'This Week' Transcript: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

PHOTO House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sits down for a network exclusive interview with ABCs Elizabeth Vargas.

ABC News/THIS WEEK Elizabeth Vargas Interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

VARGAS: Madam Speaker, welcome back again to "This Week." Let's talk health care.

PELOSI: Good to be here.

VARGAS: The president said after the summit we cannot have another year of debate on this issue. We need decisions now. You said on Friday, "We are determined to pass health care." Do you have the 217 votes necessary to pass it in the House?

PELOSI: Well right now we're working on the -- on the policy. The -- the president put a -- a -- I think a good proposal on the Internet on Sunday. We're examining that very carefully to make sure it has all the affordability we need for the middle class. All the accountability for the insurance industry. And the accessibility that we need to have.

I -- from the meeting on Thursday -- the summit meeting, I -- I believe that we're ready for the next step, which is to write legislative language, and then go from there.

VARGAS: So what are the fixes the Senate needs to make in your opinion? Through reconciliation presumably before the House can vote on it...

PELOSI: Well whatever...

(CROSSTALK)

PELOSI: Well I -- I believe listening to the president yesterday -- he's still hopeful that there's a way to have a bipartisan bill. But whatever route the Senate takes, we would like to see again more affordability for the middle class. This is very, very important. This is a bill about the middle class -- their access to health care, and the affordability that makes that access possible.

Secondly we want to close the donut hole for seniors. This is really an important mistake that was made when the republicans passed the prescription drug bill. And we want the seniors to have the comfort of knowing that in this bill the donut hole will be patched. And it's a technical -- a slang term for something that means the seniors pay more...

VARGAS: But if you get that...Will you--

PELOSI: The seniors pay more. And we have more. We want to eliminate the Nebraska fix that -- have equity for all of the states. And that in terms of some of the investments. There are more. But those are the three -- three of the main ones.

But one of the biggest differences is the -- how the bill would be paid for. We -- will we cut waste, fraud, and abuse. Over half a trillion dollars in the bill. But we still needed more of a pay for. The Senate bill had a tax that we did not like in the House. And I think the president's proposal addresses that concern.

So now we will -- it's a question of when you go down to legislative language, you -- you need the clarity. And that's when you find out what everything means.

VARGAS: But you know that the polls show that the American people are deeply divided on health care. Many of them are opposed to it. Even though they are supporting certain...

PELOSI: Pieces of it.

VARGAS: Specific pieces of it. What do you say to your members, when it does come to the House to vote on this, who are in real fear of losing their seats in November if they support you now?

PELOSI: Well first of all our members -- every one of them -- wants health care. I think everybody wants affordable health care for all Americans. They know that this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. And many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill.

But the American people need it, why are we here? We're not here just to self perpetuate our service in Congress. We're here to do the job for the American people. To get them results that gives them not only health security, but economic security, because the health issue is an economic issue for -- for America's families.

VARGAS: Do you wish though that the president had posted his bill before this week? That six months ago it might have been more helpful for you. That maybe six months ago you knew that the public option was something he was going to drop before you fought so hard for it?

PELOSI: Well we -- we still fight for the -- what the public option will do. Whether it's in the bill or not, its purpose must be recognized. And that is to keep the insurance companies honest. To keep them accountable, and to increase competition. And I think in the summit on Thursday it became very clear that what the president was proposing was regulation of the insurance companies.

Left to their own devices they have done harm to the American people. They need to be regulated. And that is one of the biggest differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. Another one for example is -- an example of it is ending the denial of -- of coverage to those who have a preexisting condition. The Democrats have that in their bill. The Republicans do not.

VARGAS: But would you...

PELOSI: But that's a major insurance reform that has to take place.

VARGAS: But would we still be debating this if the president had put his plan out six months ago?

PELOSI: Well, I don't know what -- what the value of trying -- the president has tried since one year ago March 5th. We met in Washington D.C. in a bipartisan way with some of the outside stakeholders to talk about working together to have health care accessible for all Americans. I smile because I remember Senator Kennedy coming into the room and saying, "I'm signing up as a foot soldier in the fight for health care reform." And of course he was such a tremendous leader.

But that was a year ago. Since then we've had hundreds of hours of meetings, and hearings, and mark ups of bills -- well over a hundred Republican amendments are in this bill -- the -- the House and Senate bills. And what the president put forth – we'll see some of what was said yesterday. So those who were making constructive contributions can be accommodated.

Whether we get Republican votes or not -- the bill definitely has bipartisan provisions in it. But if they have a good idea that works for the American people, whether they're in the vote for the bill or not, we want it in the bill.

VARGAS: How long are willing to wait for those ideas?

PELOSI: Well we -- but that that happened yesterday. And so ...

VARGAS: I mean -- I made it clear -- the president -- The president made it clear that time is up.

PELOSI: Time is up. Yes. So we really have to go forth, because as I said there -- as we sit around this table, this big table in Blair House -- every night families sit around their kitchen table -- try to figure out their finances.

Their -- the security of their jobs, the cost of their children's education, how they're going to pay their medical bills. What is the status of their pensions? And they can't wait any longer. If, you know, if your family has a – a preexisting condition, or if you ever been denied coverage, or if you have a -- a rescission. If your insurance has been withdrawn just as you're about to need a procedure, you know it's long overdue.

And what's the point of talking about it any longer?

VARGAS: If -- but the point is when it does finally come to vote on it in the House, you're certain that you can muster the 217 votes that you need...

PELOSI: We...

VARGAS: ... even with the differences over abortion language? Things...

PELOSI: Yes.

VARGAS:... that there are members of the House who voted in favor of it before, who are now saying, "We can't vote for this bill, because of the Senate language on abortion?

PELOSI: Well let me say I have this in three -- just so you know how we sequence this. First we zero in on what the policy will be. And that is what we'll be doing -- following the president's summit yesterday.

Secondly, we'll see what the Senate can do. What is the substance? And what is the Senate prepared to do? And then we'll go to the third step as to what my -- my members will vote for. But we have a very diverse party. But we all agree that the present system is unsustainable. It's unsustainable.

It's unaffordable for families, for -- and individuals, for businesses -- large, small, and moderate sized businesses. It's unsustainable to our budget. We cannot afford the rising cost of -- of health care. As the president has said, "Health care reform is entitlement reform." And it's unsustainable for our economy. We want to be competitive. These health care costs are a competitiveness issue. They diminish the opportunities for our businesses domestically and internationally to compete without this anvil of health care costs around their necks.

VARGAS: You mentioned jobs. Members of the House have already weighed in on the Senate jobs bill saying it's too small and does too little. The Congressional Black Caucus said it shouldn't even be called a jobs bill. Should you agree to the smaller, incremental approach given that unemployment is the single biggest issue in this country right now?

PELOSI: Well, we wanted to move as quickly as possible on jobs. We passed our bill in December, as you probably know. What the Senate is taking is a segmented approach to it. And I think when everyone sees what the different pieces are, they will know that we're on the path --

VARGAS: But you've said that's OK. Is it OK to do it in that smaller, incremental way, and not the big, dramatic way that the House proposed?

PELOSI: Well, it would have been faster if they would just agree to our bill last year because people are hurting, they need jobs and we need to move quickly. This won't take a long time to do, but every piece of it will not have every provision in it that we want but it will all create jobs and help small businesses grow because that's where major job creation is. It addresses concerns that we have about our veterans coming home who have -- are facing unemployment. It is the biggest issue for our seniors. And believe it or not, jobs in the economy are the biggest issue for our seniors and their opportunities as well. So it is -- it's a four letter word that we use around here all the time, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.

