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State of the Union

Sound of Sunday

Aired November 22, 2009 - 11:00   ET


KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION.


KING (voice-over): It's 11:00 a.m. Eastern, time for STATE OF THE UNION's "Sound of Sunday."

Sixteen government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say. the Republican and Democratic senators in the health care debate, including the top Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to and we'll break it all down with James Carville and Mary Matalin, and the best political team on television.

STATE OF THE UNION "Sound of Sunday" for November 8th.


KING: Democrats are spending Sunday celebrating their big vote to begin Senate debate on major health care legislation, but there are still big differences within the party. And more liberal senators argue that a few Democrats who don't support creating a government-run insurance plan should not dominate this debate.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: ... to the other 56 of us and to the country, when the public option has this much support, that it's not going to be in it, and I echo what Michael said, is that people want every option. If we're going to have -- if we're telling people you have to buy insurance, we shouldn't tell them they've got to buy insurance from a private insurance company.

But in the end, I think that all four of our colleagues survey this -- look at this bill in the end and say, they -- I don't think they want to be on the wrong side of history.


KING: But they needed 60 votes Saturday night, and getting to the finish line will require 60 votes again. And one of the senators Democrats will need says he won't vote aye if that final bill has the government option.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: We have a health care system that has real troubles, but we have an economic system that is in real crisis. And I don't want to fix the problems in our health care system in a way that creates more of an economic crisis. If we create a government insurance company, it's going run a deficit and it's only the taxpayers who are going to pay for it.


KING: The Senate Republican leader says his party will not offer a comprehensive alternative, but instead continue to make their case that Congress should deal with health care problems one issue at a time.


MCCONNELL: The Democrats simply don't want to do incremental changes. John, we feel that we ought to go step by step to fix our current health care system. We do not believe take -- the government taking over one-sixth of our economy, completely restructuring one- sixth of our economy is a good idea at any time. It is a particularly bad idea when we're looking at double-digit unemployment. This bill is a job-killer.


KING: Also this Sunday, a former top federal health official lashes out at a government task force recommendation that women wait until they're 50, not 40, to get mammograms to screen for breast cancer.


DR. BERNADINE HEALY, FORMER NIH DIRECTOR: I'm saying very powerfully ignore them because unequivocally, and they agree with this, this will increase the number of women dying of breast cancer. Women in their 40s have a very aggressive kind of breast cancer. They tend to progress fast. And to not screen women in that age group is astounding to me, and it goes against the bulk of individuals who are actually caring for patients. You may save some money, Chris, but you're not going save lives.


KING: As you can see, we've been watching all of the other Sunday shows so maybe you don't have to. Joining me now where you can see them only together right here on STATE OF THE UNION, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville, and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin.

Welcome on this Sunday. Let's start with a big vote, a rare Saturday night session. They get 60 votes, James Carville, but it is also clear that a number of Democrats who voted to start this debate won't vote for this bill if it's the same at the finish line. How significant of a moment? CARVILLE: Well, look. It's going to be tough all the way. The expression is, we keep moving the chain. We can move the chains like LSU did last night and run out of time with a second left to go in the game, but they do keep moving the chains. And they...


KING: That's not stuck in your craw at all, right?



CARVILLE: Oh, God, I couldn't sleep last night. Stuck in my craw is not the word.

I think Senator Reid has got it this far, and you know, they're going to have to make some amendments on the floor, politics will be done, and there's some sense that they can hold the 60 together with some amendments. We'll wait and see.

I mean, and then, you know, they've got to reconcile all of this at the House. So we've still got a ways to go, but it's still in the game, it's pretty far downfield now.

KING: As someone who doesn't want this bill, is getting over 60, now that the Democrats have brought it to the floor, they do have a majority, they -- I would assume they understand the burden on them, they started it, now people will hold them accountable if they don't finish it, you assume something will pass?

MATALIN: Well, it would have been dog meat if they didn't get that procedural vote. But as you said, particularly the three L's that kicked them over, Lincoln, Landrieu, and Lieberman, made it clear the procedural vote to allow a debate was not the equivalent of supporting the substance of the bill.

I think Republicans should, and the country looks forward to having this debate. I'm glad there's going to be a debate. The more people have heard about this from the outset, the less they like it. Much of this -- what has been put before the people now has taken place behind closed doors.

So to have this debate, we will quickly show what Lieberman was saying, which is people want, and Senator McConnell was saying, people want targeted, narrow, incremental reform, and they don't want to take over one-sixth of the economy.

That is not the number one issue. And this has catapulted the debate into something we need to do in the country, what is the role of government? By our own polls people are now saying they do not think that the provision of health care is the role of government.

KING: Let me add a fourth now, you mentioned senators Lieberman, Lincoln, and Landrieu, all seeking leverage. There is a fourth now, I'm going show you the front page of The Times-Picayune, your hometown paper in New Orleans. "Landrieu yea vote moves health care bill."

