'This Week' Transcript: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Photo: This Week guests

DOWD: Good morning and welcome to "This Week."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I asked Congress to finish this work.

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DOWD: The final act for health care reform.

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MCCONNELL: This is politically toxic in the extreme.

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DOWD: Can Democrats round up the votes?

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(UNKNOWN): Assume (ph) nothing.

(UNKNOWN): We will not compromise.

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DOWD: Can Republicans keep up the (inaudible) defense?

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(UNKNOWN): This bill can be defeated.

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DOWD: Questions for our headliners, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Only on "This Week."

Then...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC MASSA, D-N.Y.: Did I use salty language? Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOWD: Culture of corruption. Is history repeating itself, this time for Democrats?

That and Oscar picks from our roundtable, with George Will, Donna Brazile, Republican strategist Torie Clarke and Robert Reich of the American Prospect.

And as always, the Sunday Funnies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: They are trying to get Paterson to leave early, and I said to myself, well, that sounds like a job for Jay Leno.

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DOWD: Good morning, everyone. Joining me now, Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius.

Welcome to the show.

SEBELIUS: Thanks, Matt.

DOWD: Well, it's your anniversary of your nomination to the Cabinet, so happy anniversary.

SEBELIUS: Oh, thank you.

DOWD: You're ready for a vacation?

SEBELIUS: Well, it's been a very exciting and interesting place to be. I wouldn't have missed it.

DOWD: Well, I wanted to sort of start out broader, about 10,000 feet, and have you reflect back on the last year. A year ago, if you think about where things stood, the Democrats were enthusiastic, everybody was engaged, the independents were totally on board, people were (inaudible), Democrats in the administration were riding a big wave, and today a year later, things aren't as they were back then. And we put together some glass to sort of show the graph of that. If you can see from these graphics, president's approval is way down from a year ago. His approval on the economy is way down from last year at this same time, and his approval on health care reform is way down from where it was back then. And so the question I have is -- it's Oscar night today, so I'm going to paraphrase from a movie, "Wizard of Oz," we're not in Kansas anymore. And I just want to know, what do you think happened over the course of this year and why we are where we are today?

SEBELIUS: Well, Matt, I think that a lot of Americans are worried about what happens next, worried about jobs and the economy, worried about their health security, want to know, you know, will they be able to protect themselves and their families? And certainly the current situation is shaky.

The first thing the president did was a big job spill with the Recovery Act, and that is beginning to pay off. Stabilize the economy. We're seeing finally a stop in the bleeding of job loss, and hopefully we'll see a pickup in -- we've seen a huge pickup in productivity; we're going to see that followed by jobs.

But the worrying about health security is still going on. It's why the president tackled it in the beginning. You know, we see people opening their statements this year and having jaw-dropping rate increases, and they have no control over it. They feel like they are really caught in the middle.

DOWD: Do you think the administration has made any mistakes at all along the way that have led to where he stands today, that they made errors or dropped the ball on anything over the course of the last year?

SEBELIUS: Well, I don't think there is any question. The president would have loved to have the health debate move at a more rapid pace. You know, you referenced my coming out of Kansas. One of the things that happens in legislative sessions in state legislatures is that they have a timetable. We have to pass a budget. You have to move things forward. That's what I get from Americans all over the country. They want something to be done. They want things to move to the next step, and I think that's why the president now has called on Congress to have an up-or-down vote on health reform. Let's get the job done, let's finish what has been talked about for the last year, and make health reform real for American people.

DOWD: Well, do you think one of the mistakes, as you reflect on this, that maybe the president should have been more aggressive or more assertive or more clear earlier on health care, that he waited too long, until the last couple of weeks, to really engage on it and present what he thought was the right thing? Do you think that was too long of a time and ceded too much authority to Congress too early?

SEBELIUS: I think there's a balance. Clearly, the members in Congress had to arm (ph) the legislation or it was dead on arrival. It couldn't have been written in the White House and dropped on Congress. You can't imagine how many conversations I had with folks during my confirmation hearing who thought I must have the bill in my purse, you know, just waiting for it to be given. So that took a while for Congress to fully engage.

But there have been more hearings, more discussions, more debates, more ideas, more plans, and the president, I can tell you, has been fully engaged from day one. What I can tell you, because of that partnership, the bill has passed the House, the bill has passed the Senate with a supermajority. We have comprehensive legislation for the first time. We are in the final chapter, mostly because the American people are desperate. They are caught in this world where they have no control over their insurance rates. They are seeing next week, next month, their rates rise enormously, and over and over again, people are losing their coverage.

