Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Coverage of the Congressional Health Care Reform Debate

Aired March 21, 2010 - 19:00   ET


BLITZER: I want to go right to Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, it's the top of the hour right now. The Democrats and the Republicans on the House Floor; they've started their two-hour debate, an hour for the Democrats, an hour for the Republicans. That will set the stage for a roll call. A formal vote, 216, being the key -- the key magic number to get it passed. It looks like the Democrats will have that. They've got more than that for that so-called rule which sets the stage for this debate.

The mood on the Hill, as far as the Democrats are concerned, must have changed dramatically over the past hour or so.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely has changed a lot. Talking to Democratic leaders who are coming through here -- by the way, I'm just off the House Floor so we've seen a lot of members going back and forth and it definitely changed.

That moment especially when Bart Stupak and his colleagues, who are anti-abortion Democrats and decided, that because they struck this deal, that they would vote yes. That was it; that really, really changed the mood. You could actually feel the tension lift among Democratic leaders.

And just moments after that, actually, I was talking to Jim Clyburn who of course is the man in charge of gathering votes. And I said and he was looking at his whip sheet when I was telling him who the Members of Congress who were at that press conference were, the whip sheet of course is actually the list that he carries around, right in his pocket, of which Democrats are voting yes. And he was adding it up.

And I said, "Well sir, how are you feeling now?" And he said, "We're feeling good with room to spare."

So absolutely a very, very different kind of mood. The House Speaker, I will tell you, I was trying to get a little bit of information from her about where the votes are. And she was walking into the House chamber and she said that she sort of smiled and laughed and she said, "Well, we don't want to kill the drama and make people turn their TV off, do we?" So they want to keep the drama going, but they absolutely feel good.

BLITZER: So they think this is a done deal right now. And the Democrats, I take it, are pretty confident that their colleagues in the Senate eventually from their perspective will do the right thing and pass the reconciliation bill as well?

BASH: They hope so. Confident -- actually, they probably are confident at this point. But you're hitting on something that is a real, real subplot that has gone on here between the House Democrats and the Senate Democrats.

It is not a secret that there is a high level of mistrust between House Democrats and Senate Democrats. That is why if you've watched this unfold over the past 24, 48 hours, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, not only went to meet publicly with the House Democrats yesterday when the president was there and publicly promised that he believes that he has the 51 votes to pass this package of changes. He also said he had a letter that backed that up.

So a leap of faith is what many House Democrats said that they're going to take in voting for this bill that they simply -- many of them do not like and voting for the changes as well. Leap of faith that the Senate will follow suit. It's going to be very interesting looking ahead next week to watch the Senate go through all of the parliamentary hoops to get that done.

BLITZER: Yes we'll be watching that every step of the way. Dana, stand by.

John, it's an interesting what-if, and it may be a little farfetched, but it's not necessarily completely out of the realm of possibility. What if -- what if the Senate doesn't pass the Reconciliation bill, if the Republicans find ways to just delay, amendment after amendment, or they come up with some sort of creative way to stop it? What -- then everyone's sort of stuck, if you will, with the Senate version, which is the law of the land.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're stuck, but the Senate version becomes the law of land, which is fascinating, because then a lot of the House liberals will be upset. They will feel they were burned by the Senate, so they will be upset. But the -- one of the interesting points that some Democrats will make is that they say the Reconciliation fixes and -- only in Washington does Reconciliation mean Armageddon.

But they -- and the dispute about the numbers, I know Alex will jump in, but the Democrats argue that with the fixes, you actually get a more fiscally conservative bill. That you cut deeper into the deficit than the Senate bill. So one of the arguments against Republicans in the Senate will be, we know you don't like this, but at least from a fiscal conservatism standpoint, this is better than what you have on the table.

So that will be one of the arguments against it. But Leader Reid's prestige's is on the line, he has a tough re-election campaign himself. And he says he has the majority to get this forward. We have to assume he does, the most important person in this town, once the House casts this vote tonight in the short term, is the Senate parliamentarian. A very obscure post, hardly ever in the public realm, he has to decide when Republican senators say, this is wrong this is against the law, this doesn't fit, this against the rules of the Senate that parliamentarian has to decide yes or no; a very, very important person with a lot of pressure on him.