But she voted yea only after getting some concessions from the Senate leader, she got between $100 million maybe $300 million worth of funding for the state of Louisiana. After getting that promise from the majority leader she went to the floor and she said this.


SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: After a thorough review of the bill, as I said, over the last two-and-a-half days, which included many lengthy discussions, I've decided that there are enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward, but much more work needs to be done.


KING: So she gets a big sweetener, they call it here in Washington. maybe $300 million for the state of Louisiana, but she still says it's not enough.

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, let's start with the bill itself. It has been reviewed by health care expert, including the director of Medicare under the Bush administration. They think this is the most significant cost-saving piece of legislation we've ever had in health care. So we'll start with that.

What Senator Landrieu is accused of doing is having a health care amendment to a health care bill that was requested by her governor who is a Republican, and had been trying to get this done for eight months and who was effusively praised by the health secretary in Louisiana, Mr. Levine, who I think was Governor Bush in Florida's health secretary.

This is not a -- this is not a piece of pork or something. This has to do with the Medicaid reimbursement formula from Hurricane Katrina, which, by the way, a federal judge, in a 176-page ruling, said was a result of negligence on the part of the federal government.

So this just had to do with a distortion of income figures. And this was a health care amendment to a health care bill that the Republican administration of Louisiana was desperate to get. Senator Landrieu was effective enough to get that. I think she should be praised and praised effusively for getting this thing done for her state.

MATALIN: He's right. I mean, it should -- but it should not have been...

KING: OK. I'm going to be (inaudible) this tape a few times. He's right?


MATALIN: Well, Bobby Jindal needs this, it's an anomaly and it's federal negligence in the first place what is -- it should not to have had to have been part of this legislation if the Obama administration could have figured out how to just do a waiver or something easy enough to fix a red tape problem. So that was not a sweetener. And she will be in a lot of political trouble if she votes for anything that remotely resembles what is going to go to debate now.

KING: You say, and I'll trust the judgment of the two New Orleans residents, especially when they agree, that this is something that was necessary for the state. One of the questions is, though, what will it do to the climate here in Washington, because if I'm a senator on the fence now, and Harry Reid needs my vote, and she gets that from Louisiana, I'm thinking the market might be open.

Let's listen to Sherrod Brown, saying that, you know, this is -- he agrees with you, James, that this is probably a good thing and a necessary thing, but he does worry about the impact.


BROWN: I want to see this bill pass. Nobody likes these kinds of -- any kinds of deals. I think anything that's done needs to be in the best interest of those states in this country. I think those probably helped, if that, in fact really happened. I have no way of really knowing if it did. I suppose that helped a lot of people in Louisiana that don't have insurance.

And so, I think we move forward. We do what we need to do within ethical bounds.


KING: This may not be fair, but if you travel the country, a lot of people say, you know, Barack Obama promised to change Washington. never mind the particulars, health care, the economy, climate change, promised to change Washington. When they see this debates like this, they say, more of the same.

CARVILLE: Well, you know, I can understand that. You know, this is a pretty -- and we're going see a lot more as they go down to try to hold these 60 votes together. But the amount of -- on just Senator Landrieu's thing, the amount of disinformation that I heard on talk radio -- in fact, saw on the front page of The Washington Post today.

The Washington Post had -- I assume he still works for him, Michael Grunwald, who knows as much about the Corps of Engineers as anybody and what happened in New Orleans. They could have checked with them before they put out this kind of thing, like this is some kind of a backroom bargaining deal.

This is nothing more, as I've said, is a health care amendment to a health care bill that the Republican governor wanted.

CARVILLE: But, sure, the interest groups, they're all over this. But in the end -- I just want to make this point -- experts have looked at this, and they all conclude -- their four recommendations of the Medicare commission, this bill contains all four. This is a very, very good piece of legislation that could save this country enormous amounts of money. MATALIN: No, it isn't. It's going to raise taxes. It's going to raise the cost of care to people. It's going to diminish quality. All of this is documentable. And it's going to accelerate our debt crisis.

What Senator Brown should have been concerned about, if he's concerned about deal-making, was the stimulus, AKA "porkulous," or the budget, or any number of non-defense and nondiscretionary spending that have -- has kicked this deficit up, has tripled the deficit in under a year. That's the problem.

Why this rings true -- Mary is completely innocent and is not a sweetener in this case -- but why it rings true is every other piece of major legislation this administration has done has been full of the things he pledged to do away with.

KING: Well, James makes a point of the costs. Let's bring two other voices into the conversation. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, is out this morning, and she says, go ahead, Democrats, keep moving this bill, because, she says, it's a disaster and it would help Republicans.


HUTCHISON: I think this bill is a disaster for our country. President Obama said that it would be under $900 billion. It is not. President Obama said it would not add to the deficit. It will. President Obama said that no one would lose the health care that they have, and they will. This is a terrible bill.