DOWD: Well, one of the things that, one of the things that people have faulted the administration for is not building a more -- bigger and stronger bipartisan coalition on health care reform, that they're faulted for that. And even if you reflect back on President Obama, then candidate Obama, talked a lot about the desire and need to build a bigger and broader coalition in order to get things done. And we have pulled something from one of his speeches there that -- let's listen to it and then I want to talk about that.

SEBELIUS: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: (inaudible) presidential politics. (inaudible) 50 plus one, but you can't get it. (inaudible). We're not going to pass universal health care with a 50-plus-one strategy.

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DOWD: Is it -- didn't the president, then candidate Obama, warn against just what the administration is doing and just what Democrats in the House and Senate are doing? He warned against exactly what's happening today.

SEBELIUS: Well, actually, I think part of the pace of this debate was a real attempt to have a bipartisan approach. The House bill had Republican support. In the Senate bill, there were months spent with six senators, three Republicans and three Democrats, in a room, negotiating, adding ideas to the bill, trying to figure out a strategy to move forward in a bipartisan fashion.

As you know, the Senate bill didn't pass 50 plus one, it passed with 60 votes, a supermajority, and I think the president would love to have Republican votes. What he has is lots of Republican ideas -- selling insurance across state lines, making sure that we crack down very aggressively on fraud and abuse, you know, moving forward.

But there is a fundamental difference. The Republicans feel strongly that insurance companies should have less regulation than they do now, less consumer protection, less oversight. The president feels strongly that we need to change the rules of the road, that we can no longer have a private health system where insurance companies get to pick and choose, where they can lock people out and price people out. And that's really one of the fundamental divides. And even though there are lots of Republican ideas in the bill, I'm not sure -- you know, we are hopeful that there will be Republican votes, but I'm not sure there will be.

DOWD: Well, I think one of the big Republican concerns and a concern of a lot of other people, including Warren Buffett, who mentioned it this week, is that what is going to happen with costs? Is anything getting really done with costs? I think everybody agrees that coverage will be expanded to 30 million people or so, but cost is the real factor. And what three things in the bill will lower health care costs in the next three years? In the next three years, by 2012, what three things in the bill that the president is pushing will lower costs?

SEBELIUS: Well, there are huge delivery changes in the bill. So looking at where we're spending money right now, that not only it's not adding to health quality, but drives costs. Patient readmission, the changes will be beginning, so we begin to pay hospitals based on who does good follow-up care and who doesn't. Good for patients, good for costs. (inaudible) care, working in a more coordinated fashion with providers and hospitals. The kind of medical help that people actually really like as patients that also really pays huge dividends, so you coordinate care. The introduction of health information technology, which really drives a lower error rate for docs, but also dramatic administrative simplification. Taking of that 30 cents of every dollar that does not pay for health care and taking it out of the system.

Certainly the issue of taxing insurance plans, the highest priced insurance plans, beginning to change those patterns. Economists all say has a huge cost driver. The Medicare commission is a huge cost driver.

DOWD: One of the things, the other thing that I think Republicans have raised is a concern about the expansion of the deficit by this bill, and Representative Paul Ryan, who was at that summit--

SEBELIUS: Right.

DOWD: -- spoke about that, and talked about the sort of budget shenanigans in his view that are being done to make it look better than it is. And so, let's watch that tape.

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RYAN: The bill has 10 years of tax increases, about half a trillion dollars, but ten years of Medicare cuts, about half a trillion dollars, to pay for six years of spending. Now, what's the true ten-year cost of this bill? In ten yeas, that's $2.3 trillion.

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DOWD: Is he right about that, that you're basically saying we're going to have ten years of revenues, (inaudible) six years of cost, and that makes the bill look better than it is?

SEBELIUS: Actually, he's absolutely wrong about it. The neutral, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says just the opposite, that there is about $150 billion, $130 billion in savings the first ten years. But then almost $1 trillion in deficit reduction. In fact, most of the savings don't even kick in until after 2014, after the bill has expanded. They go out the full two decades. They look at all the spending, all the savings.

And I would say, Matt, that the Congressional Budget Office is very conservative in the savings. They really don't say prevention and wellness efforts save any money, and we think that saves a dramatic amount.

DOWD: But doesn't the Congressional Budget Office only make those assumptions and that analysis based on what they get? And so if the legislative leadership tells them to analyze this according to ten years of revenue and six years of expenses, they put out a bill that says it makes it -- it saves on the deficit?

SEBELIUS: What we're both talking about and what Representative Ryan referred to is the first decade, where some of the implementation strategies are measured as people have demanded, you know, look at the costs first before you add new people. That's exactly the way the bill is structured, but then they look at the second ten years.

