'This Week' Transcript: Karl Rove and David Plouffe

Photo: This Week headliners

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

OBAMA: Let's get this done.

KARL: It's all over but the counting.

(UNKNOWN): I will be voting yes for the bill.

(UNKNOWN): I cannot at this point in time honestly give you a straight yes-or-no answer.

BOEHNER: Let's kill the bill.

KARL: Will the Democrats have the votes?

(UNKNOWN): There's no way they can pass this bill.

(UNKNOWN): We believe we have the votes.

KARL: The latest from the chair of the Democratic caucus, John Larson, and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor.

And the president's men. David Plouffe, the man who ran Obama's campaign, and Karl Rove, the architect behind Bush's campaign, together for the first time to debate health care reform and the midterm elections (inaudible) "This Week" exclusive.

Then, our powerhouse roundtable. Two veteran Senate leaders, Democrat Tom Daschle and Republican Trent Lott, join ABC's George Will and Sam Donaldson on all the week's politics.

And as always, the Sunday funnies.

LETTERMAN: Tiger Woods coming back to golf, ladies and gentlemen. The Masters in April. Tiger wants another green jacket. He left the other one in a Las Vegas motel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From the heart of the nation's capital, "This Week" with ABC's congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl, live from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

KARL: Good morning. One of the most far-reaching bills in modern American history hangs in the balance this morning, and a handful of wavering Democrats will decide whether to vote for health care reform or let the president's signature issue die on the House floor.

We are joined this morning by two members of Congress keeping track of the vote count, John Larson, the chairman of the Democratic caucus, and, of course, Eric Cantor, the Republican whip.

So, Chairman Larson, where are the votes?

LARSON: We have the votes. We are going to make history today. Not since President Roosevelt passed Social Security, Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare, and today, Barack Obama will pass health care reform, demonstrating whose side we're on.

KARL: But let me pin you down.

LARSON: Go ahead.

KARL: You have the votes now?

LARSON: We have the votes now.

KARL: You have 216...

LARSON: As we speak.

KARL: ... commitments now?

LARSON: Yes.

KARL: Do you believe him?

CANTOR: Well, Jonathan, let me tell you something. The American people don't want this to pass. The Republicans don't want this to pass. There will be no Republican votes for this bill. And, frankly, I think if it does pass, it's because they're using everything in their political power and even some things they shouldn't have in their political power to cut political deals...

KARL: Like what?

CANTOR: ... to deliver the votes. Well, certainly, you have seen the kind of political kickback deals that have occurred. You've got states like Louisiana that are going to receive $300 million more for their health care than any other state.

And yet, if you look at sort of the comparison for this Louisiana purchase versus what Thomas Jefferson paid for Louisiana and do the analysis, this Louisiana purchase costs more than that original one-fifth of the land mass of this country. Those are the kind of political kickbacks that have facilitated this bill.

And the American people are just tired of it. And, you know, I hear all the...

LARSON: The only political kickbacks that are common are to people like Natoma Canfield, who became the poster for the American people today. What's happening in terms of people being denied because of pre-existing condition, having insurance policies rescinded in a gurney on their way to the hospital.

We have Dennis Moore in our caucus stand up and was getting an e-mail as he was speaking about a staffer who's just been diagnosed with cancer who will lose her coverage after he leaves Congress. This is what's...

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: ... with the people in this country. That's the process...

KARL: I mean, the (inaudible) talk about these deals (inaudible) Nebraska came out or will come out with this reconciliation bill, but Louisiana's still in there.

CANTOR: Connecticut...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: There's a new one for a North Dakota bank. I mean, why is that?

LARSON: What the -- what the American people want to see is a up-or-down vote after a year of debating this issue, after several decades of debating this issue. It comes down to, whose side are you on? Are you siding with the insurance industry or are you siding on behalf of the people who have been waiting decades for this passage?

CANTOR: Jonathan, that is a false choice, OK? The people...

(CROSSTALK)

CANTOR: The people -- the people of this country don't like this bill. There's a reason why it's taken so long. There's a reason why there's all this arm-twisting going on. And at the end of the day, if this thing does pass, the American people are going to be outraged. They are scared about this bill.