KING: And that's a Republican voice there. Let's continue the conversation, but first, let's listen to a conservative Democrat. To your point, you say this bill will control costs. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska says he's not so sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NELSON: It doesn't do enough to control the costs, that's for sure. And we do need to address that cost containment. I'm very concerned about that, but I certainly couldn't say it does nothing.


KING: So we're going to watch the Senate make the sausage?

CARVILLE: Yes, and it cannot be avoided. And 60 votes is there. It's reality. People -- the Democrats come up and they say, "Well, you ought to think for this (ph)."

Senator Reid -- and he's done a pretty good job so far -- full disclosure, I'll be hosting a fundraiser for Senator Reid in New Orleans in a couple of weeks...

MATALIN: (inaudible) CARVILLE: ... has done -- has done a really good job on this. And -- and, again, I go back to the fact that experts, as they -- as -- as this bill gets more and more light, we're going to find out that there's much more in here than meets the eye, and this really has a chance to really affect long-term health care spending, which is exactly what we need.

And, actually, I thought Senator Nelson's comment for him were pretty moderate, and he said, yes, I can't say there's not things in here that don't control costs, because there are.

MATALIN: There -- it is a major, massive cost-shifting. It's not a cost-controller. What it purports to be able to save over the course of 10 years is less than the deficit that they rang -- rang up every month now. It's $130 billion over 10 years. That's if every cost containment is enforced, cutting provisions to Medicare providers, which it has never been, and we have a history.

We're not -- I'm not making this up, not (inaudible) there's no history of any of these enforcement mechanisms being put in place. The unions -- your unions that are your base -- are completely against the biggest tax increase on Cadillac plans. So none of the cost- cutting things can be enforced, and they're cost-shifting after that. They tax everybody, from pacemakers to wheelchairs.

KING: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, I'm going to walk over to the magic wall. We're going to have some talk about the economy and also where a certain Mary Matalin factors into the Sarah Palin book. Don't go anywhere.


KING: We're back with James Carville and Mary Matalin. We've been talking health care, but Americans views on health care and just about everything else are shaped by their position on the economy. I want to show you a map here.

Here's the United States. I want to take you to the unemployment rate. If you notice, the elevation, the higher the state, the higher the unemployment rate. That is the rate right now. This is what happened last month. If the state is red, the rate went up last month. If the state is green, it came down a little bit in the last month.

So Michigan still has the highest in the country, but it came down a bit last month. Nevada is still very high, came down a bit last month. But look at all of the red; 29 states, the unemployment rate went up last month.

So we asked the American people in our CNN polling, what do you think of economic conditions today? Eighty-two percent say the economy is in bad shape. And then you asked, of course, the follow-up question. Politically, who's to blame for this? Right now, 38 percent blame the Republicans, 27 percent the Democrats. In May, it was 53 percent Republicans, 21 percent Democrats. So, James Carville, if you're looking at that 10 months or so into the Obama administration, you see a trend in the polling. You're in charge now, so you're going to get more of the blame.

CARVILLE: You started off -- my first question is, who are the 18 percent that don't think it's bad? I'm like -- I'm always curious about these people.

MATALIN: (inaudible)

CARVILLE: Look, as -- as you would expect, as you get further into an administration, the -- the blame-shifting or whatever you want to call it will continue. And I -- I think the president needs to explain to people that -- who are in a -- in a tight fix, be very, very -- talk to them often, explain to them what's going on, what -- what -- what we need to try to do to get out of this to assure people that there is some kind of plan...


KING: But let's listen to him. Let me -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but let's listen to him. He sat down with our Ed Henry on the Asia trip, and this is how the president talked about the bad economy.


OBAMA: My job as president is to help navigate through this tough year. And, you know, people who don't have a job right now, people who have lost their home, you know, I'd be mad, too.


KING: The -- the difference in style. The president says, "I'd be mad, too," but you famously helped the guy who could feel our pain. Does the president need to be less cool, less detached when it comes to something like this and be more like President Clinton, get out and reach and touch people? CARVILLE: I think -- I think that's valid. And also, I think the president is not just saying, "I see why people are mad." He said, "These are some things that we're doing. They may take some time."

I remember my grandmother telling me about President Roosevelt during the Depression, and he'd have the fireside chats. He'd bring people in and say, "We're trying these different things." I would like to see the president do a little bit more of that and -- and -- and tell people exactly what's going on and -- and -- and what he's trying to do to deal with this. And I think -- I think people want to hear that kind of thing.

KING: How hard is it? You worked for George H.W. Bush. And at the end of his administration, fairly or not, you would say unfairly, people thought he was detached from their economic concerns. That's what Bill Clinton, then the governor, tapped into.

KING: How hard is it for a president of the United States to get that -- make the people see and feel that they...

MATALIN: Just for the record, Ross Perot lost that race in '92, but we don't go there.

I don't think the -- I think the president's presentations have been plentiful and OK. He sounds better than the rest of his people that come out there and blame the voters, or they're always attacking somebody.