So the notion that somehow we have tricked the American public -- I mean, when you look at 20 years and they say the first ten years is $130 billion worth of deficit reduction, the second ten years is a $1 trillion. This is hardly a gimmick.

DOWD: Well, one final controversial thing that has to be resolved, as you know--

SEBELIUS: There's not just one final--

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: One very important, I think, controversial thing, is that a few votes -- Representative Bart Stupak has talked about the need that the Senate bill has to include abortion language that was in the House bill, to prevent federal funding of abortion and an expansion on services. He says he carries with him 11 votes. Can you pass a bill or can the president pass a bill and the Congress pass a bill without those votes?

SEBELIUS: Well, the goal is the same. The president has said from the outset, we don't want to change the status quo on abortion funding. Neither the Senate or the House bill has any federal funding for abortion, none. Yes, abortion services are provided, and people will pay out of their own pockets, in both the Senate and the House, but they do it in slightly different ways--

DOWD: Is Representative Stupak wrong about this?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think Representative Stupak has worked as a member of Energy & Commerce. He wants universal health care. He wants health reform for the people whom he represents. I think we'll continue to work on getting this done. He shares the goal with the president, that no federal funding will be provided for abortion.

DOWD: Do you think a deal can be done that does not include the language he wants, but something in (inaudible), is that one of the things that can be considered?

SEBELIUS: I think the Senate bill, actually, has a different set of words than the amendment that Representative Stupak had in the House, but confirmed by legal scholars and various people that it does exactly the same thing. There are no federal funds for abortions. But I think that if that does not satisfy the congressman, the conversations will continue. But certainly, his goal and the president's goal are the same -- do not change the status quo on abortion.

DOWD: Well, lots of interesting issues to resolve and a deadline that the president set for March 17th, trying to get the House to pass the Senate bill in the House before he leaves on his foreign trip. I appreciate you being here. Thanks for coming.

DOWD: We're joined now by the Senate Minority Leader, the point person for the Republicans, Republican Mitch McConnell. Thanks for coming.

MCCONNELL: Good morning. Glad to be with you.

DOWD: Well, in the last few months, Republican have been very successful at winning some elections. Democrats have also taken on quite a bit of water on health care and politically. But we found an interesting graphic that I'd like to talk to you about. This graphic shows who does the American public trusts on health care. 49 percent say they trust President Obama; 37 percent say they trust the Democrats in Congress; and only 32 percent say they trust Republican leaders in Congress. And if you're in third place on this, even though things are politically in a good place, why is that?

MCCONNELL: Well, you see, Matthew, it's about the bill. It's about the policy. Not about the president, not about Senate and House Democrats and Republicans. It's about the bill. The American people are focused on this like a laser. Everybody is interested in health care. Obviously, when you get older, you're more interested in it, but everybody is interested in it. The American people have been deeply involved in this debate. What did they see? They see a bill that cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, that raises taxes about half a trillion dollars, and that almost certainly will raise the cost of insurance for those on the individual market.

They also see the way it was passed, the cornhusker kickback, the Louisiana purchase, the gator-aid behind closed doors. They look at this whole package, both in terms of the policy and the process, and they say they don't want it.

And so what you see now, if I may just finish on this point, is an argument not between Democrats and Republicans but it's between Democrats and their own constituents.

DOWD: Well, I think Republicans have obviously put up a blockade to try to keep this from happening at all, even while the Democrats have had a majority in the Senate.

But I, sort of, want to focus on, what Republicans do to change that message in where they get some benefit out of this?

Right now, it's as if the country says "a pox on everyone," including the Republicans, who, as the graph shows, are in third place.

What can Republicans do to affect that and get -- have a better place in the American public?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, you're talking about the election in November. I'm talking about the policy in the country now. What the American people would like us to do is not make this gargantuan mistake, in spite of Secretary Sebelius's best efforts. What we're talking about here is a $2.5 trillion spending program, brand-new entitlement.

We are drowning already in a sea of debt. The Congressional Budget Office numbers just came out Friday. We're looking at $10 trillion in new debt in the next 10 years, Matthew.

People are very, very skeptical about starting a whole new government program when we're drowning in a sea of debt.

DOWD: Well, you know, if you take a look at what the American public's perception on this is, it's hard for them to trust either side on debt and on the deficit and on spending.

They saw the deficit rise dramatically during President Bush's presidency and while you were majority leader. And they see it rise even more today. And in their view, neither party can be trusted on this.

So what makes it -- what makes you seem to feel that they'll trust the Republicans when they talk about the debt as opposed to the Democrats?