BLITZER: Did you know who also has a very important rule in this, someone who can overrule --

KING: That's right.

BLITZER: -- it's never happened I don't think.


BLITZER: -- the parliamentarian of the Senate, that would be the President of the Senate, who happens to be the Vice President, Gloria --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- of the United States, Joe Biden.

BORGER: And he's very familiar with the Senate rules having served in the Senate for so long. Look, I think what you're going to see from Republicans -- and Alex, correct me if I'm wrong -- because the ones I've been communicating with today have been saying -- they're going to sort of pick on this bill, this fix bill, which is supposed to only deal with the budget deficit and say, this also touches social security, because you raised some revenues for it or you decreased some revenues from it, whatever their points are. And they are going to say, therefore, therefore, you cannot even consider this bill on the Senate floor, and that's where your parliamentarian comes in so handy.

So --

BLITZER: But they did remove, Alex and this is very significant, the Democrats, the so-called deem and pass maneuver that they were going to use. They did remove passing the Reconciliation bill before they passed the Senate bill.

So a lot of the legal challenges that there have been some discussion about, they have removed that.

Hold that thought for a moment because John Dingell, the longest- serving member ever in the House of Representatives, the Democrat of Michigan, is speaking. I'm curious to hear.

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: And I want to thank and praise our Speaker, our Majority Leader, and the leader in the Senate for the great leadership that they have given us in this great undertaking.

Today is a day that's going to rank with the day we pass the Civil Rights Bill in 1964. Today, we are doing something that ranks with what we did on Social Security or Medicare. And this is a day in which we can all be proud if we vote for that legislation.

Facts are (INAUDIBLE) and hard thing. And let's look at this from the standpoint of the facts of what it does; 32 more million Americans are going to have health care. They don't now. Americans which has health care of the best health care in the world, does not make it available to 32 million people because they can't afford it. And Americans every day are losing their health care. 18,000 Americans every day die or rather every year die for want of health care. And 44,000 Americans also go bankrupt because of it.

What does this bill do? It gives Americans the same health care that we here in the Congress have. It preserves their choice. And it sees that if those Americans want to change, they can do so.

It also fixes the insurance company. And as the president has said, this bill is the patient's bill of rights on steroids. And as my colleagues who worked on this bill when we passed it years ago will remember, that that is legislation which protects the rights of citizens and ratepayers.

And the reason that the insurance companies are so up in arms about it -- and they're the ones that are opposing this bill -- is because it's going to take care of their patients and because it's going to take care of their customers.

What's it going to do? No more pre-existing conditions. And they can't cancel your policy while you're on the gurney riding into the operating room because you're sick --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- time has expired.

DINGELL: I -- I want to commend my colleagues for this -- I want to pay particular --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman's time has expired.

Does the gentleman from California wish to yield additional time? Gentleman's time has expired.

The gentleman from -- the gentleman reserves. The gentleman from Texas is recognized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madame Speaker, I would like to yield for unanimous consent request, a member of the committee from the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, Dr. Murphy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without objection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madame Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in opposition to this flawed health care bill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without objection. The gentleman from Texas --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madame Speaker, I'd like to yield for one minute the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Stearns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman from Florida is recognized for one minute.

Without objection. REP. CLIFF STEARNS (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Madame Speaker.

This incredibly expensive $1 trillion health care bill will hurt many that simply currently have insurance. The bill will hurt veterans because it does not accept Tri-care as a qualified Medical plan. It will hurt seniors by cutting Medicare Advantage to fund this new government program.

Mr. Stupak, no lawyer will argue that an Executive Order is law, so the Senate bill starts us on a path of government-sanctioned abortion on demand paid for by taxpayers. The U.S. has a $1.5 trillion deficit and now we're adding $1.2 trillion over ten year.

The president pledged no family making under $250,000 would face tax increases. Yet there are 12 new tax increases violating that pledge and 46 percent of families making less than $66,000 will be forced to pay the individual mandate, the bill to expand the IRS by 17,000 auditors to enforce these new taxes. It will hurt businesses, create health care rationing and move the United States of America to fiscal instability.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman yields. The gentleman from California is recognized --

BLITZER: All right, Cliff Stearns, that was the Republican Congressman from Florida making his case.