And by the way, the health care bill is a jobs bill. It will create four million new jobs, several hundred thousand immediately upon enactment. And it will also encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in our country where people can take risks and be entrepreneurial because they know they have health care.

VARGAS: The Ethics Committee on Charles Rangel said that he has violated the House gift rule.

PELOSI: Uh-huh.

VARGAS: How can he remain in such a powerful position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee?

PELOSI: Well, I think --

VARGAS: Given the fact that there are further pending ethics investigations and this public admonishment has taken place.

PELOSI: Well, it is a public admonishment. It said he did not knowingly violate House rules. So that gives him some comfort. But the fact is that we have a --

VARGAS: He should have known though, don't you think?

PELOSI: Well, I don't know. You understand that the Ethics Committee is an independent, bipartisan committee in the House. They act independent of us. And that's exactly the way it should be. I, though, when I became speaker, instituted an outside ethics panel which makes recommendations in so that we have a double way to receive information, although the ethics committee can self initiate, as well as take recommendations from the outside panel. So we're going to look forward to seeing what else they have to say about what they have before him regarding Chairman Rangel.

VARGAS: If there are further admonishments, though, should he remain in this position?

PELOSI: Well, let's why don't we just give him a chance to hear what the independent, bipartisan -- they work very hard to reach their conclusions and we obviously there's more to come here.

VARGAS: And – but you don't -- you understand this is why so many Americans think Congress is corrupt. It just doesn't -- it doesn't look good. It doesn't pass the smell test.

PELOSI: No, it doesn't. No, it doesn't. I served for seven years on the Ethics Committee and the last thing I would have wanted would be for the Speaker of the House to interfere in a political way in what was going on there. That just should never happen. But the fact is, is that what Mr. Rangel has been admonished for is not good. It was a violation of the rules of the House. It was not a -- something that jeopardized our country in any way.

So it remains to be seen what the rest of the work of the committee is. And I hope it will be soon. But again, it's independent and they go with their own -- they go at their own pace.

VARGAS: Let's talk a bit about the coming elections in November. You had recently-- and the Tea Party movement, do you think it will be a force to be reckoned with? You had said last summer that it was a faux grassroots movement. You called it the Astroturf movement.

PELOSI: In some respects it is. Uh-huh.

VARGAS: Is the Tea Party movement a force?

PELOSI: No – No what I said at the time is, that they were -- the Republican Party directs a lot of what the Tea Party does, but not everybody in the Tea Party takes direction from the Republican Party. And so there was a lot of, shall we say, Astroturf, as opposed to grassroots.

But, you know, we share some of the views of the Tea Partiers in terms of the role of special interest in Washington, D.C., as -- it just has to stop. And that's why I've fought the special interest, whether it's on energy, whether it's on health insurance, whether it's on pharmaceuticals and the rest.

VARGAS: So, common ground with many people in the Tea Party movement.

PELOSI: Well, no, there are some. There are some because they, again, some of it is orchestrated from the Republican headquarters. Some of it is hijacking the good intentions of lots of people who share some of our concerns that we have about the role of special interests and many Tea Partiers, not that I speak for them, share the view, whether it's -- and Democrats, Republicans and Independents share the view that the recent Supreme Court decision, which greatly empowers the special interests, is something that they oppose.

VARGAS: Finally, President Obama, when asked to rate his year in office, gave himself a B plus. How would you rate yourself in the past year?

PELOSI: Well, I have a -- I think I get an A for effort. And in the House of Representatives, my mark is the mark of our members. We have passed every piece of legislation that is part of the Obama agenda. Whether it's the creation of jobs, expanding access to health care, creating new green jobs for the future, regulatory reform, we have passed the full agenda.

VARGAS: Are you frustrated so many bills have not have been stalled in the Senate? Almost 300 bills passed by the House that are sitting languishing in the Senate?

PELOSI: And most of those bills have bipartisan support. Strong bipartisan support in the House that have gone over there. But that you know what that's about? That's about -- and it's very important for you to know, that's about the Republican delay tactics. By requiring 60 votes on some simple legislation that Harry Reid always gets -- has the votes for, but he doesn't have the time to go through the procedural day after day where you have to wait days for the time to go by in order to get the 60 votes. That's how it works in the Senate.

So it's about time. Everything's about time. The most finite commodity that we have. We used our time very well in the House to get an agenda passed in time for it to be considered by the Senate. The delaying tactics of the Republicans in the Senate…

VARGAS: Dare I ask you to grade the Senate?

PELOSI: Well, let's grade this all on a curve. What really matters is, what we do and how it relates to the lives of the American people back to that kitchen table where they have to think about how they make ends meet and how they make the future better for their children and provide for their own retirement. That's really where the grade goes. And the grade is given on election day. We -- we're fully prepared to face the American people with the integrity of what we have put forth, the commitment to jobs and health care and education and a world at peace and safe for our children and with the political armed power to go with it to win those elections.

VARGAS: Madam Speaker, thank you for joining us.

PELOSI: My pleasure.

END

VARGAS: And we are joined now by the Republican point man at the health care summit, Senator Lamar Alexander.

Senator, welcome to "This Week."

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Elizabeth.

VARGAS: You just said heard Speaker Pelosi and President Obama say time is up, we're not scrapping the plan, we're not starting from scratch, this is it. Are you going to -- are the Republicans going to offer some amendments (inaudible)

ALEXANDER: We -- we already have. I mean, we spent seven hours on Thursday, which I thought was a great opportunity for us to say why we thought the president's bill is not a good bill and what we think we ought to do, which is to establish a goal of reducing costs and go step by step toward that goal. And we offered a number of good ideas, some of which the president agreed with, and he'll put his bill aside and renounce jamming the bill through. We can go to work on this the way we normally do in the United States Senate, which is in a bipartisan way.

VARGAS: But he has said he's not going to scrap the bill, he's moving forward with or without you. So why not be part of the process? Why not take what you consider to be an imperfect bill and at least attach some proposals that you support?

ALEXANDER: Well, this is a...

(CROSSTALK)

ALEXANDER: This is a car that can't be recalled and fixed. There are too many things wrong with it. It cuts Medicare a half-trillion dollars. It raises taxes a half-trillion dollars. And in the Medicare cuts, the point that didn't get made very much on Thursday, it doesn't cut it to help Medicare. It cuts Medicare to spend on a new program at a time when Medicare is going broke in 2015.

It raises insurance premiums. The president and I had a little exchange on that. It shifts big costs to states, which are going to drive up college tuitions and state taxes. As a former governor, I've heard from Democratic and Republican governors on this. It dumps 15 million low-income Americans into a failed government program called Medicaid. Fifty percent of doctors won't even see patients in Medicaid.

So you can't fix that unless they take all those things out. And if they did, they wouldn't have a bill.

VARGAS: You had said in your opening remarks at the health care summit, you quoted Senator Byrd when you said -- you called on the president to renounce using reconciliation to push the bill through the Senate with a simple majority vote, saying, quote, "It would be an outrage to run the health care bill through the Senate like a freight train with this process."

Why -- why are you so opposed to this, given the fact that Republicans have used reconciliation more often than Democrats in the past?

ALEXANDER: Well, the outraged words were Senator Byrd's words, not mine.

VARGAS: True...

(CROSSTALK)

ALEXANDER: You're correct. The reconciliation procedure is a -- where you use legislative (ph) procedure is a (ph) -- where you use -- legislative procedure 19 times it's been used. It's for the purpose of taxing and spending and -- and reducing deficits.

But the difference here is that there's never been anything of this size and magnitude and complexity run through the Senate in this way. There are a lot of technical problems with it, which we could discuss. It would turn the Senate -- it would really be the end of the United States Senate as a protector of minority rights, as a place where you have to get consensus, instead of just a partisan majority, and it would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through after the American people have been saying, look, we're trying to tell you in every way we know how, in elections, in surveys, in town hall meetings, we don't want this bill.