MCCONNELL: Well, again, you're talking about what may happen in November. I'm talking about what's happening now. We are -- we are spending -- we are on a gargantuan spending spree. The American people would like for us to stop, quit doing it, quit spending this massive amount of money and racking up these tremendous debts.

That $10 trillion figure added to the debt over the next 10 years -- half of it, over $5 trillion, will simply be interest on the debt.

So what I think the American people are saying to us -- stop this job-killing health care bill; we know it will drive taxes up and that will not be good to help us get out of the recession; step back and terminate the spending spree.

DOWD: Well, do you think the Democrats, at this point, will push through that bill by any means necessary?

So is your expectation that you're going to try as you might to kill the bill but they will end up passing the bill by any means they can?

MCCONNELL: Well, it seems that they're certainly trying to do that. I mean, as everyone understands, if the House passes the Senate bill, it goes straight to the president for signatures. So all of this discussion about the second bill, the reconciliation bill, is really, kind of, irrelevant. If the House passes the Senate bill, it goes to the president for a signature.

That means that every single member of the House who voted for this will have voted for the kickback, the purchase, the gator-aid, all of that, and the Medicare cut.

DOWD: That's an interesting question. So how does -- if the House Democrats pass the Senate bill, it basically, at that point, can go to the president.

How -- what is the procedure, then, that would prevent that from happening?

The House Democrats, I guess, have to trust the Senate Democrats that they'll take it up again?

MCCONNELL: Yes, the House has to trust the Senate that we'll go back in and fix the most egregious political problems.

But let me tell you what won't be fixed. What won't be fixed is the half a trillion in Medicare cuts, a half a trillion in new taxes.

And also, you wanted to talk about the politics of this a minute ago. Let's turn to that. The argument, incredulously, that the Democratic leadership and the president seem to be making to the wavering Democrats is, the best way to deal with this politically is to pass it and get it behind us.

Well, look, the only way to guarantee that it's ahead of you is to pass it. That means that every election this fall will be a referendum on this bill.

DOWD: Well, yes, and I wanted to get to that. You're on record as saying that, if they pass this health care bill, that you and the rest of the Republicans are going to campaign on repealing it.

And will you message be, at that point, that we're going to take away health insurance from 30 million Americans that now have it, based on this bill?

MCCONNELL: Well, as you pointed out to Secretary Sebelius, the benefits don't kick in for four years. All the American people are going to be confronted with in the next four years are these massive cuts to Medicare, not to make Medicare more sustainable -- by the way, we all know Medicare, right now, is going broke in seven years, and they want to turn it into a piggy bank to start a whole new program for a different set of people.

The tax increases kick in immediately. So there's nothing -- just looking at the politics of it, there's nothing but pain here for the next four years. Why in the world would they conclude that that would be popular?

DOWD: Are you worried that what's going on out there in America is not necessarily anti-Democratic, even though they've suffered at the elections?

Your colleague, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, lost pretty dramatically in a primary, and lost primarily based upon her Washington experience.

So as senators and congressmen go out and campaign who are incumbent Republicans, do you think they're in danger as well?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think, you know, everybody knows who's running Washington. There's a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat House, and a Democrat Senate, by very large majorities.

I think the American people are clear about who's running up the debt, who's been on this spending spree for the last 12 months.

DOWD: Well, one of the things, I think, that's complicated it, that's come up in -- recently -- is what's happened with Senator Bunning, and his desire to, sort of, stop the unemployment benefits bill by standing alone in -- in the Senate and getting that done. He also (inaudible) abdicated on that.

What I'm trying to understand is, why, if that principle is a good principle, that we shouldn't add to the deficit, why was he basically told to stand down, by the leadership, and not do that, even though that is supposedly a Republican principle?

MCCONNELL: You obviously don't know Jim Bunning very well. Nobody tells Jim Bunning to stand down.

(LAUGHTER)

He had a good point. I ended up voting with him. His point was -- it wasn't against unemployment insurance. He thought we ought to pay for it, make it deficit-neutral.

And, you know, all of us are deeply concerned about this. There was a fascinating piece in the USA Today, I think it was Friday, about the economy right now, and the only entity that's doing any good is the government. This new administration's added 120,000 government jobs, while the private sector's shedding jobs.

The average government employee now makes $70,000 a year, the average private-sector employee only $40,000 a year. These are boom days if you're a government employee. And the way we're financing that, Matthew, is to borrow money from our grandchildren so we can have more government employees now.

These are the kinds of things that Senator Bunning thought ought to be addressed by making it deficit-neutral.

DOWD: I'd like to turn to one final thing that's been in the news recently, which is this PowerPoint presentation that the RNC had put together about raising money.