It's not his style. It is the substance. People understand it. That's why this health care debate is going to go to the heart of this issue, which is we're adding on to the deficit.

We have the same level of deficit we had in World War II. There have been 10 recessions since then, no -- no deficit the equivalent of this one. People understand that. They don't want to add more debt. They do not want to accelerate our debt crisis by adding new programs, new policies, new entitlements.

This health care bill has two new entitlements. We haven't reformed the existing ones that are unsustainable. So that -- it's substance. It's not style. His style is fine.

KING: Go ahead.

CARVILLE: No, I just -- one of the -- again, one of the difficult things of being president -- we certainly had difficulty in doing this even as the economy was improving, is talking about it in a way that you give people where (inaudible) some things are happening, and, you know, good things.

There are some things that have happened out that are, sort of, positive. I mean, the stock market is up. There are indicators that are positive. But, right now, people don't want to hear that. And that's always a -- a difficult thing for any president to do. I'm just saying a president should talk to us more, take us more into his confidence, and give us a greater sense of what he's doing because some of it does make a lot of sense.

KING: If you go through the 400-plus pages of a best-selling book in the country, right now, "Going Rogue" by Sarah Palin, you will see a lot of shots and criticisms at Republican strategists, at her own handlers during the McCain-Palin campaign.

But she has very nice things to say about one Republican strategist, and she happens to be sitting right here at the table.

Here's what Sarah Palin says about Mary Matalin. "One of the only commentators who called it right was Mary Matalin, who noted that my strategy would disarm my opponents and free me up to travel and raise money and awareness for worthy causes."

MATALIN: You know, the problem with the masters of the conventional wisdom universe is that they're trying to apply conventional wisdom templates to an unconventional person. She's an unconventional candidate, if she is a candidate. She's an unconventional person. We've seen nothing like this. So I thought her strategy at the time, even if it wasn't applied to running in the future, was -- was very smart. And she is a phenomenon. She sold -- this doesn't happen; I'm in publishing -- 300,000 copies on the first day. She was the best -- the highest-rated show that Oprah had since the whole Osmond family there was.

She's this combination of charisma and principles. And the book -- I did not like what was said about particularly John (sic) Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, but it was infinitesimal compared to the rest of the book, that had a lot of substance, a lot of principles and a lot of personality. It's a good book. Those things -- those kind of fights happen inside campaigns.

KING: I want to get to what you didn't like in the book in a minute, but to the -- to Sarah Palin. We just talked, a few minutes ago, about people out in the country -- again, fairly or unfairly, but perception is reality in politics -- don't think Washington has changed much.

I know a lot of Democrats say, "Bring it on," you know, "She can't win." But she is so different that, do you think, in the back of your mind, if you're in one of those wave years, something like that might have power?

CARVILLE: It -- it could. I agree completely with Mary. She's unconventional. She's more than unconventional; she's compelling. And -- and she connects with these people in an unbelievable way.

What I said about Sarah Palin on the day that she was nominated is still true. She's uniquely and supremely unqualified to be president of the United States. That -- but a lot -- but she does have -- and she's got real presence about her. I find myself wanting to watch her more than I do most -- most other politicians.

And Mary's right. She's not going to -- it doesn't do her any good to go by the, sort of, normal playbook that people go through. And what she's accomplishing out there is something real. Look, she might be the top -- she might be the number one person in the Republican Party, right now. And she's out discussing conservatism on -- on Rush's show and with Sean Hannity. I think she's -- maybe she'll have depth out there and bring some intellectual heft to the party.

KING: Number one, we're going to have get breaking news (inaudible). There have been more "James is right," "He's right," "Mary's right," in this segment than we've ever...


... than we've ever had -- than we've ever had.


MATALIN: It's your fault. KING: It's my fault.


The cover of Newsweek, last week, said she was a problem for the GOP. And you wrote a column for, and you said this. "Bottom line, the book is a good read, but its impact on personal and professional relationships is a sad one indeed and one I hope conservatives don't let it divide us when we're marching toward a promising midterm."

KING: So you're worried, what, internal fighting in the party, refighting old battles? What's the worry?

MATALIN: Well, I -- just as a mom about it, I know what this is like inside a campaign or inside a White House. And you have these fights and they're heat of the moment, and then all I know is Steve and Nicolle loved her, were the deciding votes for her being on the ticket. And something happened and (inaudible). And we do need to come together.

She's good for the party. Newsweek is bad for journalism. That was despicable. They took an embargoed photo from a -- from Runner's magazine without permission, and that -- I don't usually charge sexism. That was degrading and sexist and despicable journalism.

She is not a problem for the party. She's healthy for the party. We're ascendant in 2010, and -- but we need people who can communicate the framework, the philosophy into which policy prescriptions can be put. And she does that better than almost anybody.

CARVILLE: I don't want to end this on an agreement. I completely disagree.