VARGAS: Why political kamikaze, though? We know that Americans don't support health care in general, but when you start drilling down into the specifics, a lot of people do support some of those specifics.

ALEXANDER: Oh, they do support some of the specifics, but you put it all together, they don't like it. They don't want their Medicare cut. They don't want their taxes increased. They don't want their premiums increased. I mean, millions of American will have their premiums increased. The governors are up in arms about the new cost on states, so people have decided -- and -- and there's a sense that Washington is taking over too much.

So I was thinking this morning of President George W. Bush, when he tried so hard to have private accounts for Social Security. He thought he was right. He pushed, he pushed, and he pushed. If he'd stopped about halfway through and shifted, he could have probably gotten a bipartisan agreement on Social Security. I think President Obama could learn from that.

He has a lot of us who would like to help him write a health care bill, but not this one.

VARGAS: When you say political kamikaze, are you saying that if the Democrats push this through, they will lose all their seats in November? I mean, what are we talking about here?

ALEXANDER: Well, here's what I think. I mean, the people are saying, "We don't want it," and the Democrats are saying, "We don't care. We're going to pass it anyway." And so for the next three months, Washington will be consumed with the Democrats trying to jam this through in a very messy procedure an unpopular health care bill.

And then for the rest of the year, we're going to be involved in a campaign to repeal it. And every Democratic candidate in the country is going to be defined by this unpopular health care bill at a time when the real issues are jobs, terror and debt.

VARGAS: You also said in your remarks at the summit that Republicans have come to the conclusion that Congress, quote, "doesn't do comprehensive well," that our country is too big and too complicated for Washington. But Congress has passed many historic and sweeping and comprehensive bills in the past, Medicare, the civil rights bill, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Are you saying that this Congress is uniquely incapable of doing something sweeping and massive and dramatic?

ALEXANDER: Well, the answer's yes, in that sense.

VARGAS: That's not good.

ALEXANDER: But no -- but let me go back. You mentioned the civil rights bill. I was a very young aide here when President Johnson, who had more Democratic votes in Congress than President Obama had, had the civil rights bill written in Everett Dirksen's office. He was the Republican leader.

He did that not just to pass it. He did it to make sure that, when it was passed, it would be accepted by the people and there wouldn't be a campaign as there will be in health care to repeal it from the day it's passed.

Today I've watched the comprehensive immigration bill, I've watched the comprehensive economy-wide cap and trade, I've watched the comprehensive health care bill, they fall of their own weight, because we're biting off more than we can chew in a country this big and complex and complicated.

I think we do better as a country when we go step by step toward a goal, and the goal in this case should be reducing health care costs.

VARGAS: So the country has changed or Congress has changed?

ALEXANDER: Well, I think the size of the effort (ph) has changed. I mean, a 2,700-page bill is going to be unpopular because you're hiding something in it. It's full of surprises. It's -- it's -- policy skeptics believe in the law of unintended consequences. And when you write a bill in the middle of the night in a partisan way and, you know, pass it on Christmas Eve and it's that long, it'll have surprises like the cornhusker kickback, which was probably the death blow to the health care bill.

VARGAS: Your colleague, Senator Evan Bayh, recently announced his resignation, basically throwing his hands up in disgust, saying Congress is broken, and I want to be -- I don't want to be part of it any more. He cited you as one of the few Republican senators that he felt that he could find common ground with, work with, agree with. How are we going to fix Congress and empower Congress to be able to pass the sweeping kinds of changes that we need in this country when people like Evan Bayh just take their -- go home, in essence, give up and go home?

ALEXANDER: Well, you know, former governors -- and I'm one -- always have a hard time with the Senate. You know, we're -- we're used -- governors are used to saying, "Let's go this way," and a legislator in a reactor to things. So that's part of the problem.

The second is, a lot more is going on than one would think. I mean, Senator Carper, a Democrat, and I introduced a clean air bill with 11 Democrats and Republicans. We hope we can pass it this year. Senator Webb, a Democrat, and I worked on -- have introduced a nuclear power bill. Senator Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman are working on a climate change bill.

So if you take specific steps toward goals, we're more likely to succeed. And my observation is that -- in a country our complex -- we can't do these big comprehensive...

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: But very, very quickly, when somebody like a Senator Scott Brown, for example, breaks ranks with Republicans and votes against a filibuster to get the jobs bill to the floor of the Senate, he gets on his Facebook page, you know, all sorts of angry postings, calling him a double-crosser, a sellout, a Judas. What does that say about the political environment right now?

ALEXANDER: It says we live in a very volatile (ph) political environment, and Scott Brown and I and others simply have to do what we think is right. And if we do, which is to get results in a bipartisan way, we'll probably be re-elected or at least we'll have done a good job.

VARGAS: Senator Lamar Alexander, thank you so much for joining us here this morning on "This Week."

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VARGAS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

The health care summit. Did it make any difference?

OBAMA: I hope that this isn't political theater.

VARGAS: The parties came together...

CANTOR: We just can't afford this.

VARGAS: ... but they couldn't bridge the gap. So what's next for health care reform? Questions for our headliners.

PELOSI: This will take courage to do, but we will get it done.

VARGAS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and...

ALEXANDER: Mr. President, renounce this idea of jamming through your version of the bill.

VARGAS: ... a leading Republican on health care, Senator Lamar Alexander.

Plus, a powerful Democratic chairman is found to have broken ethics rules.

RANGEL: I have to now deal with my lawyer.

VARGAS: A big-state governor bows out under fire.

PATERSON: I have never abused my office.

VARGAS: That and the rest of the week's politics on our roundtable with George Will, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, and Paul Krugman.

And, as always, the Sunday funnies.

JIMMY KIMMEL, TALK SHOW HOST: Even our weather is beating Canada. We're out-snowing them, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From the heart of the nation's capital, "This Week" with "20/20" anchor Elizabeth Vargas, live from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

VARGAS: Good morning, everyone. With so many issues facing Congress, from health care reform to unemployment, and new questions about how Congress does business, I sat down with the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VARGAS: Madam Speaker, welcome back again to "This Week." Let's talk health care. PELOSI: Good to be here.

VARGAS: The president said after the summit, we cannot have another year of debate on this issue. We need decisions now. You said on Friday, "We are determined to pass health care." Do you have the 217 votes necessary to pass it in the House?

PELOSI: Well, right now we're working on the -- on the policy. The -- the president put a -- a -- I think a good proposal on the Internet on Sunday. We're examining that very carefully to make sure it has all the affordability we need for the middle class, all the accountability for the insurance industry, and the accessibility that we need to have.

I -- from the meeting on Thursday -- the summit meeting, I -- I believe that we're ready for the next step, which is to write legislative language, and then go from there.

VARGAS: So what are the fixes the Senate needs to make in your opinion? Through reconciliation presumably before the House can vote on it...

(CROSSTALK)

PELOSI: Well, I -- I believe, listening to the president yesterday, he's still hopeful that there's a way to have a bipartisan bill. But whatever route the Senate takes, we would like to see, again, more affordability for the middle class. This is very, very important. This is a bill about the middle class -- their access to health care, and the affordability that makes that access possible.

Secondly, we want to close the donut hole for seniors. This is really an important mistake that was made when the Republicans passed the prescription drug bill. And we want the seniors to have the comfort of knowing that in this bill the donut hole will be patched. And it's a technical -- a slang term for something that means the seniors pay more...

VARGAS: But if you get that, will you...