KARL: Well, let's listen. Of course, President Obama came and addressed your caucus yesterday. Let's listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And this is one of those moments. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Chairman Larson, how many Democratic House members are going to lose their seats as a result of this vote?

LARSON: Well, every time you have a midterm election, you risk the chance of losing members, but it isn't about how many members are going to lose their seat. What the president said is right. It's about this moment. It's about the truth. It's every reason why you were elected to come and serve in Congress.

You have 47 million Americans...

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: ... that don't have insurance, 14,000 dying a day. Excuse me, losing their insurance a day, thousands that are dying throughout this country because of lack of health care.

KARL: Some will lose their seats, though, as a result of this bill, right?

LARSON: That's quite possible.

KARL: Let me ask you about the way your -- your leader, the Republican leader, talked about this vote just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: We're about 24 hours from Armageddon.

(UNKNOWN): You used the word "Armageddon." What did you mean by that?

BOEHNER: This health care bill will ruin our country. It's time to stop it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: OK, Congressman Cantor, come on. Is this bill going to ruin our country today if it passes?

CANTOR: Jonathan, what is going on from my perspective is the American people are full of fear about this bill. They see that this bill will take Medicare benefits from seniors. That's a scary thought. They see...

KARL: OK, but is this going to ruin our country?

CANTOR: Jonathan, it is about the fear. There is a better way, but that -- that's what's going on.

KARL: But I'm asking a specific question. I mean, we heard from the Republican leader in the House say that this is Armageddon, it's going to ruin the country. We have the vote tonight.

CANTOR: This is a bad bill that people are frightened -- they're frightened that they're losing their jobs right now, and here we're going to tax small businesses to the tune of $2,000 per job? You've got...

KARL: Does that ruin the country?

CANTOR: You've got folks -- you've got families thinking, how are we going to pay for the trillion-dollar debt that is going to occur from this bill alone? And how are our children going to pay for it?

What it is, Jonathan, it is about trying to attack the American ideal. That's what's going on with this bill. People are beginning to think they won't have the life that they've had for their children. That's what's going on. And I think that's...

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: ... Social Security. I respect the fact that they want to...

CANTOR: Come on.

LARSON: That's true.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: Here's the thing. Here's the thing. Everybody ought to ratchet back just a little bit. And when you have two members of Congress, two respected members of the Congressional Black Caucus spat on and hurled epithets that were just...

KARL: Racial epithets.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: ... that were horrible, horrible.

CANTOR: Jonathan -- Jonathan, nobody...

(CROSSTALK)

CANTOR: ... nobody condones that at all. There were 30,000 people here in Washington yesterday. And, yes, there were some very awful things said.

(CROSSTALK)

CANTOR: But, I mean, come on. Nobody condones that kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: Is it time to ratchet it back a little bit...

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: ... ratchet it back.

(CROSSTALK)

CANTOR: You know -- you know what it is time for? It's time to listen to the American people, and that is the stunning thing about this. You know, John said that there -- there will be some members who will lose their seat. This is a legacy vote; there's no question about it.

LARSON: It is.

CANTOR: It's a legacy vote...

KARL: On that note of agreement, we are -- we are out of time. And we'll be watching. You've told us you already have the votes. We'll be watching to see if you're right.

LARSON: We do.

KARL: Congressman Cantor, Congressman Larson, thank you for joining us here on "This Week."

LARSON: Happy to be here, Jon.

CANTOR: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Joining me now, David Plouffe, President Obama's campaign manager, who the president brought back just a few months ago to plan strategy for Democrats heading into the midterms. He's also the author of "Audacity to Win."

And in Indianapolis, Karl Rove, the architect of President Bush's successful campaigns for president and the author -- we have your book, as well, Karl -- "Courage and Consequences."

So, David, listening to some of the analysis today, you would think we are either in the last six hours of the Obama presidency as we know it or the beginning of the great Obama comeback. What are the stakes here today?

9:09:43

PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, we ought to focus on not the political stakes, but the stakes for the country, and we are not going to succeed as a country economically if we don't do the right kind of health care reform, and we're on the verge of passing something here that's going to help grow jobs, help save families and businesses money, going to end the donut hole that seniors have to pay for prescriptions.