You pose for a picture and people are going to use it. If you don't want to -- don't pose for the picture. If it was some kind of thing where they have Obama and they get him from, you know, long lens on a beach, that's one thing. She posed for this picture. And so I -- I wouldn't complain about it.

So we can't agree on everything. I think, you pose for a picture, it's just in the public domain.

MATALIN: OK, you can agree on this. She looked good on it.

CARVILLE: She does.

MATALIN: All right.

CARVILLE: Ain't no doubt about that. You and her are the two best-looking women in the Republican Party.


KING: You were -- you were -- you were just trapped by your brilliant wife into ending on agreement.


Mary Matalin, James Carville, thanks for being here.

Up next, we'll be joined by more members of the best political team on television. We'll break down the "Sound of Sunday," talk health care, talk the economy and much, much more. Don't go anywhere.


KING: For our conversation, joining me here in Washington, CNN's senior White House correspondent Ed Henry, senior political analyst Gloria Borger and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

KING: Morning after a big Saturday night...


... vote on health care, a rare Saturday night session. Somebody was working very, very late. I was watching.

BASH: Ed there was, too.

KING: Ed was here.


BORGER: I was watching.

KING: Yes. Two members of the best political team were on TV late last night. I was actually in the office. We don't -- they don't need to know that.

Let's talk about where we go from here, and there are a number of tough calculations. And for the first time on a Sunday morning, the new senator from Colorado, Senator Bennet, came in this morning. And he knows, like Senator Lincoln of -- of Arkansas and like several other senators up next year, at the end of this, they might have to cast a vote that could cost them their job.

I put the question to Senator Bennet. He said this.


KING: If you get to the final point and you are the -- you are a critical vote for health care reform and every piece of evidence tells you, if you support that bill, you will lose your job, would you cast the vote and lose your job?



KING: Yes. Now, we're going to talk a lot about the substance of the bill, Dana, but as they debate this on the Hill, how much does that question weigh on all those senators, the Democrats on the ballot in what they know will be a Republican year next year?

BASH: Oh, it -- it weighs hugely. You saw Senator Lincoln, who has probably the toughest reelection battle and was the last person to formally announce that she was going to vote. She gave one of the most political speeches on the Senate floor. Really, it was intended to hit back at Republicans and all their arguments against her, and then, in the last breath, was, this is not political; this is not about my reelection.

But, you know, take that for what it's worth.

But there's no question that this has been incredibly hard for her, for others. You went to Arkansas. You saw firsthand how hard it is. And that is why, when it comes it Senator Lincoln; when it comes to others from conservative states, they are going to push very hard and demand that this bill will be changed in a way that some liberals might not like, and that's going to be a tough compromise.

KING: Hang on just one sec because you brought Senator Lincoln into the conversation, so let's bring her directly into the conversation, Senator Lincoln on the floor yesterday.


SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN, D-ARK.: I will vote to support -- will vote in support of cloture on the notion to proceed to this bill, but, Madam President, let me be perfectly clear. I am opposed to a new government-administered health care plan as a part of comprehensive health insurance reform and I will not vote in favor of the proposal that has been introduced by Leader Reid as it is written.


KING: So, Gloria, Leader Reid wins. He gets across the starting line.

BORGER: You bet.

KING: But, boy, he's got a lot of work to do to get to the finish line.

BORGER: Yes, it's kind of like a game of whack-a-mole, you know.


The minute -- you know, the minute you get somebody on this measure...

KING: You guys have a great whack-a-mole on this table.


BORGER: ... somebody pops up and says, I can't do that on abortion; somebody says, this is the only way I'm going to vote with you, if it has this. Somebody gets $300 million, Senator Landrieu for Medicaid in her state. Somebody says, OK, you got her down. Somebody says, what about this in my state?

So it is a very, very complicated process, and also something, really, that we don't see very often, which is one party is all out and one party is all in, politically, on different sides of history, making very, very different calculations. We just don't see that very often. Even Ronald Reagan's tax cuts, he had Democrats voting with him on those.

KING: When you sat down with the president in Asia, that's -- he called it "whack-a-mole," right?


HENRY: He didn't use that phrase...



HENRY: You know, let me explain the Oprah factor here, how she applies. This is taking a little risk. I don't know if I can explain it...

KING: The Oprah factor -- good luck.


HENRY: ... which is basically that she was the big story this week, and she's not going leave for two years, OK?

And yet this health care bill, even if the Democrats win, is not going to kick in, really, until 2014. So, long after Oprah has given up her show, they still will not be getting the political benefit.

So if you're Blanche Lincoln and you're taking the vote, the taxes are kicking in sooner. The tough medicine is kicking in, but the benefits are years down the road. That makes that vote even harder.

BASH: And that's why you heard Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, another one of the last holdouts, talk about that specifically on the Senate floor.