PELOSI: The seniors pay more, and we have more (ph). We want to eliminate the Nebraska fix and have equity for all of the states. And that, in terms of some of the investments, there are more, but those are the three -- three of the main ones.

But one of the biggest differences is the -- how the bill would be paid for. We -- we cut waste, fraud, and abuse, over half a trillion dollars in the bill. But we still needed more of a pay-for. The Senate bill had a tax that we did not like in the House. And I think the president's proposal addresses that concern.

So now we will -- it's a question of when you go down to legislative language, you -- you need the clarity, and that's when you find out what everything means.

VARGAS: But you know that the polls show that the American people are deeply divided on health care. Many of them are opposed to it. Even though they are supporting certain -- specific pieces of it.

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: What do you say to your members, when it does come to the House to vote on this, who are in real fear of losing their seats in November if they support you now?

PELOSI: Well, first of all, our members -- every one of them -- wants health care. I think everybody wants affordable health care for all Americans. They know that this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. And many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill.

But the American people need it. Why are we here? We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress. We're here to do the job for the American people, to get them results that gives them not only health security, but economic security, because the health issue is an economic issue for -- for America's families.

VARGAS: Do you wish, though, that the president had posted his bill before this week, that six months ago it might have been more helpful for you, that maybe six months ago you knew that the public option was something he was going to drop before you fought so hard for it?

PELOSI: Well, we -- we still fight for the -- what the public option will do. Whether it's in the bill or not, its purpose must be recognized and that is to keep the insurance companies honest, to keep them accountable, and to increase competition. And I think in the summit on Thursday it became very clear that what the president was proposing was regulation of the insurance companies.

Left to their own devices, they have done harm to the American people. They need to be regulated. And that is one of the biggest differences between the Democrats and the Republicans.

Another one, for example, is -- an example of it is ending the denial of -- of coverage to those who have a pre-existing condition. The Democrats have that in their bill; the Republicans do not.

VARGAS: But would you...

PELOSI: But that's a major insurance reform that has to take place.

VARGAS: But would we still be debating this if the president had put his plan out six months ago?

PELOSI: Well, I don't know what -- what the value of trying -- the president has tried since one year ago, March 5th. We met in Washington D.C. in a bipartisan way with some of the outside stakeholders to talk about working together to have health care accessible for all Americans. I smile because I remember Senator Kennedy coming into the room and saying, "I'm signing up as a foot soldier in the fight for health care reform." And, of course, he was such a tremendous leader.

But that was a year ago. Since then, we've had hundreds of hours of meetings, and hearings, and markups of bills -- well over a hundred Republican amendments are in this bill -- the -- the House and Senate bills, and what the president put forth. We'll see some of what was said yesterday. So those who were making constructive contributions can be accommodated.

Whether we get Republican votes or not, the bill definitely has bipartisan provisions in it. But if they have a good idea that works for the American people, whether they're going to vote for the bill or not, we want it in the bill.

VARGAS: How long are willing to wait for those ideas?

PELOSI: Well, we -- but that that happened yesterday. And so...

VARGAS: I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: ... the president seemed to made it clear that time's up.

PELOSI: Time's up, yes. So we really have to go forth, because as I said there, was we sit around this table, this big table in Blair House -- every night families sit around their kitchen table, try to figure out their finances, their -- the security of their jobs, the cost of their children's education, how they're going to pay their medical bills, what is the status of their pensions?

And they can't wait any longer. If -- you know, if your family has a pre-existing condition or if you are denied coverage or if you have a -- a rescission, if your insurance has been withdrawn just as you're about to need a procedure, you know that it's long overdue. And what's the point of talking about it any longer?

VARGAS: But the point is, when it does finally come to vote on it in the House, you're certain that you can muster the 217 votes that you need, even with the differences over abortion language, things -- that there are members of the House who voted in favor of it before, who are now saying, "We can't vote for this bill, because of the Senate language on abortion"?

PELOSI: Well, let me say I have this in three -- just so you know, how we sequence this. First, we zero in on what the policy will be, and that is what we'll be doing following the president's summit yesterday.

Secondly, we'll see what the Senate can do. What is the substance? What is the Senate prepared to do? And then we'll go to the third step as to what my -- my members will vote for.

But we have a very diverse party, but we all agree that the present system is unsustainable. It's unsustainable. It's unaffordable for families, for -- and individuals, for businesses, large-, small-, and moderate-sized businesses. It's unsustainable to our budget. We cannot afford the rising cost of -- of health care.

As the president has said, "Health care reform is entitlement reform." And it's unsustainable for our -- our economy. We want to be competitive. These health care costs are a competitiveness issue. They diminish the opportunities for our businesses domestically and internationally to compete without this anvil of health care costs around their necks.

VARGAS: You mentioned jobs. Members of the House have already weighed in on the Senate jobs bill saying it's too small and does too little. The Congressional Black Caucus said it shouldn't even be called a jobs bill. Should you agree to the smaller, incremental approach, given that unemployment is the single biggest issue in this country right now? PELOSI: Well, we wanted to move as quickly as possible on jobs. We passed our bill in December, as you probably know. What the Senate is taking is a segmented approach to it, and I think when everyone sees what the different pieces are, they will know that we're on the path...

VARGAS: But you've said that's OK. Is it OK to do it in that smaller, incremental way, and not the big, dramatic way that the House proposed?

PELOSI: Well, it would have been faster if they would just agree to our bill last year because people are hurting, they need jobs and we need to move quicker.

This won't take a long time to do, but every piece of it will not have every provision in it that we want but it will all create jobs and help small businesses grow, because that's where major job creation is. It addresses concerns that we have about our veterans coming home who have -- are facing unemployment.

It is the biggest issue for our seniors. And believe it or not, jobs and the economy are the biggest issue for our seniors and their opportunities, as well. So it is -- it's a four-letter word that we use around here all the time, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.

And by the way, the health care bill is a jobs bill. It will create four million new jobs, several hundred thousand immediately upon enactment. And it will also encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in our country where people can take risks and be entrepreneurial because they know they have health care.

VARGAS: The Ethics Committee on Charles Rangel said that he has violated the House gift rule. How can he remain in such a powerful position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee...

PELOSI: Well, I think...

VARGAS: ... given the fact that there are further pending ethics investigations and this public admonishment has taken place?

PELOSI: Well, it is a public admonishment. It said he did not knowingly violate House rules, so that gives him some comfort. But the fact is that we have a...

VARGAS: He should have known, though, don't you think?

PELOSI: Well, I don't know. You understand that the Ethics Committee is an independent, bipartisan committee in the House. They act independent of us, and that's exactly the way it should be.

I, though, when I became speaker, instituted an outside ethics panel which makes recommendations in so that we have a double way to receive information, although the Ethics Committee can self-initiate, as well as take recommendations from the outside panel. So we look forward to seeing what else they have to say about what they have before him regarding Chairman Rangel. VARGAS: If there are further admonishments, though, should he remain in this position?

PELOSI: Well, why don't we just give him a chance to hear what the independent, bipartisan -- they work very hard to reach their conclusions, and, obviously, there's more to come here.

VARGAS: But you don't -- you understand this is why so many Americans think Congress is corrupt. It just doesn't -- it doesn't look good. It doesn't pass the smell test.

PELOSI: No, it doesn't. No, it doesn't. And I served for seven years on the Ethics Committee. The last thing I would have wanted would be for the speaker of the House to interfere in a political way in what was going on there. That just should never happen.

But the fact is, is that what Mr. Rangel has been admonished for is not good. It was a violation of the rules of the House. It was not something that jeopardized our country in any way.

So it remains to be seen what the rest of the work of the committee is, and I hope it will be soon. But, again, it's independent, and they go with their own -- they go at their own pace.