But I think the politics of this, by the way, we pass this, we're in much better shape politically as a Democratic Party than we are today, because we're going to go out there and not just talk about what we're for, but what the Republicans are voting against.

They are siding with the insurance companies over people who are denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, siding with the insurance companies over saving seniors money.

So this isn't just about us being a pinata here in the election. Elections are about choices. They are voting against an enormous tax cut for health care for 40 million middle-class families and 4 million small businesses. That's what they're opposing here.

9:10:29

KARL: Just quickly, on the politics, if you lose this vote, do you lose the House?

9:10:34

PLOUFFE: Oh, listen, we're 30 weeks away. I think -- I've been very clear about this. We are going to much better positioned politically -- now, that's secondary to what's right for the country -- if we pass this.

By the way, we had 15 million new voters vote in the 2008 election, OK? These are people who are cynical that their vote really mattered. If we don't pass health care, I think that sends a very depressing message.

But it's going to be a very powerful message to them that their vote mattered and they ought to stay involved in politics, and it can make a big difference in this country.

9:11:00

KARL: Now, Karl, the president spoke about you when he went to talk to the Democrats yesterday. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I notice that there's been a lot of friendly advice offered all across town.

(LAUGHTER)

Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Karl Rove. Now, it could be that they are suddenly having a change of heart and they are deeply concerned about their Democratic friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now, Karl, do you seriously believe that Democrats are better off if this does not pass?

9:11:33

ROVE: Look, I think the country is better off if this thing doesn't pass. This thing is $2.4 trillion for the first 10 years of its operation. This thing has 10 years' worth of -- of tax increases, $569 billion in tax increases, including $210 billion in a new payroll tax and a new 3.8 percent surtax on investments that's going to make us less competitive, $500 billion-plus in Medicare cuts to pay for, in essence, four complete years of the operation of this program.

The subsidies don't begin until year four and are not fully operational until year 10. If you look at the first 10 years of the operation of this thing, it is $2.4 trillion, and this thing is paid for by Bernie Madoff-style accounting in which they double-count money and ignore enormous costs. They claim $138 billion of deficit reduction, but it's either between $480 billion in debt -- in deficits added to the -- to the red ink...

KARL: So...

ROVE: ... if you just look at what they double-count, and it's $720 billion if you count what they ignore in here. These people are double-counting $53 billion worth of Social Security revenue twice, once for Social Security, once to pay to this program; $70 billion for the new long-term care premium, they count it for the premium program and then for paying for this program. They count $500 billion worth of Medicare cuts twice. They ignore $208 billion in Medicare doc fixes that they just put off to the side and said we'll -- we'll pay for that later and $30 billion in Medicaid doc fixes.

This thing is not $138 billion in the black. It is either $480 billion, if you look at what they double-count, or $720 billion in deficit in the first 10 years if you take what they ignore.

KARL: So, David...

ROVE: This thing is a gigantic disaster.

9:13:16

KARL: ... Bernie Madoff accounting, a gigantic disaster?

9:13:19

PLOUFFE: Well, you know, listen, Karl and the Republicans would be familiar with that, since under their leadership, they took us from big budget surpluses at the beginning of the last decade to a $1.3 trillion deficit by not paying for things like the prescription drug plan, two wars, big tax cuts.

So, no, this is -- the Congressional Budget Office is very clear. Over the next two decades, this is going to cut the deficit by over a trillion dollars.

9:13:42

ROVE: But -- but...

(CROSSTALK)

PLOUFFE: A trillion dollars.

(CROSSTALK)

9:13:46

ROVE: ... cuts the deficit, it only cuts the deficit if you double-count, as you double-count $53 billion worth of Social Security payroll taxes twice, if you double-count $500 billion in Medicare cuts twice, once for reducing the cost of the $38 trillion unfunded liability in Medicare and, at the same time, for the current expenditures in this program, and if you double-count $72 trillion in premium payments for a new long-term care entitlement program twice, once for premium payments for the program and once for this.

Look, you have run up more deficit before this bill in the first 20 months and 11 days of your term in office than was done in the entire Bush years. Your plan is to take the deficits, which were 2 percent under George W. Bush, to 5.1 percent over the next 10 years under Barack Obama.