It's very controversial. I'd like to show it to you, if you could take a look at this. They basically, as you can see -- it's how they're going to -- they're going to appeal to fear, extreme negative feelings, "reactionary," and, basically, in a very cynical way, most of the public would think, and in a very crass way, how they're going to appeal to them.

Is that something -- the kind of messaging that you think is going to be helpful in the course of this next year?

MCCONNELL: Well, its -- that sort of thing is uncertainly not helpful. I can't imagine why anybody would have thought that was helpful.

I mean, typically, the way parties raise money is because people believe in the causes that they advocate. I think the way we raise money from donors across America is to stand for things that are important for the country.

DOWD: You think somebody should be held accountable for that?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, I don't run the RNC. That's up to them. But I don't like it, and I don't know anybody who does.

DOWD: Well, I think that's all we have for today. I appreciate you being here, and thanks for coming.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

DOWD: The roundtable is next, with George Will, Donna Brazile, Torie Clark and Robert Reich. And later, the Sunday funnies.

GOV. DAVID A. PATERSON, D-N.Y.: There are times in politics when you have to know not to strive for service, but to step back. That moment has come for me.

REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL, D-N.Y.: My issues, if they were going to impede the elections of then Democratic Party, then I would be glad to entertain a leave of absence.

REP. ERIC MASSA, D-N.Y.: There are blogs that are out there saying that I'm leaving because I harassed my staff. Do I use salty language? Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOWD: Growing political scandal. We'll talk about that in a minute.

Joining us today, is George Will, Torie Clarke, Robert Reich, University of California Berkeley professor, and Donna Brazile. Thank you all for coming.

George, health care. You saw Secretary Sebelius. You saw Senator McConnell. Can they get this done? Can the Democrats get this done? And if so, what took them so long?

WILL: Here is what took them so long. When this debate started a year ago, 85 percent of the American people had health insurance and 95 percent of that 85 percent were pretty happy with what they had. Since then, the country has become much more preoccupied with the deficit. Washington is borrowing 42 cents of every dollar it spends. Every day, today, tomorrow and for the next two decades, 10,000 more baby boomers go on the Medicare and Social Security rolls, and they are worried about this. And the president comes along and says, I've got a great idea. Let's have a $1 trillion new entitlement which, by the way, will lower the deficit, which people don't quite believe.

Finally, they've been -- we have all learned lots of new issues in this. For example, why can't we buy insurance across state lines? You turn on television, you see Geico arguing with Allstate on car insurance, arguing with Progressive on car insurance. And the American people say, a caveman can understand this. We should be able to buy in a national market.

DOWD: Do you think they will pass the bill?

WILL: It's only -- the House is all that matters. The Senate passed a bill, it goes to the president. What we know for sure, Matt, is if they had the votes today, they would vote tomorrow morning. So they don't have them yet.

DOWD: Donna? Do you think they can pass the bill? And again, what's took them so long with huge majorities they have in the Senate and the House?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, it's been 60 years, and we have come a long way in the 60 years. And we're at the finish line. And I think with the speaker now talking to some of the Democrats who opposed it on fiscal grounds, they like the Senate bill because it's smaller. It reduces the deficit by a larger number. I think that the speaker will be able to get the House Democrats to approve the Senate bill, that will allow the Senate to go forward with reconciliation on the small items to fix the bill. We'll get a health care bill sometime within the next couple of months.

DOWD: So in the spring, a health care bill?

BRAZILE: Look, I'm not one to set deadlines. I think it's important that they get it right, that it lowers costs, provide more coverage for those without health insurance. And if they can achieve that, we'll have a bill.

DOWD: Torie, what do you think?

CLARKE: You know, I'm going to keep with the Oscar themes that you've started. Do you guys remember the movie "Ishtar?" Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman. They spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on it, you heard so much about it. And then when people actually started seeing it, they said, this is terrible. And the longer it hangs out there, the harder it is. Politically, Republicans and Democrats are looking to say the best and worst thing that can happen for the Democrats is that they pass this. They pass it, they can say, ah, we got it done after 60 years. And then they have to defend it from now until November. And I think it will be very tough to defend a lot of the things inside that bill.

DOWD: Well, Robert, do you think this is a political problem for them? They haven't been able to talk about jobs. Or do you think once they have passed this bill, they can quickly turn to jobs and the economy, which is what the American public seems to care about?

REICH: You know, Matt, it is possible to talk about two things at the same time. And the American public is capable of thinking about that, and two things.