They're going back and forth. The Democrats will speak a little bit. The Republicans will speak a little bit. They both have one hour respectively to make their cases. We expect the roll call on this, the Senate health care reform bill, to take place at around 8:45 p.m. Eastern. So they still have a lot more to discuss.

We're going to go in and out of this debate. So this is an historic debate, as we've been pointing out. Once they pass, and we assume they will pass, the Senate version, they'll have a separate debate, and then a roll call on the so-called Reconciliation bill.

We'll continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives. They're in the midst of their debate right now, two hours of debate.

Congressman Ed Markey, the Democrat of Massachusetts, is speaking right now. Republicans will be speaking as well.

We're going to go back and forth and listen occasionally to hear what they're saying. They're making their arguments for and against the Senate version of health care reform. We expect the roll call to begin at around 8:45 p.m. Eastern or so. If that is passed, at some point, sooner rather than later, the president will sign that legislation into law and health care reform will be enacted here in the United States. We're watching all of this.

Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, is joining us as well.

Kevin --


BLITZER: Welcome to our coverage. You have no doubt that this is a done deal now, do you?

MADDEN: It looks like they have the votes. I remember when I worked up in the majority leader's office up on Capitol Hill the whole process was around growing the vote. And the way you really grew the vote to get the final votes was to put it out, you know, make sure you can put it on the floor.

Because when you go through all your counts, you've got your ones that are sure things, your twos that are leaning yeses, your threes that are maybes. A lot of your threes, once that bill goes on to the floor, they quickly become twos. So I think that Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer have the votes.

BLITZER: They have the votes to pass the Senate --

MADDEN: Right, but let it -- you know, we can be sure right now that Eric Cantor and John Boehner are doing as much as they can to make sure that they can disqualify any of that -- what the Stupak deal or to disqualify any of the language that the president has proffered --

BLITZER: What do you mean when you say disqualify? What do you mean?

MADDEN: Well, going out there, essentially try and make sure these Stupak votes that came across the line, that they -- they can't get the assurances that they may need that they may think they have, in order to get that executive order language right the way it should be.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I remember the Prescription Drug Bill. You remember that.

MADDEN: Right. It was open for hours and hours.

BORGER: We started about early in the morning where they kept that vote open for hours because you guys were still twisting arms.

MADDEN: Right.

BORGER: And this looks like the House Speaker said, "Never again, I'm not going to do what the Republicans did on prescription drugs.

MADDEN: Right, and that would be very hard right now, to have a --


MADDEN: They'll be sitting here at midnight, three hours, watching this vote going up. Because then I think -- you know, we've seen this through this entire debate -- is that the longer it's gone on, the harder it has been to really corral all these votes.

KING: What happens internally in the psychology of the Republicans, especially the House Republican, in the sense that a couple weeks ago they thought they had killed this bill in its tracks. And it gave great energy to the base and there was a great support, fund-raising for Republicans was going up. They had this mojo to use a term that's thrown around and stuff.

What happens now? The president and the Democrats get a victory. I know the Republicans disagree with the substance of much of the bill. But what happens politically now in this environment where it's a defeat?

Obviously the Democrats have a big majority and the Republicans will make the point they're going to squeak this through, even though they have a seventy-something seat majority in the House.

But what happens internally in the Republican caucus now, in an election year that has, so far, been very good for them?

MADDEN: Well, I think you're going to hear a lot of talk about two things. First of all, process, which many Republicans are going to frame with the American electorate as having short-circuited a public opinion, circumvented public opinion, and essentially jammed a bill through the House and the Senate that the American public does not have popularity opinion behind.

And I think the second thing, which is I think the most potent in an election year, which the price tag. And you'll probably hear it for the next few hours as we debate, as we finish the debate through the final vote, is they're going to continually talk about the deficits and the price tag on this particular bill. Because right now, Republicans know this very well, and many of those Democrats who held out to this point know that the anxiety around federal spending and the price tags coming out of Washington is so great and it's going to be so important as they head to the polls in November.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The problem is that the Republicans are just really talking to themselves. I don't think they're really talking to the American people. They're looking at these polls and they're saying, "Oh, my God, the polls are bad."

