's make it clear, Gloria.


BORGER: Well, but it doesn't -- part of what Sanjay has been saying is that some of it will take effect now, such as being able to keep your kids on your health care plan, but a lot of it not until 2014.

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: And that's the political difficulty.

BLITZER: The first of three critical roll calls has now passed, setting the stage for two more. Our coverage will continue after this.


BLITZER: The first of three critical votes on the floor of the House of Representatives has now passed -- passed impressively I should say. I think the final vote, let's take a look, 224-206. That looks like the final vote.

As we watch what's going on on the floor of the House of Representatives, Jesse Jackson, Jr. is in the speaker's chair. He's working the gavel right now. I wonder if we want to listen briefly to what he's saying.

Actually, they're moving on to some other procedural stuff. So, let's avoid Jesse Jackson, Jr. for the time being.

But let's stress how important, how significant this is, as we watch what's going on.

John King is here, together with the best political team on television.

They now passed this rule, which creates two hours for the debate. An hour that the Republicans will have -- an opportunity to make their case against this legislation, an hour Democrats will have to make the case for it. But it's pretty much forgone right now, the Democrats have the vote.

JOHN KING, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It is. In the House, two hours can become two and a half. But it's not like the Senate, where as Donna noted, two hours can become two weeks. You have strict rules in the House. The Senate has much more open, unruly debate sometimes, unlimited debates sometimes, which can be fascinating. But now they will vote on this. If they had 224 votes to pass the rule, a few of those could be Democrats who always vote with their leadership on procedural issues, and might vote no on final passage. But that tells you, without a doubt, that Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats have the votes to pass this legislation.

BLITZER: Because they need 216.

KING: They need 216. So they can lose a few of those and they may lose a couple. Again, Democrats who can't vote for the final bill, that don't like it, can't sell it back home, but are loyal to the leadership on procedural votes. But if they get 216, they pass. That tells me they'll get somewhere in the ballpark in 220 when they have this vote in two hours, a huge victory for the Democrats.

How will it play out? We have seven months until the November elections, but this is a -- this is -- and I'm going to keep saying this, because sometimes we turn debates about lesser things into bigger debates. This is history. This is a giant change in the health care delivery system, which is a huge piece of our economy, and so personal to every single American. This is a dramatic change.

More work to do to get the fixes done, but even if the Senate debate collapses, when that bill passes, the Senate bill becomes -- and then the president signs it, the Senate bill becomes law.

BLITZER: Given the history of what's happening tonight here in Washington, D.C., I suspect this is a pretty good week to start a new show on CNN, John.


KING: We will be 24 hours in about 29 minutes. We'll start "John King USA" here in Washington. It's a fascinating time. And this is a great year anyway, Wolf. It's a wonderful opportunity and a gift for me to have the opportunity at this moment. I'm grateful for it.

But, wow, as we continue the conversation here, every American will be affected by this. It also will become a huge, crackling political debate across the country.

And you know what? That's a good thing. That's a good thing. I'm not taking sides. It's a good thing that the country debates, will this really reduce the deficit, or is there another bill that's going to come along right after this that, oh, guess what, they said it would reduce the deficit, then they did this thing to increase payments to the doctors. They pulled a fast one on us. That'll be part of the debate.

There are a lot of people in the middle who are skeptical, not polarized, who are skeptical. Some might say, no, it's going to touch my health care. I don't want to. To the point you made early, we like it. Others might say, I didn't like this or I'm skeptical, but I'm going to wait two or three or four years and see how it plays out.

If we can have a conversation about what's in the bill and then how it's implemented over the next few months and few years, that's a pretty good thing for the country to have.

BLITZER: Hold on, guys. I want to take a quick break.

A little bit more than 24 hours from now, "John King USA" debuts here on CNN, "John King USA," 7:00 p.m. eastern, Monday through Friday, every weeknight. You're going to want to catch that right after "The Situation Room." Let's not forget "The Situation Room."

KING: No, let's not.

BLITZER: 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. eastern, here on CNN.

Our coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: They're getting ready to begin two hours of formal debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. At issue, health care reform. It's been 13 months in the making for the president of the United States and the Democrats. They are now on the verge of passing health care reform in Congress.

The first of three critical votes passed, passed rather impressively, 224 in favor, 206. That was the rule allowing this debate to begin right now, but it was an indicator that the Democrats have the 216 votes they will need to first pass the Senate version of health care reform and then follow up with the third and final vote on the reconciliation bill, the changes in the Senate version. That bill will then go to the Senate for consideration over the next several days. What happens in the Senate is anyone's guess at this point.

But we do know this -- the president of the United States will be speaking later tonight after the House finishes up its business. The president will be in the East Room of the White House. He'll be addressing the nation on what is going on. Health care reform, once he signs the Senate bill into law, as he will do either tonight or tomorrow or whenever, that will be the law of the land right then. It will be a significant moment for not only the president and the Democrats but for the country for that matter. This is something they've been trying to do for a long time, unsuccessfully, going back decades. But this president diligently, working very hard over 13 months, finally, finally, on the verge of seeing it pass.

I want Sanjay Gupta to come in and give us a little perspective because we were talking about what had this will mean.