Don't be lecturing us about what you're doing with the profligate spending that started last year with the failed stimulus bill and continued with your budget increases. You have increased the discretionary domestic spending budget in the United States 25 percent starting in the middle of the last fiscal year.

This is $2.4 trillion in cost for its first 10 years, and the country cannot afford it, and you will bankrupt the country if this bill passes.

9:14:49

KARL: I think Karl's against this bill. But isn't -- isn't there a point, though -- I mean, there -- there is some interesting accounting here. I mean, the Medicare doc fix, for instance, is not in here. That's a couple hundred billion dollars. I mean, isn't it hard as a political factor for people to believe that a big new health care program is actually going to cut the deficit?

9:15:09

PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, Karl, the Republicans have zero credibility, about as much credibility as the country of Greece does, to talk about fiscal responsibility.

9:15:16

ROVE: This is -- this is the CBO.

PLOUFFE: Well...

9:15:17

ROVE: These numbers are in the analysis from the CBO. For God's sake, will you stop throwing around epithets and deal with the facts for once, David?

KARL: Karl...

ROVE: What about double-counting 53, 70 and 500? What about leaving out $208 billion for Medicare doc fix? What about leaving out $30 billion for the Medicaid doc -- for the doc fix? You've got two years' worth of a Medicaid doc fix. Are you telling me that in two years you're going to cut overnight the doc -- the doc reimbursement and not pay it for the balance of the eight years of this program?

9:15:44

KARL: Let -- let...

(CROSSTALK)

9:15:48

PLOUFFE: Let's put the fanciful chart away, OK? This is -- the CBO...

ROVE: This is not a fanciful chart. Deal with the charts.

PLOUFFE: Karl...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: These are the facts, David.

PLOUFFE: ... every...

ROVE: What about double-counting?

(CROSSTALK)

9:15:58

KARL: Let's give him a chance to answer.

PLOUFFE: I'm trying to. The -- the CBO major economists who've looked at this health care reform, very clear that this in this decade is going to lower the deficit and in the next decade, over $1 trillion. What the American people are focused on -- what we need to be focused on are the health care costs, premiums skyrocketing.

We saw recently health insurers threatening to raise insurance rates 30 percent, 40 percent on individuals, small businesses being bankrupt and not being able to provide care. It's obviously devastating our federal budget situation.

We are not going to solve these problems unless we have meaningful health insurance reform, and that's what we're going to do. And, listen, the Republican Party, if they want to run in this election and the elections of this next decade against reducing the deficit by over $1 trillion, against the insurance company reforms...

9:16:41

(CROSSTALK)

PLOUFFE: ... against saving money...

(CROSSTALK)

9:16:44

ROVE: Within two months -- within two months, the Democrat Congress is going to be forced to deal with the doc fix. They're going to bring up a Medicare doc fix that's going to be $208 billion, according to a CBO analysis of it, issued two days ago.

KARL: OK.

ROVE: We will see very -- very soon how much they're committed to fiscal discipline when they pass a doc fix without an offset that adds $208 billion to the deficit and when we start to see them continue to double-count.

KARL: All right.

ROVE: I like it that David never dealt with the issue of double-counting and never dealt with these other issues. We will see if they pass this bill. I hope they don't. I pray they don't. It will be an economic disaster for the country if they do.

9:17:18

KARL: Let's look at the political pressure these wavering Democrats are. And, look, let's face it. This is all about convincing Democrats now, because you won't get a single Republican vote. But you have one of your strongest union allies, SEIU, running this ad against those who are voting no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): By voting for health care reform, Arcuri will reduce health care costs for families and small businesses and stop insurance companies from getting rich by denying coverage and hiking premiums. Call Congressman Arcuri. Tell him to stand up for us, not the insurance companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now, Congressman Arcuri is a Democrat who has said he is going to vote no. Isn't it a little bit kamikaze for your allies to be going out and targeting Democrats who are going to face very tough races in the midterms?

PLOUFFE: Listen, people feel very strongly about this issue. And we sadly are going to have to do this alone as a Democratic Party, but it's our moment to lead. And I do think, in the short term and in the long term, this is going to be seen most importantly for the country, but the politics for our party -- because, again, politics are about comparisons.