Well what they haven't said, Wolf, is that many of those who object to this bill, at least object it up until this point, for people who wanted the public option, who want the single pair, and they were disappointed that the Democratic bill didn't go far enough. That's -- the Republicans are counting --


BLITZER: Hold on one second, guys, hold on.

I want to go back and listen in to the Republicans now. They're making a case against this health care reform legislation.

REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: This bill and the outrageous abuse of process and all the back room deals need to secure passage is simply the wrong approach. My father was a teaching physician at USCLA County Medical Center. He would have been appalled that a massive new bureaucracy will now be making the health care decisions for its patients.

In my district, thousands of seniors will lose their preferred Medicare Advantage coverage that serves them so well and have saved lives. This bill is little more than a shell game that shifts costs, picks winners and losers and does nothing to achieve real reform.

The American people have resoundingly rejected this dangerous approach. True reform should be accomplished with bipartisan cooperation, not strong-arm tactics. The only thing that is truly bipartisan tonight is opposition to this deeply flawed bill.

We can and must do better. I urge my colleagues to join me in voting no.

I yield back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentlewoman yields ---

BLITZER: All right. Henry Waxman, the Democrat will now introduce another Democrat, to make the Democrat's case in favor of health care reform. Let's listen in.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: -- who has played a very active role in this legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentlewoman is recognized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you, Madam Speaker. I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remark in strong support for the patient protection and affordable care act.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without objection.

WAXMAN: Madame Speaker, at this time, I want to yield one minute to the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Stupak, who's been so -- played a very influential role in this legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman from Michigan is recognized for one minute.

REP. BART SPEAKER (D), MICHIGAN: Thank you Madam Speaker. I wish to engage the chairman in a colloquy if I may.

Throughout the debate on the House, members on both of the abortion issue have maintained that current law should apply; current law with respect to abortion services include the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment and other similar statutes to it have been the law of the land on federal funding of abortion since 1977 and applied to all other federal programs and all health care programs including S-Chip, Medicare, Medicaid, Indian (ph) health services, Veterans health care, Military health care programs, community health centers and the federal employees health benefit program. The intent behind both this legislation and the executive order the president will sign is to ensure that, as provided for in the Hyde Amendment that health care reform will maintain a ban on the use of federal funds for abortion services except in the instances of rape, incest and endangerment life of the mother.

WAXMAN: The gentleman will yield to me --

STUPAK: Yes, I do.

WAXMAN: That is correct. I agree with the gentleman from Michigan that the intent behind both the legislation and the executive order is to maintain a ban on federal funds being used for abortion services. I yield another 30 seconds --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman is recognized --

WAXMAN: As provided in the Hyde Amendment, nothing more, nothing less.

STUPAK: I thank the chairman. And I am seeking the chairman's commitment that our conversations on this issue, the abortion issue, will continue.

WAXMAN: Well, I know this is an issue of great concern to the gentleman from Michigan and many other members of the Energy & Commerce committee. You have my commitment to work with you and other members in the future.

STUPAK: Thank you. I yield back.

WAXMAN: Reserve.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman yields; the gentleman reserves. The gentleman from Texas is recognized.

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: Madam Speaker, I have a parliamentary inquiry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman will state his parliamentary inquiry.

BARTON: It has been agreed to, I am told, by the parliamentarian and others that if I yield Mr. Sensenbrenner two minutes right now it will come out of Leader Boehner's time. And I would like to --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The chair has been so advised.

BARTON: Ok. I yield to Mr. Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, two minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gentleman is recognized for two minutes.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: Thank you, madam. I have listened to this colloquy and frankly it doesn't state the law. The proposed executive order which I have a copy of specifically states that nobody can enforce the executive order in any court. So the executive order is merely a piece of paper that certainly will not have any effect of law.

Earlier today, the Gentlewoman from Florida, Miss Wasserman-Schultz, was quoted on Fox News saying, well, it can't be changed by executive order because an executive order can't change the law. She was right on that respect. An executive order can't change the law.

But even on a policy question, President Obama, at a campaign rally, when he was running for re-election, criticized the Bush administration's excessive use of executive orders. Congress' job is to pass legislation. The president can veto it or sign it. Executive orders are not part of his power.