If you're someone who is watching all of this right now and has good health insurance, works for a living, employer provides the health insurance, very happy, they're worried because they've been hearing all these accusations, all these suggestions. You know what, you're going to lose your health insurance. You won't be able to pick the doctor you want. You won't be able to get the kind of medical treatment you've come to rely on. How worried, Sanjay, should these folks be?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRSPONDENT: Well, you know, the employer-based system, the way the vast majority of people get health care in this country, is probably not going to change a lot. The people who have that system, which is most people, and they are -- most of those people are healthy as well, their lives probably won't change that much. Now, if they make over a certain amount of money, they'll probably pay more taxes, as has been talked about, to help fund this. There's also this concern that anyone is a potential patient right, Wolf? You can go from being perfectly healthy to being in an accident or developing a disease literally overnight.

And there's concern over caps, how much your insurance companies will pay to offset your medical expenses, either on a yearly basis or over your lifetime. Those caps seem to be going away if the bill passes. For the most part, there may be concerns about whether or not your taxes will go up, but I think there's some consumer protections in place as well.

BLITZER: Alex, a lot of Democrats, and I've spoken to a lot of officials at the White House, up on Capitol Hill, they say, you know what, in the coming months, between now and November, once people out there see, the sky is not falling, they're going to get their health insurance, but they're also know going to have to worry about losing their health insurance. They won't be fearful if they get really sick the insurance company can take their health insurance away. They're going to say, you know what, this is pretty good.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, FIRM HAS POLITICA AND CORPORATE CLIENTS: There's some great sounding ideas in this bill. And Donna supports this bill because she wants to help people. And I think most Democrats, who are supporting this bill, feel the same way. They want to help people.

The problem, of course, is there's no shortage of ways you can help people in this world, certainly in Washington. You can do an endless list. In our lives, we weigh those decisions in families one against the other. We can pay for this good idea but not for that good idea. But in Washington, they never value one thing against another, so that's why government grows and creeps.

So all of these ideas, yes, I think the Democrats will try to use it as a weapon, but Americans are very concerned about not just what you get but what you pay for this. Here's a country whose bond rating is, you know, really in jeopardy now because we are so deep in debt. And what have we just figured out how to do? Spend $1 trillion we don't have.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let me ask you two things. First of all, in terms of the debt, health care costs will continue to rise.

CASTELLANOS: Well then, let's do something, Donna.

BRAZILE: And health care costs will continue to rise and become 25 percent of our GDP by the end of this year. If we do nothing, health care costs will rise to $13 trillion over the next ten years. And, Alex, the truth be told, you're right, I like to help people. I was a child who was born, like most of my other brothers and sisters, at charity hospital without health care, thanks to the government, I came into this world. My mother died at 52, worked every day, had no health care. So, yes, it is personal.

CASTELLANOS: Donna, just because you love folks -- just because you love folks --

BRAZILE: Hold on. Hold on. I have a small business now.

CASTELLANOS: -- and want to spend money, it doesn't mean it's going to work, Donna.

BRAZILE: No. I have a small business right now, like all other small business owners in this country. This will help me provide -- I provide coverage for my employees, but this will help me expand that coverage and give me more options.


BRAZILE: And my female employees will not be discriminated against, pay 32 percent more health care simply because they're female.

CASTELLANOS: There's some things on which Republicans and Democrats -- by the way --

BRAZILE: And, Alex, let's finish.

CASTELLANOS: -- to Wolf's point --


BRAZILE: No, no, because you said I like to help people. You're right. And not just my family, I want to help every American afford coverage, if they have it through the private market or through the exchanges or they have them through the small business.

CASTELLANOS: But here's the secret, Donna. Here's the secret. BRAZILE: And, Alex, one more thing -- uncompensated care. That is $1,000 --

CASTELLANOS: She's tough, isn't she?

BRAZILE: No, because I know how much it costs. My health care went up. The only thing that happened in ten years, you can check my pulse --


-- is I've grown from 40 to 50 since I left the Congress.

Alex, we need to do something to control costs.

CASTELLANOS: That dollar that you take to help someone is just as valuable when you give it to them, it is just -- it costs just the same when you take it from someone else.

BRAZILE: Well, it's not just --


CASTELLANOS: The only difference is, when you send it through Washington, it just doesn't work.


CASTELLANOS: Washington does not reduce costs on anything.

BRAZILE: Show some love.

WOLF: Let me report to our viewers. The two-hour debate has now officially started at 6:43 p.m. eastern here on the east coast. That means it's supposed to wrap up at 8:43 p.m. eastern. I suspect it will go a little longer.

But there's Steny Hoyer. He's the Democratic majority leader in the House. Let's listen in.

REP. STENY HOYER, (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: -- led in March across the Edmond Pettis Bridge. It was a march across that bridge for the vote in this democracy. It was a march towards a greater freedom for many Americans. It was a march for a better quality of life for many Americans. Indeed, it was a march across the Edmond Pettis Bridge for a freedom and a better realization of the promise of our democracy.