VARGAS: Let's talk a bit about the coming elections in November. You had recently -- and the Tea Party movement. Do you think it will be a force to be reckoned with? You had said last summer that it was a faux grassroots movement; you called it the Astroturf movement.

PELOSI: In some respects.

VARGAS: Is the Tea Party movement a force?

PELOSI: No -- no, what I said at the time is, that they were -- the Republican Party directs a lot of what the Tea Party does, but not everybody in the Tea Party takes direction from the Republican Party. And so there was a lot of, shall we say, Astroturf, as opposed to grassroots.

But, you know, we share some of the views of the Tea Partiers in terms of the role of special interest in Washington, D.C., as -- it just has to stop. And that's why I've fought the special interest, whether it's on energy, whether it's on health insurance, whether it's on pharmaceuticals and the rest.

VARGAS: So common ground with many people in the Tea Party movement?

(CROSSTALK)

PELOSI: There are some because, they -- again, some of it is orchestrated from the Republican headquarters. Some of it is hijacking the good intentions of lots of people who share some of our concerns that we have about -- about the role of special interests.

And many Tea Partiers, not that I speak for them, share the view, whether it's -- and Democrats, Republicans and independents share the view that the recent Supreme Court decision, which greatly empowers the special interests, is something that they oppose.

VARGAS: Finally, President Obama, when asked to rate his year in office, gave himself a B-plus. How would you rate yourself in the past year?

PELOSI: Well, I have a -- I think I get an A for effort. And in the House of Representatives, my mark is the mark of our members. We have passed every piece of legislation that is part of the Obama agenda, whether it's the creation of jobs, expanding access to health care, creating new green jobs for the future, regulatory reform. We have passed the full agenda.

VARGAS: Are you frustrated so many bills have not -- have been stalled in the Senate, almost 300 bills passed by the House that are sitting languishing in the Senate?

PELOSI: And most of those bills have bipartisan support, strong bipartisan support in the House that have gone over there. But that -- you know what that's about? That's about -- and it's very important for you to know -- that's about the Republican delay tactics.

By requiring 60 votes on some simple legislation that Harry Reid always gets -- has the votes for, but he doesn't have the time to go through the procedural day after day where you have to wait days for the time to go by in order to get the 60 votes. That's how it works in the Senate.

So it's about time. Everything's about time, the most finite commodity that we have. We used our time very well in the House to get an agenda passed in time for it to be considered by the Senate, the delaying tactics of the Republicans in the Senate.

VARGAS: Dare I ask you to grade the Senate?

PELOSI: Well, let's grade this all on a curve. What really matters is what we do and how it relates to the lives of the American people back to that kitchen table where they have to think about how they make ends meet and how they make the future better for their children and provide for their own retirement. That's really where the grade goes.

And the grade is given on Election Day. We're fully prepared to face the American people with the integrity of what we have put forth, the commitment to jobs and health care and education, and a world at peace and safe for our children, and with the political armed power to go with it to win those elections.

VARGAS: Madam Speaker, thank you for joining us.

PELOSI: My pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VARGAS: And we are joined now by the Republican point man at the health care summit, Senator Lamar Alexander.

Senator, welcome to "This Week."

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Elizabeth.

VARGAS: You just said heard Speaker Pelosi and President Obama say time is up, we're not scrapping the plan, we're not starting from scratch, this is it. Are you going to -- are the Republicans going to offer some amendments and play ball?

ALEXANDER: We -- we already have. I mean, we spent seven hours on Thursday, which I thought was a great opportunity for us to say why we thought the president's bill is not a good bill and what we think we ought to do, which is to establish a goal of reducing costs and go step by step toward that goal. And we offered a number of good ideas, some of which the president agreed with, and if he'll put his bill aside and renounce jamming the bill through, we can go to work on this the way we normally do in the United States Senate, which is in a bipartisan way.

VARGAS: But he has said he's not going to scrap the bill, he's moving forward with or without you. So why not be part of the process? Why not take what you consider to be an imperfect bill and at least attach some proposals that you support?

ALEXANDER: Well, this is a--

(CROSSTALK)

ALEXANDER: This is a car that can't be recalled and fixed. There are too many things wrong with it. It cuts Medicare a half- trillion dollars. It raises taxes a half-trillion dollars. And in the Medicare cuts, the point that didn't get made very much on Thursday, it doesn't cut it to help Medicare. It cuts Medicare to spend on a new program at a time when Medicare is going broke in 2015.

It raises insurance premiums. The president and I had a little exchange on that. It shifts big costs to states, which are going to drive up college tuitions and state taxes. As a former governor, I've heard from Democratic and Republican governors on this. It dumps 15 million low-income Americans into a failed government program called Medicaid. Fifty percent of doctors won't even see patients in Medicaid.

So you can't fix that unless they take all those things out. And if they did, they wouldn't have a bill.

VARGAS: You had said in your opening remarks at the health care summit, you quoted Senator Byrd when you said -- you called on the president to renounce using reconciliation to push the bill through the Senate with a simple majority vote, saying, quote, "It would be an outrage to run the health care bill through the Senate like a freight train with this process."

Why -- why are you so opposed to this, given the fact that Republicans have used reconciliation more often than Democrats in the past?

ALEXANDER: Well, the outraged words were Senator Byrd's words, not mine.

VARGAS: True, I said you were quoting Senator Byrd. ALEXANDER: You're correct. The reconciliation procedure is a little used legislative procedure. Nineteen times it's been used. It's for the purpose of taxing and spending and -- and reducing deficits.

But the difference here is that there's never been anything of this size and magnitude and complexity run through the Senate in this way. There are a lot of technical problems with it, which we could discuss. It would turn the Senate -- it would really be the end of the United States Senate as a protector of minority rights, as a place where you have to get consensus, instead of just a partisan majority, and it would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through after the American people have been saying, look, we're trying to tell you in every way we know how, in elections, in surveys, in town hall meetings, we don't want this bill.

VARGAS: Why political kamikaze, though? We know that Americans don't support health care in general, but when you start drilling down into the specifics, a lot of people do support some of those specifics.

ALEXANDER: Oh, they do support some of the specifics, but you put it all together, they don't like it. They don't want their Medicare cut. They don't want their taxes increased. They don't want their premiums increased. I mean, millions of Americans will have their premiums increased. The governors are up in arms about the new cost on states, so people have decided -- and -- and there's a sense that Washington is taking over too much.

So I was thinking this morning of President George W. Bush, when he tried so hard to have private accounts for Social Security. He thought he was right. He pushed, he pushed, and he pushed. If he'd stopped about halfway through and shifted, he could have probably gotten a bipartisan agreement on Social Security. I think President Obama could learn from that.

He has a lot of us who would like to help him write a health care bill, but not this one.

VARGAS: When you say political kamikaze, are you saying that if the Democrats push this through, they will lose all their seats in November? I mean, what are we talking about here?

ALEXANDER: Well, here's what I think. I mean, the people are saying, "We don't want it," and the Democrats are saying, "We don't care. We're going to pass it anyway." And so for the next three months, Washington will be consumed with the Democrats trying to jam this through in a very messy procedure an unpopular health care bill.

And then for the rest of the year, we're going to be involved in a campaign to repeal it. And every Democratic candidate in the country is going to be defined by this unpopular health care bill at a time when the real issues are jobs, terror and debt.

VARGAS: You also said in your remarks at the summit that Republicans have come to the conclusion that Congress, quote, "doesn't do comprehensive well," that our country is too big and too complicated for Washington. But Congress has passed many historic and sweeping and comprehensive bills in the past -- Medicare, the civil rights bill, the Americans With Disabilities Act. Are you saying that this Congress is uniquely incapable of doing something sweeping and massive and dramatic?