And so I think that we are going to -- listen, for a variety of reasons -- we've got a tough economy. We've run a lot of races, so we've got a lot to defend. We're going to have a tough election. But I think our election outcome in 2010 can be a lot better than a lot of the pundits think by passing health care...

KARL: But is it -- would you ask your union allies to back off and not to target -- these are the most vulnerable Democrats in the House right now, and tell them not to be running against them? I mean, you have already threats to rescind endorsements, to endorse independent candidates. Is it time for the unions to back off?

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, I think we're trying to get the votes to pass health insurance reform. And we're not there yet. Obviously, we've still got the vote to take place, but it looks like we're getting very close.

I think, once the vote's over, obviously, we're going to go out there and figure out how to help Democrats win elections, and I think we're going to have a much better election...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: Including those that voted no? Are you going to help those that voted no win the election?

PLOUFFE: Of course we are. A lot of us supported on the Recovery Act, on the energy bill. They'll have to make their own case to their constituents and volunteers in their district about why they...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: So you'd be going up against the unions in some of these races?

PLOUFFE: Listen, I think we -- you know, it's going to depend race by race, but I think we're committed -- a lot of these people who don't vote for health care -- by the way, we're getting a majority of the Democratic caucus in both the House and the Senate for health insurance reform, as we did for the Recovery Act, as we did (inaudible) and, by the way, this is a big moment in our country.

Economic calamity, we've got these long-term problems like health care and energy that will determine our future. The Republican Party for the most part is not lifting an oar to help row. And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... that is bunk. That is complete bunk. Republicans have offered a positive alternative on health care, and you didn't bother to have one meeting between March 5th of 2009 and February 25th of 2010 to discuss how the White House could involve some of those Republican ideas in the bill.

Don't give us that bunk. That is another one of those false arguments offered by the White House. In fact, you know what? The way that you have sold this bill to Democrats by threatening them, you cannot tell me that the White House didn't sanction some of these groups like MoveOn.org and others to make these kind of threats against Democrats.

We do know that the White House sent out unsolicited e-mails to federal employees asking them to contact their legislators about this bill. I think that's not only a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act on e-mails, I think it's a violation, more importantly, of the anti-lobbying statutes. And that's the kind of techniques that you've been using on this bill, threats, hardball politics, and if need be, withholding federal -- the support of the president of the United States from Democrats.

You said earlier this week -- the White House did -- that the president would be campaigning actively and raising money for Democrats who supported that bill. That is a thinly disguised bribe.

KARL: Is that right?

PLOUFFE: This is just outrageous. No. The president has been...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: Look in the newspapers, man. Look in the newspapers.

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: The White House political office leaked it to the press, saying the White House policy will to provide the president to go campaign for...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: ... campaigning for...

ROVE: That is a thinly described bribe.

KARL: OK, so the president will be campaigning for Democrats who vote no?

PLOUFFE: I'm sure he'll be out there helping people who vote yes on this, who vote no on this, people who voted yes on the Recovery Act, which, by the way, Karl claimed is a failed program. The economy's growing.

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... jobs have been lost...

(CROSSTALK)

PLOUFFE: ... because of this.

ROVE: That's right, government jobs, government jobs. You promised us...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... private sector. You promised us 4 million jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... million have been lost since that bill...

KARL: Let's get him to respond.

PLOUFFE: So, no -- but, listen, you want to talk about the fall elections, OK? We're going to have a great debate, OK? It's going to be about health care reform, and I think that's a debate that we are positioned to win. It's also going to be about -- listen, people have a very clear memory about what it was like under Republican leadership, OK?

The debt -- the policies that created huge deficits that devastated the middle class -- you've got the leader of the House Republicans...

ROVE: David is right -- David is right that we...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... they have lost over the last year...

(CROSSTALK)

PLOUFFE: The leader of the House Republicans, who would be the speaker if they won, has been shaking down Wall Street, saying, "Hey, we're the guys trying to protect you"...

(CROSSTALK)

PLOUFFE: ... protect your pay, who are fighting against banking reform.

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: This -- this election will be about health care, if this bill passes...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: Karl, we're almost out of time. I want...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: ... respond to something.

ROVE: This is a debate the Democrats have lost.