The president also said, "I'm not comfortable with doing something this significant through executive orders," relating to trying terrorists in Military commissions. Now, finally, it is basic law, as reiterated by the Supreme Court as late in 2006 in the case of Hamden versus Rumsfeld that an executive order cannot trump or change existing law.

The executive order that is being talked about now is a piece of paper that will have no force and no effect. If one is concerned about preventing the exchanges that are established under the Senate bill that we will be voting on in a few hours, then the only thing that one can do is vote against that Senate bill to preserve the Hyde Amendment from being expanded to programs that are being created under the Senate bill.

I'm sorry but the gentleman from Michigan and the gentleman from California have misstated the law. It is pretty clear. Even the president said it during the campaign. And the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Wasserman Schultz said it on TV --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman's time is expired.

SENSENBRENNER: -- earlier today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman's time is expired.

The gentleman from California is recognized.

WAXMAN: Madame Speaker, I yield one minute to the gentleman from New York, as an important member of our committee who's played an important role in this legislation particularly as it relates to his state and other areas as well.

Gentleman from New York, Mr. Engel, one minute.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman from New York is recognized for one minute.

BLITZER: All right.

So you heard the so-called colloquy, the exchange between Bart Stupak, the Democrat from Michigan and Henry Waxman, the chairman of the key House committee that deals with health care which Stupak explained his understanding and the chairman, Henry Waxman, agreed with him. But then Jim Sensenbrenner, the Republican from Wisconsin, said that is all wrong and this is misleading the American public. And this executive order that the president says he will sign is not worth the paper he's signing it.

It's interesting that Henry Waxman then decided to ignore those comments from Sensenbrenner and move on. We will move on as well.

We'll continue our coverage of this debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. Much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: They've got a little bit more than an hour left to this debate before the actual roll call for the Senate version of health care reform on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But we just heard a fascinating exchange on the whole issue of abortion. Dana Bash is our senior Congressional correspondent.

Dana, this carefully-crafted so-called colloquy as Bart Stupak and Henry Waxman had on the floor of the House just now it's more than just an exchange or a conversation. This is significant.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is significant. It is part of the deal that Bart Stupak and his colleagues struck with the White House and Democratic leaders to make them feel more comfortable that there is no taxpayer funding for abortion, which is really their goal and it's what brought them over to say that they would vote for this health care bill.

What you saw -- the reason why it was important is because that colloquy which as you said was choreographed and scripted from the perspective of the anti-abortion Democrats that gets the agreement into the legislative record. So it's not just an executive order that the president will sign, which we heard about earlier today and we've seen the language, but now it is part of this branch of government, in particular the House. It is part of the legislative record.

I was talking to Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, she was one of the Democrats with Bart Stupak, and she is somebody who is staunchly anti-abortion. She said that from her perspective, this helps fill in the blanks that she saw in the underlying bill that she said maybe didn't exactly go all the way in preventing taxpayer funding for abortion. So that's why they did it on the floor.

Again, from the perspective of those Democrats, it was a critical piece of this deal.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from those who support abortion right for women, especially some of the women in the House of Representatives? How are they reacting?

BASH: To be honest, they're not happy. I mean, they are not happy with the fact that they believe that - first of all, they didn't like the way the Senate language was written to begin with. They thought it was - still do, still think it was too restrictive when it comes to, from their perspective, the ability of women to get health care coverage to get abortion. Many of them believe that it should be the right of women.

And so actually, if you look at the exchange that was going on the floor probably - if you carefully, you can see a row of women behind Bart Stupak. You saw Debbie Wasserman Shultz of Florida, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, those are the women who have been behind in the office down the hall behind me in Pelosi's office. They have been looking at the language to make sure from their perspective it didn't go too far to lose some of the votes of the abortion rights Democrats. So they're not happy with this, but they say they're going to have to live with it and it's good enough for them and they're going to vote for the bill.

BLITZER: They're not happy. They're going to vote for the bill. Republicans are pretty angry about the whole thing. You heard congressman Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin make the point that this agreement, for the president to sign this executive order, is just worthless piece of paper, sort of paraphrasing, but that was the gist of what he said, and he suggests that Bart Stupak and the other Democrats who oppose abortion are being misled and are being gullible as far as all of this is concerned.