ALEXANDER: Well, the answer's yes, in that sense.

VARGAS: That's not good. ALEXANDER: But no -- but let me go back. You mentioned the civil rights bill. I was a very young aide here when President Johnson, who had more Democratic votes in Congress than President Obama had, had the civil rights bill written in Everett Dirksen's office. He was the Republican leader.

He did that not just to pass it. He did it to make sure that, when it was passed, it would be accepted by the people and there wouldn't be a campaign, as there will be in health care, to repeal it from the day it's passed.

Today I've watched the comprehensive immigration bill, I've watched the comprehensive economy-wide cap-and-trade, I've watched the comprehensive health care bill. They fall of their own weight because we're biting off more than we can chew in a country this big and complex and complicated.

I think we do better as a country when we go step by step toward a goal, and the goal in this case should be reducing health care costs.

VARGAS: So the country has changed or Congress has changed?

ALEXANDER: Well, I think the size of the effort (ph) has changed. I mean, a 2,700-page bill is going to be unpopular because you're hiding something in it. It's full of surprises. It's -- it's -- policy skeptics believe in the law of unintended consequences. And when you write a bill in the middle of the night in a partisan way and, you know, pass it on Christmas Eve and it's that long, it'll have surprises like the Cornhusker kickback, which was probably the death blow to the health care bill.

VARGAS: Your colleague, Senator Evan Bayh, recently announced his resignation, basically throwing his hands up in disgust, saying Congress is broken, and I want to be -- I don't want to be part of it anymore. He cited you as one of the few Republican senators that he felt that he could find common ground with, work with, agree with. How are we going to fix Congress and empower Congress to be able to pass the sweeping kinds of changes that we need in this country when people like Evan Bayh just take their -- go home, in essence, give up and go home?

ALEXANDER: Well, you know, former governors -- and I'm one -- always have a hard time with the Senate. You know, we're -- we're used -- governors are used to saying, "Let's go this way," and a legislator is a reactor to things. So that's part of the problem.

The second is, a lot more is going on than one would think. I mean, Senator Carper, a Democrat, and I introduced a clean air bill with 11 Democrats and Republicans. We hope we can pass it this year. Senator Webb, a Democrat, and I worked on -- have introduced a nuclear power bill. Senator Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman are working on a climate change bill.

So if you take specific steps toward goals, we're more likely to succeed. And my observation is that in a country our complex -- we can't do these big comprehensive--

VARGAS: But very, very quickly, when somebody like a Senator Scott Brown, for example, breaks ranks with Republicans and votes against a filibuster to get the jobs bill to the floor of the Senate, he gets on his Facebook page, you know, all sorts of angry postings, calling him a double-crosser, a sellout, a Judas. What does that say about the political environment right now?

ALEXANDER: It says we live in a very volatile (ph) political environment, and Scott Brown and I and others simply have to do what we think is right. And if we do, which is to get results in a bipartisan way, we'll probably be re-elected, or at least we'll have done a good job.

VARGAS: Senator Lamar Alexander, thank you so much for joining us here this morning on "This Week."

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

VARGAS: Coming up next, the roundtable with George Will, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, and Paul Krugman. And of course, later, the Sunday funnies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEYERS: The U.S. State Department this week unveiled plans for the new U.S. embassy in London, which will be made of glass and include many advanced security measures, I guess to compensate for the fact that it's made of glass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I'm going to start off by saying, "Here are some things we agree on."

(UNKNOWN): I think we can all agree on that.

OBAMA: We agree more than we disagree.

(UNKNOWN): I think we all agree on that.

OBAMA: All parties in both chambers should be able to agree.

(UNKNOWN): I agree with that.

OBAMA: We agree that there have to be some. We agree...

(UNKNOWN): We all agree.

OBAMA: We basically agree.

(UNKNOWN): We certainly agree with the premise you stated.

OBAMA: We agree philosophically.

(UNKNOWN): You're right. We agree with that.

OBAMA: You agree that we should have some insurance regulation.

(UNKNOWN): The main point is, we basically agree.

KIMMEL: And I'm happy to announce that no agreement was reached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VARGAS: But we are agreeing to go to our roundtable now, with George Will, Sam Donaldson, Paul Krugman, and Cokie Roberts. Good to have all of you here this morning. And let's...

ROBERTS: And we're all going to agree.

VARGAS: And we're all going to agree, exactly. DONALDSON: Not a chance.

VARGAS: Exactly. Thanks to you, Sam.

George, what did you think of the summit? Did it mean anything?

WILL: Well, let's put it in context. The country having said we want to concentrate on the economy and jobs, not health care, the president doubles down on health care. And days after he unveils a commission that will propose remedies for our Ponzi entitlement structure, he pushes ahead with a trillion-dollar new entitlement.

The country having said it's too expensive, he melds the House and Senate bills and comes up with a bill that's $70 billion more expensive than the original Senate bill.

The country having said let's do it piecemeal, he says -- and he may have a point here -- he says, look, this is such a complex system that you can't do piecemeal. It's a Calder mobile. If you touch something here, something jiggles way over here.

So, at the end of the day, it turns out we have two parties for a reason, and they have differing views about, A, the purposes and, B, the competence of government. And so we slog ahead.

DONALDSON: Well, he comes up with a bill that the Congressional Budget Office says over 20 years will save billions of dollars. You can argue it if you want, but that's what they say.

The thing that the summit demonstrated -- if there was any doubt in anyone's mind -- is the Republicans are not going to play on anything. It's not a question of, "Let's meet in the middle," or even, "You're the majority party, so you're going to get most of it, but give us something." They're not going to play.

So what the Democrats have to do now is pass the bill, put back the public option, since it's their bill, and pass it. And President Obama...

ROBERTS: But you can't pass it with the public option.

DONALDSON: Well, oh, wait a moment. If 51 votes in the Senate, they can.

ROBERTS: They can't get it.

(CROSSTALK)

KRUGMAN: Unclear even then. But...

(CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: Let me just finish here, because I want to say the final thing. The president has to drop his George B. McClellan mask and become Ulysses Grant. Be ruthless. That's what a Franklin Roosevelt would have done. That's what Harry Truman would have done. VARGAS: And, Sam, that's a good point, because, Paul, you've been arguing that the president should be more ruthless, that he should be...

KRUGMAN: Well, yes, I mean, I think the summit actually served its purpose, from his point of view, which was to demonstrate that the Republicans are not going to give on anything, that they're not going to -- you know, they're going to make every possible claim, they're going to say things that aren't true, like premiums are going to go up under this bill, which isn't -- isn't going to happen.

And, yes, I mean, I prefer -- I mean, and George and I actually have the same view, but I think the better metaphor is it's a three- legged stool. You have to have guaranteed issue. You can get -- you know, pre-existing conditions are covered. To make that work, you have to have universality. You have to have a mandate.

And to have that work, you have to have large subsidies. So the bill has to be more or less what it is. It has to be a comprehensive reform. And the Democrats, you know, from their own point of view, they actually have to do this. They have to -- they can't go into November elections...

VARGAS: And that's the big question, Cokie.

ROBERTS: That's the big question. That is the big question. There's no certainty at this point that there are 217 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate, no matter what procedure they use. So that is still where they are hung up, which is where they've been hung up all along.

Now, the White House did a couple of smart things in terms of what people were upset about. You heard Senator Alexander talk about, in the dead of night, 2,700 pages, Christmas Eve. Those are the talking points. And -- and so the White House puts it up on the Web, has a, you know, seven-hour meeting, and takes out the special provisions, particularly for Nebraska.

And so that -- they're trying to fix the things that they see are -- that the public has had problems with. And it is true that you can -- you can sing it round or flat, George, about whether the public's for this bill or not.