KARL: OK, I want to get both of you to respond to something. This is a poll that came out about what Americans think about the process here, and this is a Kaiser -- Kaiser Family Foundation poll about the health care -- possibly getting health care passed. Only 19 percent say they believe the process is working as intended, and 73 percent said the process is broken. Frankly, I think a lot of Americans listening to this debate right here might agree exactly with that 73 percent who say the process is not working.

So my question to you, David, isn't that in some sense an indictment of President Obama since he got elected promising to change this system?

PLOUFFE: Well, he's trying to. First of all, in almost every poll out there, well over 60 percent of the American people believe that President Obama is trying to work with the Republicans. The Congress -- it's true. Well over (ph) 60 percent of the people believe the Republicans aren't reciprocating. And worse than that, it's not because of principle. They believe it's because of raw, naked politics.

So he's trying. He's making his executive branch more transparent, lessening the influence of lobbyists, so he's going to continue -- by the way, on immigration, on education, on some of the energy ideas, I think we have an opportunity to work in a bipartisan fashion, and he's going to look for that opportunity each and every day.

KARL: Karl, we're almost out of time...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: This is an indictment of the president. He held a bicameral, bipartisan meeting on March 5th of 2009 to talk with people about health care reform. The next time he had a substantive meeting with Republicans to talk about health care reform was the Blair House kabuki drama on February 25th of 2010.

You cannot go for 51 weeks shutting the Republicans out of the debate and claim that you provided leadership. He has been aloof, distant, detached. This bill is based on Bernie Madoff economics and includes things that he campaigned against Hillary Clinton and Bill and -- and John McCain on during the campaign. And it is a bad bill for America.

KARL: All right.

ROVE: And we will fight the election on this, and the Democrats will have significant losses in the House and Senate as a result of this bill.

KARL: You have 10 seconds.

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, Karl and a lot of Republicans want to call the election all over. They ought to break out that "Mission Accomplished" banner they put on the USS Abraham Lincoln, OK?

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... that is cheesy, David...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... honoring the USS Abraham Lincoln for the -- for the longest mission...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: Karl Rove...

ROVE: ... aircraft carrier in American history. And you should not denigrate the mission of the...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... like you've just did.

KARL: Karl Rove, joining us from Indianapolis, Karl, thanks for joining us on "This Week." David Plouffe...

PLOUFFE: Thank you.

ROVE: ... thank you very much. I think we'll be debating this some more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASCHLE: As we profess the desire and the need for bipartisanship, we have a process that is this inexcusable on an issue this important. I think it is fair to say -- and I don't know that any Republicans would ever dispute it -- the Democrats were virtually locked out from the beginning on this issue.

LOTT: I've tried every way in the world to try to get us to have a bipartisan bill out of the Finance Committee. That was denied. Tried to get something done before it got to the floor, working with the centrist groups, that was denied.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Those are two former Senate leaders nearly a decade ago sounding an awful lot like the current Senate leaders, and they are both here with us on the roundtable.

We have, of course, George Will, former Majority and Minority Leader Trent Lott, former Majority Leader and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and my friend, Sam Donaldson.

So, George, put this day, this vote, its significance in a historical context.

WILL: Here's the context. Today, as happened yesterday and as will happen tomorrow, and as will happen every day for the next 20 years, more than 7,000 baby boomers will retire, going on the Social Security and Medicare rolls, increasing the pressure on our Ponzi system we call our entitlement programs.

This at a time when we're -- we're now about to -- probably right up the street from here today -- going to add 32 at least million more people with a middle-class entitlement involving subsidizing health care insurance purchases for families of four up to $88,000 a year.

Now, Democrats who will vote in the House today for this think they're going to put it behind them. The odds are very good, after the reconciliation procedures are done in the Senate, that it will come back to the House, so we're going to be wallowing in health care for a long time to come.

And, finally, once this is passed, the American people will look at the health care system and say, "This is the system the Democrats wanted," so every complaint they have is going to be a complaint about Democrats.

DONALDSON: Can I jump in before the majority leaders?

KARL: Sure.

DONALDSON: That is the weakest argument for keeping 32 million Americans still off of health care, for making them go to the emergency rooms, shifting the cost to the rest of us who have some sort of insurance, the fact that we can't help our fellow citizens because we're not a rich enough country to pay for it. That's silly, George.