Look, jobs is certainly the issue of this year and maybe next. But health care is the issue of our time, our era. And this is the opportunity to finally do something about it. The health insurers are not -- George, you said that they're popular and every likes their health insurer. They like their doctor. They hate their health insurer. And health insurance is going up in terms of rates, 20, 30, 40, 50 percent in many states. In fact, Goldman Sachs just this past week has said to its many of its investors, invest in some insurance companies because they don't have competition, and they are -- they have -- they are exhibiting huge profits.

That's money directly out of the pockets of Americans.

DOWD: George.

WILL: A, you say they have huge profits. As you know, confiscate all the profits of all the health insurance companies, with those profits, you could finance our health care for 48 hours. What you do for the next 363 days, I don't know. Second, you say there's not enough competition? Fine, let them compete in a national market across state line.

REICH: Yes, let them compete across state lines. Fine. But not a race to the bottom. Set minimum federal standards. Because we've seen over and over again, that the recipients of health insurance don't know what they're buying, very often. Until there are common standards, minimum standards, then people are going to--

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: And that's what's happened over and over again.

WILL: There you have the premise of this legislation and the core of today's liberalism. The American people are such dopes, they can't be counted upon to buy their own insurance.

REICH: They're not dopes. They've been taken. It's just like finance regulation.

DOWD: Donna, on insurance companies, do you think what the president and Kathleen Sebelius has done in the last week, is this purely politics? Everybody hates insurance companies, let's beat up on them? Or is there policy involved here?

BRAZILE: There's a lot of policy, Matt. The fact that women are paying much more than men for the same coverage, and just because we have, you know, certain biological needs that may need attended to from time to time. That's unfair. Pre-existing conditions. If George wants to defend these insurance companies denying people health insurance because they have a pre-existing problem and they can't find coverage, kicking people off the insurance roll simply because the insurance company decides, and not the patient or the doctor. Look,

Look, I think the Democrats will be able to defend this bill. They will be able to tell the American people that it is going to lower their cost, improve coverage for people without health insurance, and it helped businesses, small businesses who cannot find health insurance for their employees. So this is a good approach, and I hope the Democrats get it over the finish line soon, so that we can walk and chew gum.

DOWD: Torie, politics or policy on insurance companies at this point?

CLARKE: Oh, you can make a sweeping generalization about everybody, but this very conversation is emblematic of the part of the problem, which is everybody focuses on a different piece of it. And I think the majority of the American people out there are not quite sure what we're fixing anymore. Is it access? Is it cost? What is it? And the more confusion, the more they say, boy, I don't know if I really want this right now. And the Democrats are going to suffer from a lack of managing expectations. They keep making these promises, and fairly or unfairly, say the bill passes, the American people are going to say next week, where is my change? Are my costs coming down? Do I have more access to my doctor? They are not going to see changes that quickly even if it passes. And that is going to be a heavy price to pay between now and November.

REICH: Some of the changes will happen quickly. Small businesses will have access to exchanges. They'll be able to have more bargaining leverage. There are many things that Americans will be able to see, and I think Democrats will be able to point with pride at getting health care done.

But I agree with you, Torie, that in the short run, after this is enacted, there is going to be some confusion, and Republicans are going to do everything they possibly can to saw the seeds of even more confusion.

DOWD: Well, let's turn to another speed bump, as opposed to votes on health care, another speed bump that I think has gotten in the way of the Democrats, which is this slew of scandals that have come out, all seemingly based in New York, with a governor who is in deep trouble, two congressmen, including the chairman of the Ways and Means, Charlie Rangel, is in trouble. Donna, has New York become the new Louisiana? With political corruption?

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Is it Illinois? Is it Georgia? I mean, you know, when it comes to corruption, corruption is a bipartisan problem.

This was a bad week for Democrats when it comes to ethics. Mr. Rangel rightly stepped aside. He's a great man. I have enormous respect for him. He's a war hero, but he did the right thing by stepping aside. Mr. Massa, I think, is also doing the right thing. He went to -- his staff went to Steny Hoyer, one of the leaders in the Congress and said, hey, we've got a problem. Mr. Hoyer said, you have 48 hours to fix it. Meaning go to the Ethics Committee. He did that.

The difference is, is that when Democrats identify these problems, they quickly, you know, turn it over to the Ethics Committee and say, let's move. Unlike the Republicans who just waited and waited and waited. But I do believe at the end of the day, we're going to put this behind us and hold these politicians to the highest standards possible.

DOWD: George, does this have more of an effect, it's just a temporary thing, or can this have an effect on the election?

WILL: I think it colors the election. I mean, if people knew about New York -- I like the -- what was it, a New York City councilman billed $177 for a bagel and a soda? There's the assemblywoman who threw scolding coffee in the eyes of her staff member. One guy up there stole from the Little League. That's not good.