And I actually talked to her after she made her speech yesterday in the halls, and she said that one of her big concerns is about the fact that, look, we're going to make these changes, and there's such a lag that I'm afraid that insurance companies are going to say, oh, look at all this time I have; I'm going to jack up premiums, and people are going to end up paying much more now than they...


KING: And it works both ways. It works at both ends. Because you mentioned -- you know, conservatives say this is big government; this is higher taxes. And whether they're exactly right or not, the conservatives are ginned up. We know that. There's great intensity out there.

The question is, on the other side, will progressives stay home if Senator Lincoln votes no on a public option, or unions are mad about the way the Senate health care plan is financed because it would put a tax on those Cadillac insurance plans if they're worth more than $8,500.

Now, the members of Congress who support this say this isn't right; it won't hit union members. But Jim Hoffa, the president of the Teamsters says this is a back-door tax on the middle class.

I asked Sherrod Brown -- he's from a Teamster state, of Ohio -- Is Jim Hoffa from the Teamsters right? Does this punish the middle class?


KING: Will you fight that proposal?

BROWN: I'd prefer that -- that we look more at the version that the House did, on a surtax on people making $500,000 a year or more.

Even with the House proposal, I know we're talking -- we can talk about either bill, but even with the House proposal, it's still -- the tax rate is still significantly less for upper-income people than it was before the Bush tax cuts for the rich that were unpaid for and caused this huge budget, in part, with the war and the Medicare privatization that caused these huge tax -- these huge budget deficits.


KING: To continue the whack-a-mole metaphor, though...


... if you -- if you do what Sherrod Brown wants and go more to the House, you lose votes in the Senate. And if you do what the Senate's going to do, you lose votes in the House.

BORGER: Yes, it's completely difficult to see how you get to the end game here. But for the Democrats and for this president, they need to prove they can govern. They need to prove they can govern. They need to prove that they can govern together. They need to prove that their majorities are actually worth something.

And, yes, there's going to be the law of unintended consequences. We all know that, when you pass large pieces of legislation, which is why we haven't done it lately, right?

BASH: There's one thing that -- probably only one thing that is going to be able to solve all of those differences, from the public option to how you tax people, and that is the guy that Ed Henry covers, the president of the United States, period, end of story.

I mean, he's gotten more involved now, but he's going to be the deal -- the deal breaker or maker with his fellow Democrats on all of these issues or else it's not going to happen

HENRY: I asked him this week. I said, you know, there's some Democrats who say, why aren't you more like LBJ? why aren't you enforcing these deadlines? Why aren't you being more specific?

And he said, well, one reason is that LBJ didn't have the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office.

And some people read that comment, thought that was a little bit...



HENRY: ... you know, that getting into the budget stuff was a little bit of a side issue. But, you know, what top people at the White House say is, look, back in May, when the Congressional Budget Office first started scoring all these bills and came up with high numbers, a lot of people in the media, a lot of Republicans were saying, "This is dead." August, town hall meetings, sound and fury; "This is dead."

And yet, while there's a lot of risk that we're talking about, here we are, late into November, and this president is getting these votes. They're going through. It's gotten through the House. And as you remember from covering Bill Clinton, he never got these votes. He never got this far. SO it is an achievement so far.

KING: All right, a quick time out. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, more "Sound of Sunday."



KING: We're back with CNN's Ed Henry, Gloria Borger, and Dana Bash.

Let's take a look at the Republican argument on health care. They lost the vote last night, with 58 Democrats, two independents voted aye, so the debate will continue. Republicans see a great chance to shape the political environment, not just the health care debate, but the political environment heading into next year.

Listen to Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, essentially saying, watch the Democrats, follow the Democrats, what you get is big government.


COBURN: This bill creates 70 new government agencies with thousands of new bureaucrats, with 1,500 -- and I'm talking about the Senate bill, with 1,597 different instances where the secretary is mandated to write rules and regulations. If you think that isn't going to affect patients and their doctors, I have a whole lot of swampland in Oklahoma I would like to sell you.


KING: We should note that the guy offering to sell the swampland is a doctor. Senator Coburn is a doctor. This is going to be the Republican mantra, big government, big spending, government puts bureaucrats between you and your doctor. It worked in '93 and '94. Do we think it will work this time?

BASH: You know, that's why almost every Republican senator brought out the printed out copy of the 2,000-plus-page bill to show it as a prop to illustrate this is how big it is. Look, so far with the -- like we were talking about before, the conservative Democrats from tough states, it is -- that is the argument that is hardest for them to overcome.

What you hear Democrats talk about is they try to overcome that argument by saying there already is somebody between you and your doctor and that's the insurance company. And really the battle is between whether or not people hate insurance companies or the government more. That really is the battle -- the messaging battle, Republican versus Democrat right now. BORGER: But, you know, the Republicans are talking about big government. If they had wanted a smaller, more circumscribed bill, pre-existing conditions, all of the kinds of things the Democrats and Republicans agree on, that is something that could have been introduced to the president of the United States earlier on in this process and you might have been able -- I know, I don't want to be Pollyanna here, but you might have been able to get some kind of legislation from both parties and leave the complicated stuff and the more controversial stuff for later.