Dana, thanks very much. We'll continue to watch what's going on. We're a little bit more than an hour away from the actual roll call, assuming this two-hour debate limit holds in place. We expect the roll call on the Senate version to take place at around 8:45 p.m. Eastern, give or take a few moments either way. John, they don't have the flexibility as they do in the Senate, but they do have a little bit of leeway in the House.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, they respect the other rights. What the Democrats are trying to do is say this is transparent and open. They just had the colloquy of the dispute over the abortion language that they're going to let the Republicans have their say. But there are rules for the debate. But again, a two-hour argument often becomes two hours, 30 minutes, just because of the time to hand off between people, transitions, to be polite. Someone has given a minute to speak. They often go a minute 30, a minute 40. They'll be interrupted at the very end.

But they're on track to do this. The most important thing for the Democrats is not the hour of the day. Those who are fascinated by this at home, they may say, why do I have to wait until 10:00 or 11:00 to get this? The president of the United States is going to stay up late to speak tonight. The important thing for the Democrats is get to the finish line. If it happened to slip until midnight, they'll be just as happy, Wolf, maybe a little more tired, but they'd be happy.

BLITZER: Whatever time it ends, we'll still be here and we'll wait for the president to go to the east room of the White House and speak to the American people. Look at this beautiful picture of Washington, D.C.. This is a live picture from the U.S. capital here in Washington, inside the debate on health care reform continues. Outside, it's a beautiful evening here in the nation's capital. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: What a beautiful night here in Washington, D.C. a look at this live picture of the U.S. Capitol. It's a fabulous day. In fact, the whole weekend was lovely. Inside though, there's a debate going on the floor of the House of Representatives right now. For and against the Democrats version of health care reform. It looks like it's going to pass.

We're in the midst of this debate a little bit more than an hour of debate time left before the roll call on the Senate version takes place. They need 216 votes, the Democrats. Looks like they have more than 216, which will pass the Senate version of health care reform. The president eventually will sign that into law. There's a separate fix-it bill, as they call it, the reconciliation bill.

The House will take that up after they pass the Senate version of health care reform. Roland Martin is joining us, one of our CNN contributors to help us better appreciate the enormity of what's going on, on this huge day in Washington. Give us a thought or two, Roland, what this all means.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I'm try to appreciate Texas A&M is playing for doing overtime right now. But Wolf, this obviously is huge for Democrats. This has been a part of their plan for quite some time. They have been pushing this. So to be on the brink of getting health care, it is tremendous.

But I got to say this year, it's amazing to listen and to read all the different comments saying folks who are voters are going to actually care about process. Nonsense. If they cared about process, they would have thrown all these folks out of Congress a long time ago. Really, what it boils down to, Democrats are going to trumpet the fact that 32 million people are going to have health care.

Republicans are going to focus, frankly, on the cost of this particular issue. Also I think it's nonsensical to somehow think that we can predict the election results today based upon - in the month of March, based upon this particular bill, when so many different things could happen over the next six months. For Democrats, will be a huge victory. For Republicans, they'll try to spin it, but the reality is, it will be a tremendous loss because they tried to stop this with everything they had and they simply couldn't.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that they worked out this deal, this new arrangement with those House Democrats who oppose abortion, Bart Stupak, leading that group, that they managed to bring them on board to support health care reform?

MARTIN: No, I'm not surprised at all. Because for the democrats, you had to get a victory. We saw this issue early on in the vote in November, in terms of how those against abortion who are Democrats are going to be a factor. When you come down to, frankly, passing a bill by one, two or three votes, then this is actually what happens. And so they had no choice. Also, you're also in a situation where, frankly, you don't really want to pass this with 216. You really want this to be 220, 221, 222, it all depends on how it shakes out, because you want to have some padding there for those Democrats who will say, "look, I was not the deciding vote," although every Democrat frankly, whether you voted for or against, they will be nailed with this by the opposition.

So no surprise at all. You had to get your folks in line. And for Democrats, you needed a victory. 14, 15 months of this going on and on. The president needed this. I got to say this, Wolf, it is really important. You know, folks are talking about President Barack Obama, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, but it was a woman, it was a woman, the speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who really showed the man how to wield power.

After the Scott Brown loss, they were trying to back up and advance a piecemeal approach. It as Speaker Pelosi who said no, we're going to pass this, we're going to keep our folks in line. And so, frankly, they should be applauding her for teaching them how to wield power.