Now, does it color this? I think the 1984 (sic) election is often blamed because they didn't pass Hillary's health care plan. Nonsense.

DOWD: 1994.

WILL: '94, sorry. What happened then, 40 years of Democratic control of the House of Representatives ended because the entitlement mentality had become so strong that they had the House banking scandal, and things like that colored the election.

REICH: I find it very, very hard to believe that even the past week is on par with Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff and the moral and ethical turpitude spread over the Republican Party before 2006.

I do think that there is an ethical issue here--

DOWD: Some might say there's still plenty of time.

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: I think it's a bipartisan ethical issue. When the Ethics Committee in the House said recently that it doesn't matter if there are earmarks that look to everyone as if they are payments and paybacks for political campaigns, whether it's Republicans or Democrats getting those earmarks, that, to me, is really offensive. I don't know how you guys feel, but that to me is the biggest moral and ethical problem we have.

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: Why do we have these earmarks?

CLARKE: Neither party has the monopoly on corruption and sleaziness. The Democrats are making a very hard run for it in this last week. I think more interesting is the long-term effects. I think it adds to the cynicism about Washington. It's Washington and they play by different rules and they set up rules for themselves. I think you're going to see more of what happened to Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rick Perry. If you're not from Washington or you can pretend you're not really part of the Washington culture, you're going to do better. And it's sad more than anything else.

DOWD: Well that brings up an interesting spot -- Senator Lincoln in Nebraska -- I mean in Arkansas is in a very tight race in the primary and the general election and she just put a spot on the air, which is an amazing spot for an incumbent to run, which is basically not lauding what she's done in Washington, but stopping what she's done even though she's part of the majority. Let's take a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is why I voted against giving more money to Wall Street, against the auto company bailout, against the public option health care plan and against the cap and trade bill which would raise energy costs on our kids. None of those were right for Arkansas. Some in my party didn't like it very much. But I approved this message because I don't answer to my party. I answer to Arkansas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOWD: George, to me, that is an amazing ad that an incumbent Democratic senator as part of the majority would run in their home state?

WILL: It's cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Until recently it was said the Republicans are wicked because they're the party of no. She just put up an ad saying I said no to bail outs, this, this, this, and this. No is a lovely word.

Except for that last line, almost any Republican could run that ad this year.

DOWD: Well Donna --

BRAZILE: The lieutenant governor in Arkansas is going to challenge her. Within the last five days, he's been able to raise over $1 million online from liberal and progressive groups that believe that Senator Lincoln no longer stands for progressive ideals. So she's fighting for her political survival. It is going to be a very interesting primary, similar to what's going on in the Republican Party right now in terms of their primary process. But at the end of the day, the senator like Senator Hutchison and others, must demonstrate what is she doing for the people in Arkansas, what is she doing in terms of service to the country.

REICH: Exactly. There is always a strong anti-incumbent, anti- establishment current in the country, against Washington. It is not new, it's been here for over 200 years. But what's complicated for Democrats this year is you have such high unemployment. You've got that anti-establishment feeling coupled with some -- a lot of deep anxiety and you run the risk of not losing the House and Senate, but you run the risk of really having some major inroads. But the direction of the economy may, and I think, will improve by the midterm elections.

CLARKE: There's something different about this though. Candidates for years have always said, yes, I'm a good conservative or I'm a good moderate Democrat. But here's the one issue on which I bucked my party, kind of demonstrate their independence. She lists several issues. And I wonder how much heartburn does that create for the campaign committees, for the Democratic leaders in Washington going, on top of everything else, all the challenges we have.

REICH: Aren't we seeing it on "This Week?"

CLARKE: Well, I think you'll see a lot more after that.

BRAZILE: But Torie, you saw the Republicans do that in 2006. They ran from Bush and Cheney. They ran from the deficits. They ran --

REICH: It wasn't very effective.

BRAZILE: Right, but the rate that that's -- again, I agree with the secretary. This is part of how people run their campaigns. They try to establish their independence from their political party.

DOWD: Well a lot of us have watched politics for many, many years, and normally people from Washington come back to their district and say, here's everything I have done. Kay Bailey Hutchison tried to do it and she lost badly in the primary. Now you have an incumbent senator in the spot not saying here's everything I've done, but here's everything I've tried to stop. It is a big difference from what I've seen before. Usually I go back and say here's all my stuff I should do. George, isn't this like a totally different kind of messaging when you're coming from Washington?

WILL: It's a beautiful message.

DOWD: Highly successful.