But that didn't happen here either because a political calculation was made that opposing big government is better than jumping in with the president of the United States.

HENRY: Well, and the president's position has been, if you just do all of the easy stuff, the low-hanging fruit, and you save the much harder stuff, you are never really going to get to that because the easy stuff is easy, obviously. Now the Republicans have been making the big government argument from the very beginning of the debate, suggesting they really don't want to work with this president.

And maybe the argument is not working because the president is still standing, as we were saying a moment ago. And I think though that the big test for the president ahead is, does he want to reach out to the Republicans?

He has maybe one last chance. Here in the Senate debate, as Mitch McConnell was saying earlier, much different than the House where they just kind of rammed it through. In the Senate, as Dana, there is going to be amendment after amendment.

And the president, you know, months ago, said, we want to have malpractice reform, something Republicans really want and Democrats don't want because the trial lawyers don't like it. But an amendment on that is likely, many of them on the floor... (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: What's he going get for it? What's he going to get? One vote, two votes.

HENRY: And maybe one or two votes, but at least show that he's willing to move the bill to the middle.

BASH: Look, real quickly, the bottom line is politically for Republicans, the reason why Mitch McConnell wouldn't answer the question about Republicans having a plan, is because they have a very strict calculation politically that they don't want to have a plan because they want the focus to be entirely on Democrats.

That's why in the House, even though Republicans got a plan, they didn't do a press conference, they didn't do a big rally, they did it as quietly as they possibly could because they wanted to focus on Democrats.

KING: All right. We're going to take a quick time out, when we come back, we will have our "Lightning Round" with Ed Henry, Gloria Borger, and Dana Bash. We're going to shift subjects. We're going to talk about the terror trials and the criticism of the Obama administration's decision to bring 9/11 conspirators to New York City. Stay with us.


KING: We're back for our "Lightning Round" with Ed Henry, Gloria Borger, and Dana Bash. We're going to shift the subject and talk terror politics.

The attorney general, Eric Holder, went to Capitol Hill this week to explain and defend the controversial decision to take Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators from Guantanamo Bay, bring them to New York City to stand trial in the federal courts.

It's a risky decision from a legal standpoint. It's controversial politically. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, had a question for the attorney general.


GRAHAM: Can you give me a case in United States history where an enemy combatant caught on a battlefield was tried in civilian court?

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't know. I would have to look at that.


KING: He is the attorney general of the United States, I don't like to speculate, but I'm willing to bet he actually knew the answer.

HENRY: Yes. I think he did and I think he didn't necessarily want it on camera because it is controversial, and I think what he said after that as well in that hearing about basically saying, look, don't worry, even if someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is acquitted, we're going to keep him in prison indefinitely as a combatant.

Where have we heard that before? The Bush administration. And that was what the Obama campaign and Democrats were saying was wrong, that we had to follow the Constitution, and that the Bush administration was -- you know, was on the wrong side of history.

But they are now saying, even if we don't get a guilty verdict, we're going to keep him in prison. That's not really change.

KING: So we're going to put them on trial in open federal court with all of these better rules of evidence for the defendant to prove we're the United States of America, and we're open and we're transparent, unless we lose.

BORGER: Right. I mean, it's very complicated. you know, I mean, a lot of of -- you know, I mean, a lot of -- you know, it's -- I look back on it kind of it as like the Ford pardon of Richard Nixon, which I remember at the time we all scratched our heads and thought, you know, that's a crazy thing. Why did he do that?

BORGER: And then in hindsight, to me at least, it looks like it was the right thing to do.

So, you know, he might -- what looks like the wrong decisions being made for the right reasons, you know, rule of law, et cetera, et cetera, we're better than everyone else -- they turn out in the long term, in the sweep of history to look like the right thing. But very, very difficult politically right now.

BASH: The other question that Lindsey Graham asked that he didn't get an answer to is what do you do when you catch Osama bin Laden? Do you read him his Miranda rights? And he couldn't answer the question, because it is so complicated, based on the current way they do things and the way that they want to do things in the future.

And Lindsey Graham obviously is somebody who is a JAG lawyer, and he is very attuned to this subject. He also is, when it comes to Republicans, probably one of the Obama administration's behind-closed- doors best allies on this. So if he can't get answers from Eric Holder in open session, who can?

HENRY: And that follows the president's top lawyer, Greg Craig, just a few days earlier essentially being pushed out because of in large part of this Guantanamo issue. They are going to miss the deadline to close it down by the end of January 2010, which the president promised in his first week in office. It's shown more than anything how much harder it is to govern than it is to campaign.

BORGER: Welcome to Washington.