BLITZER: Because she had repeatedly said, and you'll remember, Roland, after Scott Brown was elected and the Democrats lost their 60- seat supermajority in the Senate, she didn't think that they could pass the Senate version of health care reform in the House but guess what, that is exactly what they are poised to do right now, that roll call should begin in about one hour. We'll watch it closely. Don't go away, Roland. We're going to be getting back to you.

Our coverage will continue after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives. Only a little bit more than an hour or so away from the actual roll call on the Senate health care bill. We expect it will pass. They need 216 votes. They got 224 on a passage of a rule allowing this debate to go forward. So given that vote, it looks like the Democrats will win tonight, send the Senate bill to the president.

They still have a reconciliation bill they have to deal with as well. We're watching all of this unfold. Gloria, if they vote in an hour, they take 15, 20 minutes or so to vote electronically, then they have to vote on the separate reconciliation bill. That could take a little while. Then they have a motion to recommit, some other technical stuff.


BLITZER: Probably the president won't be speaking from the east room of the White House, I'm guessing at least until the 10:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

BORGER: Yes, somebody said to me sometime between 10:00 and 11:00, even, it could go later, should give him a little bit of time to think about what he wants to say. He's going to be happy, as we all know. I mean this is a president who has been working on this thing since day one. Changed his mind about what should be in health care reform along the way. Now he supports mandates. He didn't support mandates during the campaign.

BLITZER: When you say mandates, it means forcing people...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And businesses to get health insurance...

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: f they don't have health insurance, or to provide health insurance to their employees.

BORGER: Because I remember him fighting Hillary Clinton about this during the campaign, saying you can't force people to buy health insurance. And she said, well, how else are you going to have a pool that's large enough, right, Sanjay

But this is a president who's come a long way and has evolved on this issue of health care reform. Some folks thought that, given the state of the economy, this was something he shouldn't have taken on. I've heard lots of people on the hill say, he should have done energy policy first. He shouldn't have done health care first. This bill is too large. We can't afford it.

In the end, he is what he is, and he's going to be judged by it, and as Democrats are going to be judged by it. They're also going to be judged by unemployment, of course, and the state of the economy. But this is going to be a signature issue for him, for better or worse, as you head into 2012 and 2010.

BLITZER: Sanjay, I know you want to weigh in.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean you alluded to this as well but there is also no public option in this bill.

BORGER: Right. Right.

GUPTA: And there were times when we heard this president say health care reform is not health care reform without a public option. So there has been some back and forth. It's interesting, I was in Haiti quite a bit the earlier part of the year and I was listening every now and then on health care. It started to sound more and more like a Republican health care plan. I mean, a health insurance reform was what was mentioned during the "State of the Union." Much more so than health care reform.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's true. I think at the beginning of this campaign for health care reform, the mistake was made that it was entirely about access. And that - as it progressed, the reason the trajectory on this, the popularity of health care reform went down, the reason the president lost key coalitions like independents, was because it became about cost. It became about the size and scope of the bill. And that is what's really driving a lot of people's economic anxiety. When people sit down across America in places like Columbus, Ohio, which I always use as like this - every town America, they scratched out -


BLITZER: You know what I want to -

MADDEN: ... what they have going out and they're really worried about the cost.

BLITZER: I want to hear the former chairman of the Ways and Means committee Charlie Rangel speak. Let's listen.


REP. CHARLIE RANGEL, FMR. CHAIRMAN WAYS & MEAN CMTE.: leave of absence from the chairmanship of the Ways and Means committee. I had thought at that time with my feeling about how important it would be for the entire nation to have access to quality health care, that I did not want to do anything or be anywhere to distract from the leadership, Nancy Pelosi, our leader Steny Hoyer or Jim Clyburn, but most important, the great members that work so hard together with me and our dedicated staff to get out the first bill of this most important subject.

And I am now, when people ask, well, how do you feel and how are you today? I can report that this has been one of the most historic moments in my life to be privileged to serve in this great body and to be a part of this legislation that I know that no matter how long anybody has been in this great legislative body, people will side which -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman's time has expired.