WILL: There's a little dislocation on the American governments here also. More senators, a larger percentage of the Senate candidate this year are in jeopardy than the House are for a very simple reason. We have so become sophisticated with drawing legislative districts with gerrymandering that we have reversed the old axiom. It used to be the voters picked their representatives. Now the representatives picks their voters. And in the last four cycles, 95 percent of incumbents, in spite of what Bob talks about, 95 percent have been re- elected.

DOWD: Bob, that is an interesting point he's making which is nobody focuses on this too much. But in the elections in the midterm, everybody focused on Congress and the Senate. The state legislative seats are probably the most important thing that people should focus on because they're the ones that draw the districts.

REICH: Exactly. And for example in Texas, they made elusion to there's going to be four new congressional seats and who is in that governor's office makes a big, big difference.

DOWD: But Donna, are the Democrats focused on this? Focused on the state legislature as opposed to keep preserving congressman and congresswomen?

BRAZILE: To quote that famous governor now turned comedian, you betcha. There's no question that that legislative seats matter. But also the interesting thing in Texas, from my observation is that while Rick Perry is still wildly popular, who wouldn't be? He is handsome. I must say, he looks good on the eyes. You know, I look at him. It's just look looking at Scott Brown. I like all these centerfolds.

CLARKE: Just for the record, a guy could not say that about any of the female candidates. I think that's unfair, but go ahead, Donna.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: -- verbal sexual harassment, I just committed it.

But I have to say that, look, he ran against Dick Cheney, he ran against Karl Rove. But he only wanted to campaign against Kay Bailey Hutchison. But the interesting thing is that there was a TEA Party candidate in that race, Debra Medina, who I think allowed the race to skew to the far right, where Rick Perry had such a hold on conservatives. It left Kay Bailey without moderates and independents to support her.

REICH: Governors races are not anti-Washington races. I mean, they are about domestic issues inside the state. That's what that issue and that race is all about.

I mean, the big question is what happens when White, Bill White actually takes on the incumbent. And that is going to be something that everybody watches.

BRAZILE: Former mayor.

DOWD: Do you think at this point in time this is not -- this is a totally anti-incumbent year, and not an anti-Democratic year, anti- Republican year? It's purely anti-Washington, anti-incumbent?

WILL: I think it's the latter, and I think I'll disagree with Bob. I think Tip O'Neill's famous and overworked axiom that all politics is local is just wrong. A lot of politics this year is national.

REICH: But George, let me go back to something you said before, because so much of what government has done is so popular. I was struck by Mitch McConnell when he was interviewed here before, defending Medicare. And, in fact, over the past six months, I keep on seeing signs from TEA Partiers saying "don't take way my Medicare."

I mean, Medicare is a government program. It's extraordinarily popular. It is also a problem. We have got to get some control over the increase in the costs of Medicare. And that's what the new bill does, the new health care bill.

But, after a while, the public takes many of these programs for granted. Social Security is extraordinarily popular. And I think we lose sight of the fact that the public depends upon government in so many ways.

DOWD: Well, we're going to turn from hardball politics to something a little softer. The Oscars are on tonight. The Academy Awards are on tonight. And I want to ask each of you all, who is your pick? We're not going to be able to go through best actor or best actress, but best picture. George, who is your pick for best picture?

WILL: The one of the ten that I have seen, "The Blind Side."

(LAUGHTER)

DOWD: "The Blind Side," the story of the football player who came from--

WILL: (inaudible), from Mississippi.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: Torie?

CLARKE: "Blind Side" is a great movie, and it's a great story, but I think it's "The Hurt Locker." It's an important topic. It's an amazing story, and it's just beautifully done.

DOWD: Seems to have all the buzz right now. Robert?

REICH: "Hurt Locker," absolutely. If "Avatar" wins and "Hurt Locker" doesn't, I think that says something terrible about the Academy, the Motion Picture Academy. But so many of them are actors who are going to be voting, that they don't want "Avatar," because "Avatar" says, essentially, we don't need actors anymore.

CLARKE: And we'll have to listen to James Cameron give a dreadful speech if he won, so let's hope. BRAZILE: Well, I'm for -- I'm for "Avatar." I enjoyed the movie. I will go back and watch it again and again. I like "Hurt Locker," but it kept me on edge. I don't need an edge at my age.

REICH: It's good. Edge (ph) is good.

BRAZILE: No, I don't an edge at my age. You understand that, but I'll tell you later. I liked "The Blind Side." I loved "Precious," but this year, "Avatar."

DOWD: Well, I'm going to have to -- I'll pick "The Blind Side." Any movie that makes a star out of an offensive tackle, I have to like that movie.

The roundtable continues in the green room on ABCnews.com. We've also got a poll there where you can vote for your all-time favorite political movie. That's at abcnews.com.

END

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