Today, March 21, 2010, we will cross another bridge. It is not a physical bridge, but it is a bridge that too many Americans find that they cannot cross, a river that separates them from the security of having available the best health care that is available to the world, available to them. We are here to conclude a day of debate which concludes months of debate in a national conversation that began more than a century ago. But this much is beyond debate -- American health care is on an unsustainable course. By the end of this debate, another family will have fallen into bankruptcy because somebody had the bad fortune simply to be sick. More families will have joined them in paying more and more for less and less health coverage. More businesses will have weighed bankruptcy against cutting their workers' care, and their workers will have lost.

We have before us a bill to change an unsustainable course. That is our choice this evening. It is an historic choice. It's a choice that all of us volunteered to be put in the position to make. It is a choice that we will be honored to make this evening. We sit in this chamber tonight --

BLITZER: So Steny Hoyer opening up for the Democrats, making the case for health care reform. They will have one hour to make their case. The Republicans will have one hour to make the opposite case against the health care reform legislation. And then they will vote on the Senate bill. We're watching all of this. That will be a critical vote. They'll have a separate vote on the so-called reconciliation bill. And then the president of the United States will address the American people from the East Room of the White House.

Our special coverage here on CNN will continue throughout the night. And we'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're joined now by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland. He's one of the leaders in the -- on the Democratic side in the House of Representatives.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. They have started the two-hour debate now, setting the stage for passage, we assume, of the Senate version of health care reform. And then they'll have another vote on the so-called reconciliation bill. Just want to nail down, you have no doubt in your mind about the 216 votes you need, right?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D), MARYLAND: I have no doubt. Yogi Berra said, "It's not over until it's over." Based on our current vote count, unless people change their minds, we have a majority, yes.

BLITZER: The last time we spoke last week, you were still pretty nervous about your colleagues in the Senate. Will they actually do, from your perspective, the right thing and pass the reconciliation bill, so the Democrats in the House will not be burdened with the Louisiana purchase and the Nebraska cornhusker kickback and all of that stuff? Are you 100 percent convinced that the Democrats will be able to get the job done in the Senate?

VAN HOLLEN: I am convinced. We've been absolutely assured by Harry Reid and the majority of Senators that they will get this done. They've looked at the amendments we are making to the Senate bill, including getting rid of the Nebraska deal and other provisions. They've said a majority of us are on board. They will pass that legislation. I'm confident of that, yes. BLITZER: John King is here with a question.

Go ahead, John.

KING: I'm interested, sir, in your role as chairman of the Congressional Campaign Committee, what is it like? Take us inside a meeting with a lawmaker who tells you, you know, Chris, I'm sorry, but if I vote for this bill, I am going to lose? How do you and the speaker say, we need your vote? It has to be about the morality of the cause, the substance of the issue, not about your survival?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, John, as you may understand, we've had lots of conversations with lots of our member. They are listening first to their constituents back home, many of whom have seen huge increases in premiums. They're talking to nurses and doctors who said the current system is not sustainable. Based on that, many of them have said, obviously that they'll vote for it. Others have talk to people and reached a different conclusion. But the fact of the matter is we have a strong majority that listen to their constituents and said the status quo is not sustainable. The status quo empowers insurance companies at the expense of patients, and we can't allow that to continue. And that is how people have moved over, over this period of time.

KING: Congressman Van Hollen, we'll be following the debate as it goes on all night. I wish we had more time, but we need to work in a quick break. So we can get right back to the crackling debate on the House floor.

VAN HOLLEN: All right.

KING: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, he's the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That committee helps raise money and provide help to all those Democrats, some of whom will need a lot of help after casting tough votes tonight.

Our coverage will continue in just a moment. Don't go anywhere.


BLITZER: The House of Representatives is now debating health care reform. They started this debate -- they have two hours scheduled at 6:42 p.m. eastern. They will go until about 8:45 or so p.m. eastern. Then they'll vote, 15 minutes to vote.

Gloria, this could be over within the 10:00 hour, maybe a little bit earlier, maybe a little bit later, and then we'll hear from the president.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And then we'll hear from the president. And as you know, Wolf, this is something he's been working for, for a year. Back in January, there were lots of us who thought that he wasn't going to get this after he lost his 60th vote in the Senate. And he finally got us involved, as John pointed out earlier, as the Democrats had wanted him to all along, and it's going to pay off now. The question I think we have is that whether in the long term this is going to do more harm to the Democratic party and to this president or whether this will mean that the party will turn a corner.

You just had on Congressman Chris Van Hollen. He's responsible for getting Democrats re-elected to the House of Representatives. There are folks who say that as a result of passing health care reform, Karl Rove, in particular, that the Democrats will actually lose control of the House of Representatives. There are others who say, you know what, they may lose a few more seats, but they've proven that they can govern.

KING: That is the question.

BLITZER: And be careful what you wish for.

Very quickly.

KING: Remember, we started working together during the Clinton administration. He could not, with the Democratic majority, get them to pass health care reform.

BORGER: Right.

KING: The party suffered hugely in 1994. What will happen this time? They'll get a great policy success, they believe, tonight. What will the political price be? Seven months till November.

BLITZER: We'll be watching it every step of the way. Standby.

Our coverage will continue right after this.