RANGEL: - and thank god I'm on the right side. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman's time is expired. The gentleman from Michigan reserves. The gentleman - the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Camp, is recognized.

REP. DAVE CAMP (R), MICHIGAN: Thank you. I yield 45 seconds to a distinguished member of the ways and means committee, the gentleman from California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman from California is recognized for 45 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madame speaker, the American people have spoken again and again. They do not want to spend nearly $1 trillion on new government health care program paid by raising taxes and raiding the Medicare trust fund. They don't want to force everyone to buy government-approved health insurance or subsidize health plans that cover abortion, and they don't want a 2,400-page bill riddled with backroom deals. Madame Speaker, Americans are watching and know what's at stake. Let's reject this destructive legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman yields.


BLITZER: A little flavor of what's going on, on the floor of the House of Representatives. The Democrats support this health care bill. The Republicans fiercely oppose it. We're about an hour or so away from the roll call on this, the Senate version. We'll continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go to the White House, our senior correspondent Ed Henry is over in the west wing. You're sitting in the press booth over there in the lower level of the White House in the west wing. Glad we had a camera in there for you. Is the president prepared to sign this Senate bill once it passes in the House into law tonight or do we have to wait?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It looks like we'll have to wait. When you talk to White House officials, they say, the president is not going to rush in to signing that immediately. He wants to kind of let that settle and that when he speaks in the east room tonight, we don't know exactly when that's going to be.

Our cameras have already gone in there to get set up in case these votes happen a little quicker than expected. There are some predicting on the hill that it could go well into the night. But they want to be ready. I'm told by some of his top aides that he realizes, this president does that there's a balancing act here and he can't look like this is a pep rally or this is a victory celebration.

Of course, he wants to show that an important historic step forward has taken place in his eyes. But he also wants to make it very clear, as you have been pointing out, that there are some big, big steps in the Senate yet to be done and this is not over by any stretch of the imagination.

BLITZER: They're going to have their work cut out for them in the Senate but they will in health care reform. That will pass and here's the question and a lot of Democrats are nervous how this is going to play in November but the White House is already gearing up to try to help them.

HENRY: They are. In fact, I've just been talking to some Democratic party officials who are pointing out that last year Organizing for America, the sort of big grassroots organization that got kudos in 2008 for helping elect this president. That really took some hit for not standing up, it appeared to the tea partiers, other grassroots organizers on the right who really had the energy.

So they are claiming now that they have stepped up that in the last 10 days. they're telling me, they've placed more than 500,000 calls to wavering lawmakers, these various volunteers. And more importantly, looking ahead in November, they've now gotten pledges of over nine million volunteer hours from volunteers all around the country, saying, look, we will put in time to campaign for these lawmakers who vote for this. We've got your back, essentially, is what they're trying to say.

It's an important signal to some of those Democrats wondering, if I do vote for this, is the president, will his allies in the grassroots level, will they fight fire with fire? Because as we've been pointing out, a lot of people on the right are ready to tear this apart. They want to show that they've got some cover on the left, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll see if this passage of health care reform which is about to happen will energize the Democrats and the Democratic base going in to the midterm elections. Ed, we'll get back to you. We'll get back to the House floor. And much more of our coverage after this.


BLITZER: We're getting closer and closer and closer to a historic vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. They're still debating the Senate version of health care reform. It passed the Senate this Christmas eve. If it passes the House as we now expect within the next hour or so, health care reform will have been passed by both the Senate and the House. It will go to the president for his signature and it will then become the law of the land.

The Democrats are also introducing immediately after they passed that a reconciliation bill to make some changes. That will have to go back to the Senate. But the significance of this is 13 months after the president asked for health care reform, health care reform will become the law of the land.

You know, Sanjay Gupta, when you think about this, I don't think we can overemphasize - over emphasize how significant it is. And I want you to think about this for a moment. But let's listen in to a little bit of this debate first.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, this debate is not about the uninsured, it's about socialized medicine. Today we are turning back the clock. For most of the 21st century, people fled the ghosts of communist dictators and now you're bringing the ghost back into this chamber. With passage of this bill, they will haunt Americans for generations. Your multi-trillion dollar health care bill continues the Soviets, failed Soviet socialist experiment. It gives the federal government absolute control over healthcare in America.