In a recent poll that we came out with, 58 percent -- a Kaiser poll -- 58 percent said they would be angry or disappointed if a bill didn't pass. So I think that that is what the Democrats are going with.

VARGAS: They want something. They're just...

ROBERTS: They want something, and the Democrats just have to, you know, say their prayers, and vote for a bill, and hope it works for them.

DONALDSON: But, Cokie, it's true. I think in the short run they're going to lose seats, because they dropped the ball... (CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: They're going to lose seats anyway.

DONALDSON: They dropped the ball last summer. The Republicans brilliantly picked it up. It probably won't be reversed by November. But this is the only chance in how many years to do this?

ROBERTS: Right.

DONALDSON: And I think history will show that they were right if they get it done.

VARGAS: George?

WILL: Two things. First of all, Sam, you want the president to be Ulysses Grant, who won the war by his wonderful indifference to his own casualties, and I think some members in the Senate and in the House would not approve of that.

DONALDSON: Did I not just say that they may lose some seats? Were you listening?

WILL: By the millions. Now -- second, now, Paul says that, in fact, the Republicans have no ideas. They do, cross-selling across state lines, tort reforms, all those. Just a second, Paul.

Then you say they're telling whoppers. That was your view about Lamar Alexander when he said, for millions of Americans, premiums will go up. You said in the next sentence in your column, I guess you could say he wasn't technically lying, because the Congressional Budget Office says that's true.

KRUGMAN: No, it's not what it says.

(CROSSTALK)

KRUGMAN: Can I explain? This is...

(CROSSTALK)

WILL: Wait. Let me -- let me set the predicate here, because you then go on and say the Senate does say the average premiums would go up, but people would be getting better premiums.

KRUGMAN: Look, let me explain what happens, because you actually have to read the CBO report. And what the CBO report tells you -- in fairly elliptical language -- is that what it will do, what the bill will do is bring a lot of people who are uninsured, who are currently young and therefore relatively low cost, into the risk pool, which will actually bring premiums down a little bit.

It will also have, however, let -- lead a lot of people to get better insurance. It will lead a lot of people who are currently underinsured, who have insurance policies that are paper thin and don't actually protect you in a crisis, will actually get those people up to having full coverage. That makes the average payments go up, but it does not mean that people who currently have good coverage under their policies will pay more for their -- for their insurance. In fact, they'll end up paying a little bit less.

WILL: One question. If the government came to you and said, "Professor Krugman, you have a car. We're going to compel you to buy a more expensive car," but it's not really more expensive, because it's a better car, wouldn't you tell them to get off your land?

KRUGMAN: It's not -- Catherine Rampell did a very good piece in the Times blogs recently which said that the main obstacle to the people who are uninsured is not that they are choosing not to be insured. It is income.

It is, in fact, young people who are not buying insurance because they're not being able to afford it, will be brought in through the subsidies. And that will end up being better even for the people who are currently insured.

ROBERTS: One of the things that the -- the Congress has failed to do until now is convince people who have insurance, which is most of us, that this bill will work for them, and that's why this argument is important.

But the -- the one thing that has been added on, apparently, since we haven't actually seen the bill in the last week, is the decision to have the federal government regulate rates, and that could be extremely popular with people...

(CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: ... old guys, they say to us, "We're going to cut your Medicare." They're not going to cut Medicare benefits, not touch them. What they want to cut in the bill, as I understand it, is Medicare Advantage, which was put in with a government subsidy of 15 cents for every dollar, take the 15 cents away. The private insurers now can compete on their own and use that money elsewhere, and you could argue where it should be used, but it's not correct that they're trying to cut Medicare.

VARGAS: I do want to get to one other issue related to this health care bill, which is the language on abortion, because it almost died in the House, the health care bill, because of abortion. There was the Stupak amendment, which attached highly restrictive language to when abortions could be covered, and there -- Bart Stupak says this is unacceptable, this current bill, as Obama has proposed it, and he says 20 other members of the House will have problems with it, too.

Will abortion kill this thing in the end?

WILL: Well, Alan Frumin's 15 minutes of fame have arrived. He is the hitherto obscure, but soon to be quite famous parliamentarian of the Senate, and it will be his job to rule on what can and cannot be passed under reconciliation. That is, is it a budgetary-related thing? You can argue about a great many things in the health care bill. Can you say that's budget-related? No one thinks you can change the abortion language under reconciliation.

KRUGMAN: Let me just point out...

VARGAS: And, Cokie...

KRUGMAN: ... that in 2001, the Senate parliamentarian was in doubts about the -- some of the things Republicans were doing through reconciliation, and they dealt with that by firing him and replacing him.

VARGAS: And, Cokie, can Speaker Pelosi, given this issue, if they can't get through on reconciliation some sort of changing of the abortion language...

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: ... can she find the votes?

ROBERTS: It's going to be very, very tough. That's what I said at the beginning. I mean, this -- this bill is not at the moment passable by Democratic votes.

DONALDSON: She'll get the votes.

ROBERTS: I think in the end she will, too.

DONALDSON: In the end, the Democrats understand the old phrase, "We hang together or we hang separately."

ROBERTS: At the moment...

VARGAS: Well, and they're on record already taking an unpopular vote.

ROBERTS: ... the calculation...

VARGAS: It's going to kill them in November.

ROBERTS: The calculation that they've made all along -- and I personally think it's a correct calculation -- is that it's worse to do nothing than to do something and that, in the long run, people will like this bill.

WILL: Can I say something that Paul and I might actually agree on?

VARGAS: Sure.

WILL: Twenty years from now, the country is going to be spending a larger portion of its GDP on health care than it is now for three reasons. We're getting older, and as we age, we get more chronic diseases that interact with one another. Second, we're getting richer; we can afford to buy more medicine. And, third, medicine is becoming more competent. Therefore, we're going to spend more on health care.

KRUGMAN: But there's a...

ROBERTS: The other thing is, you know, the health care industry is the biggest employer in most of our cities now. So when -- when the speaker talks about a job creation bill...

VARGAS: A jobs bill, exactly.

ROBERTS: ... it's true.

VARGAS: Let's shift a little bit to Charlie Rangel, because we heard Speaker Pelosi talk about the fact that what he did didn't endanger national security, but it doesn't look good. We've got a handful of Democrats who have now started to join Republicans and calling for him to step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a powerful post in the House of Representatives. Can he hold this post, Cokie?

ROBERTS: Yes, he can hold it, as long as people -- you know, his colleagues say he can hold it. But whether it becomes too hot for him to hold is something that, you know, sort of evolves. And you see what happens in the papers in New York and all of that and whether he can withstand it.

But, you know, in terms of that Ethics Committee report, there were two sets of issues they were dealing with. One was this trip to the Caribbean that was apparently paid for by corporations. The other was donations to members of Congress who then provided things in legislation for the people who gave those donations. I think that's a far, far more serious offense...

VARGAS: Very serious.

ROBERTS: ... and -- and the Ethics Committee basically said, "No problem." That's the kind of thing that really makes people very uncomfortable about the Congress and feel like the Congress is all on the take.

DONALDSON: Now, let's talk about -- talk about the man for a moment. Years ago, he wrote his autobiography, titled, "I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since," referring to the day in Korea when Sergeant Rangel, pressed by the enemy, led his men over a steep, frigid mountain pass to safety and got the bronze star for it. I didn't know him then.

But when he came to Congress, having unseated Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem, he came as a reformer. He was on the Impeachment Committee and the Judiciary Committee for Richard Nixon, the real impeachment process. And through the years, we've watched him.

Now, if these charges before the Ethics Committee -- and I agree with you, they're much more serious than the one for which he's been admonished...