KING: Welcome to Washington. All right, a quick time-out here. You say welcome to Washington. When we come back, welcome back to Little Rock. Our weekly diner conversation in Doe's Eat Place in Little Rock, Arkansas, one of my all-time favorites. We'll talk health care, economy and the native son who became president, Bill Clinton. Stay with us.


KING: In our travels this week, we visited Arkansas, which was in part for me a trip down memory lane. I spent a lot of time there in the early 1990s when Governor Bill Clinton was gearing up to run for president, and was back more than a few times during the Clinton presidency.

This week was the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Clinton presidential center, and the former president, well, he stopped by to say hello.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I wanted people to come through this library and leave, and I don't care if they were Democrats or Republicans, I didn't care if they were Americans or people from other countries, I wanted them to believe that decisions have consequences in real people's lives.


KING: The message from the former president there. Arkansas is a great state for politics. It's the home state of President Clinton and the Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, both former governors of Arkansas. The Clinton presidential library, of course, is right there in Little Rock. 7.6 percent unemployment in Arkansas. That's below the national average.

One of Little Rock's landmark food establishments back when Bill Clinton was governor was Doe's Eat Place. It's still thriving, still a great place to grab a bite and to talk politics.


KING: So should health care wait if it's a big-ticket item that is going to cost so much money?

CHARLIE GROPPETTI, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: How can you afford something when you're already in debt? To me, I just feel like we're slipping back and it's become more evident to me that it's the same old Washington.

KING: Same old Washington?

GROPPETTI: I really believe that. I think...

KING: Doesn't look any different to you?

GROPPETTI: I think the packaging was pretty glossy during the campaign, but we've had the package open for a while, and it's just the same old stuff inside.

KING: If you voted for Obama, raise your hand?


KING: You didn't vote, OK. If you voted for McCain?

GROPPETTI: I voted for McCain because I was an unhappy Hillary Clinton supporter.

PAUL BERRY, LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS RESIDENT: Former President Bill Clinton would tell you domestically his worst mistake was not accepting incremental addressing of our health care system.

GROPPETTI: We're afraid to do things sensible. It has to be so radical. We need do things sensible and practical.

KING: Let's project this forward, then. They're having this big debate in Washington right now. The Democrats are trying to vote on it and they are trying do it this year. You have a Democratic senator who's in a very tough spot.


KING: Blanche Lincoln is getting a lot of pressure from her leadership to vote for the bill. If she votes for a bill that costs somewhere around $1 trillion and that raises taxes, they will say on more wealthy Americans, $250,000 or above -- create this -- does this dramatic change, not the incremental exchange. Will you vote for her?

BERRY: I don't think she'll vote for that kind of health care bill. I will vote for her because I'm from a little state. She's chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee, which is extremely important in a lot of other ways. And I'll declare my bias immediately. I'm for her all the way.

KING: How about you?

TAYLOR: I think she's been pretty awesome for...

KING: You like her?

TAYLOR: Oh, yes, I do like her. I like a lot what she's done, so I would definitely vote for her.

KING: What do you worry most about?

TAYLOR: The taxes raising up. Just the government taking over. And just the way the economy is right now. I don't know if it would be good.

GROPPETTI: If she compromises and sticks to a party line that doesn't make sense to us individually, and it could backfire on her.

KING: If you look around this room, there are pictures of the former governor who became the president, who's now the former president, and this week is the fifth anniversary of the opening of the library, the Clinton center.

Let's just play a little word association. I say Bill Clinton, you say?

GROPPETTI: I am going to think Doe's, because I'm here, and this was the political center where a lot of deals were made, and talk and discussions.

TAYLOR: I liked Bill Clinton.

KING: As governor, as president?

TAYLOR: President. I think he did some really good things for Arkansas. I liked him. BERRY: He's our friend, OK? We all knew him and we've all (inaudible) and we've all hugged him.

KING: There is a big debate in this state about whether it was Hillary Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton. She went on, of course, to be first lady, then she was a senator from New York, now she's the secretary of state. Is she going to be a presidential candidate someday? Do we know what her future is?

TAYLOR: I think she will be.

BERRY: She already has been.

GROPPETTI: Chelsea will be.

TAYLOR: Chelsea.


GROPPETTI: Chelsea will be. But down the road.

KING: Sarah Palin.

TAYLOR: Don't quite know about her. We'll still learning a little bit more about her.

KING: Are you interested to learn more about her?

TAYLOR: A little bit. She's kind of a fascinating background that she did quite well for herself. We'll just see and see in the future what's going to happen with Sarah Palin.

BERRY: Her book is -- going rogue is what all the media are covering, and I don't consider her a literary figure.

GROPPETTI: I think we were very intrigued for her first speech, which I thought was out of ballpark. I want to hear more from her because I'm intrigued, but I want her to take responsibility for her own actions, not talking about handlers. You just have to stand up. You can't be -- you can't blame your handlers.


KING: Good eats at Doe's, but if you go, I recommend you carve out a little extra time for the gym.

We would like to welcome back our international viewers.