VARGAS: And there are further ones...

(CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: If, in fact...

VARGAS: ... apartments in Harlem and...

DONALDSON: ... that's -- it's all true, he has to give it up. He has to have it be taken away from him. And I think his being in the House has been good for his constituents and good for the country.

VARGAS: George?

WILL: To know Charlie Rangel is to like him.

ROBERTS: Exactly.

WILL: He's a wonderful spirit and all that. Still, one has to wonder. Suppose a Republican has revised his disclosure form and suddenly his net worth doubled and he came upon not one, but two checking accounts with $500,000 in them...

DONALDSON: They're serious.

WILL: I mean, this is -- there comes a point at which the tax writing committee should be headed by someone without these...

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: Well, and Speaker Pelosi and Steny Hoyer were all calling for Tom DeLay to relinquish his post when he was also admonished by the Ethics Committee.

KRUGMAN: Yes, this is -- you know, it's -- it is worth pointing out that none of these things actually seem to affect national policy. You know, when Billy Tauzin...

(CROSSTALK)

KRUGMAN: When Bill Tauzin basically wrote the drug -- the Medicare drug bill then left Congress to become head of the pharmaceutical lobby, that was much more serious, but it didn't actually violate House ethics rules.

So, yes, I'm unable with this. I wish Rangel would go away. But it's -- you know, it really has no national significance.

VARGAS: And now let's go to the New York governor, because the state of New York has quite a brouhaha playing out this weekend, the end of last weekend, this weekend. Governor David Paterson stepping down amid allegations that he and his state police contingent improperly tried to influence a woman involved in a domestic violence dispute with one of his closest aides.

ROBERTS: And to keep her from testifying against a man who had abused her. It's really...

VARGAS: And domestic violence was his signature issue coming into office.

ROBERTS: It's just unbelievable. The idea that he would use the state police and himself -- he called her himself to basically say -- or is alleged to have -- to say, "Don't show up in court to testify against my friend, who beat you up." You know, that is -- that is the worst kind of harassment of women who are already very reluctant to go the court on domestic violence issues.

VARGAS: He has said he will not run for election in November...

ROBERTS: Yes, because he couldn't win.

VARGAS: But this weekend, Democrats in New York are meeting because they're not sure he can govern for 10 more months.

DONALDSON: Well, that's a real question. You know, Basil Paterson, one of the great power brokers in New York...

ROBERTS: His father.

DONALDSON: ... Democratic politics, his father, is a man of great substance. His son has proved not to be. And I think one of the lessons here is, when you run -- because they run as a team in New York, governor and lieutenant governor -- you ought -- just like a president and vice president -- you don't put someone on the ticket because there's a political advantage who is not capable of stepping in, as he has proved not to be capable. And I think it's a real question whether he should serve out the rest of his term.

VARGAS: And, George, what a bumpy term for him. He's got terrible approval ratings, a huge budget problem, and he managed to infuriate the Kennedys by his mishandling of Caroline Kennedy's -- you know, when she -- when she tried to take over for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat.

WILL: You mentioned the budget problem. I mean, New York state spending has increased almost 70 percent in a decade. It is dead heat with California as to see which is the worst governed state right now. So a lot of New York's problems predate and will follow Mr. Paterson. Whether or not he should resign because he can't govern, who can govern that state? The state legislature governs that state badly.

ROBERTS: And locks people out and does all kinds of...

(CROSSTALK)

KRUGMAN: From my -- from my home state of New Jersey, I think we're in the running there.

WILL: You are.

ROBERTS: Exactly.

DONALDSON: We're going to see whether Andrew Cuomo can govern. He's going to be the Democratic nominee. VARGAS: Well, he's -- he's the attorney general, who is currently investigating Governor Paterson, and has expressed interest...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Currently investigating the governor...

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: ... the White House had tried privately to encourage Governor Paterson to step...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Privately? It wasn't so private.

VARGAS: ... wasn't so private, to step aside, so I guess they're probably looking at this as a positive development, that he's not running for election.

ROBERTS: Oh, sure.

DONALDSON: Oh, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Oh, sure. Yes, but, you know, this business of using the state troopers, which, of course, Eliot Spitzer was also -- I mean, it was all of these -- all these echoes of, you know, the wife standing by as the governor admits to, you know, some perfidy.

And the state troopers, really, if I were the state troopers, I would find a way to just not do what the governor says, because it just gets them in trouble over and over again...

VARGAS: Yes, exactly.

ROBERTS: ... and then there was Arkansas.

VARGAS: And then, of course, this weekend, we have a brand-new White House social secretary appointed to replace Desiree Rogers, a close friend of the Obamas who is exiting after a bumpy tenure, I would say. Cokie, you spoke with her. She -- she was highly criticized after the Obamas' first state dinner in which she arrived, looking absolutely gorgeous, but in what some people later said was far too fancy a dress, but most importantly, that was the state dinner that was crashed by the Salahis, who walked in without an invitation when the social secretary's office didn't have people manning the security sites.

ROBERTS: Well, I talked to -- I did talk to her, Desiree, yesterday at length. She is from my home city of New Orleans and fellow Sacred Heart girl.

DONALDSON: What's the name of the city? ROBERTS: New Orleans.

DONALDSON: I love to hear her say it.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: But -- and she has lots of good explanations about that dinner. And basically, the bottom line is, it's the Secret Service. But she -- but her -- her major point is -- and I -- and I completely take this -- is that she -- she put on 330 events at the White House last year and did open the building to all kinds of people who had not been there before. And they had wonderful music days of all kinds of music, where you had during the day, the musicians would work with kids in Washington and teach them things before coming on at night.

DONALDSON: Cokie, that's irrelevant.

ROBERTS: Well, I don't think it's irrelevant.

DONALDSON: I mean, it's irrelevant. People who work for the president understand or should understand their place, which is to be spear-carriers. There are two stars in anyone's White House, the president and the president's spouse. After that, this passion for anonymity that once was a hallmark of people who worked for a president, has been lost. She wanted to be a star herself...

ROBERTS: And it's been lost. Look at all the people who work for presidents and then go out and write books about them.

DONALDSON: I think you're right.

VARGAS: Do you think she was -- did she quit, or was she asked to leave?

DONALDSON: She was asked to.

ROBERTS: She says she quit.

DONALDSON: Oh, well...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: And she certainly has lots...

DONALDSON: And to spend more time with your family.

ROBERTS: No, no, to go into the corporate sector and make some money, where she'll make a lot of -- she'll do fine.

DONALDSON: Good luck to her. I don't wish her ill.

(CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: It's just that she didn't understand...

ROBERTS: She'll do very well. DONALDSON: ... she was not a star in the sense that she should make herself prominent.

VARGAS: George?

WILL: It is axiomatic that when there's no penalty for failure, failure proliferates. She failed conspicuously in her one great challenge, which was the first state dinner, and she's gone. If she's gone because she failed, that's a healthy sign.

VARGAS: The big question, of course, because she was one of that close contingent of Chicago friends is whether or not she's just the first to leave or if we'll see other...

ROBERTS: But you'll see people leave.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: I mean, that's what happens. It's a perfectly normal thing that happens in administration, is that people come, and they come in at the beginning, and then it's time to -- to go back to life.

KRUGMAN: Can I say that 20 million Americans unemployed, the fact that we're worrying about the status of the White House social secretary...

VARGAS: It's our light way to end, Paul.

DONALDSON: Paul, welcome to Washington.

VARGAS: Thank you.

DONALDSON: Nice to see you.

VARGAS: All right. You can get the political updates all week long by signing up for our newsletter on abcnews.com. Thank you, everybody.

END

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9955285.
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...