KARL: But before we get to the leaders, let's take a look at the entitlement programs, the two other big votes this has been compared to. OK, we have 1965 and the Medicare vote. It passed the House 313-115, with a significant portion of the Republican caucus voting yes, and 1935, Social Security, 372 yes, just 33 no, the majority of Republicans joining Democrats and voting yes. What happened this time, Senator Daschle?

DASCHLE: Well, I think, in part, it's a different Republican Party than it was. I mean, it's a Republican Party that really doesn't have the same commitment that the same Republicans had in other -- other decades.

I mean, I -- I -- I had the good fortune to work with two Republicans -- Howard Baker and Bob Dole -- who worked very constructively over the last 18 months to come up with a bill that they endorsed, very similar to the plan that we have before the Congress today.

So I think, in part, it's just a much more rigid, far more ideological party than -- than before. And I think that's been playing itself out now for the last couple of years.

LOTT: I can say exactly the same thing the other way. This is a very dogmatic, ideologically committed Democratic Party. The leaders decided, "We've got the votes. We're going to ram this through. We're going to ram it through the House, getting one Republican vote, and through the Senate, getting in the final analysis no Republican votes."

There was no effort to try to make this a bipartisan bill. Look, there are some good parts in this bill that could have been passed in pieces. Everybody agrees there needs to be some insurance reform. There are some other areas where I think they could have come together.

In May of last year, there was actually a Republican effort to reach out and say, "Let's sit down and see if we can come to agreement on a number of these things," and were told, basically, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Look, this is -- this is a huge bill that's going to dramatically change how the American people get their health care. Now, look, yes, you would like to have more people covered, but in covering 32 million people more and saying, by the way, we're going to cut taxes and we're going to reduce the deficit, it defies common sense. You cannot do all of that.

DASCHLE: But the CBO, Jon, says exactly that, that they've scored this bill. They've -- they've indicated that not only is the federal government going to save $600 billion, but in the second decade, we're going to save $1.3 trillion.

Now, the CBO is the referee. We can differ with it. And those on the right will continue to object to CBO's score. But the score is the score. It's the official referee, and we've got it now in black and white.

WILL: But what the CBO does is takes Congress's promises at face value. Now, let me ask the two legislators here. Do you really believe that the tax on the Cadillac -- the high-value health insurance programs -- that has been kicked down or will be kicked down the road to 2018, do you really believe that will ever be enacted?

LOTT: No.

WILL: Who here believes that the Medicare cuts are going to be made?

LOTT: It will not happen.

WILL: CBO has to assume that, but we're grownups, and we don't.

LOTT: And, by the way, the doctor fix...

KARL: In fact -- in fact -- in fact...

LOTT: The doctor fix, which they'll have to do, because it -- you know, doctors will be cut by 21 percent unless Congress changes it this fall.

KARL: In fact, we had an article in the New York Times by a former CBO director, by Doug Holtz-Eakin. Now, of course, he's a Republican.

DASCHLE: John McCain's campaign manager.

KARL: John -- I understand, but somebody that knows a little bit about a CBO (inaudible) and he talked exactly on this point. He said, in reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a whole different picture emerges. The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits by $562 billion.

DONALDSON: Well, here's the thing about saying future congresses will be weenies, pardon the word, and they won't, in fact, do this.

KARL: There's a good record of that.

DONALDSON: Well, there's a good record of it. But look what's going to happen here. There will be an imperative on the hands of future congresses if they don't like these particular tax increases, they don't like these particular cuts, to do something. They can't just let it go. I think the body politic wouldn't stand for that.

And from the standpoint of this bill, changing America, which a lot of the opponents say, Trent, you can still have your own doctor, just as you have now. You have a health care plan you like now? You can still have it.

LOTT: What if the doctor says, no, I'm not going to take anymore Medicaid patients or I'm not going to take any more Medicare patients? And that's already beginning to happen.

DASCHLE: But they're -- but they're doing that now. And the status quo is simply unsustainable. We can't sustain the cost, we can't sustain the problems with regard to quality. We can't sustain virtually any aspect of health care as it's now delivered in this country.

LOTT: And, by the way...

(CROSSTALK)

LOTT: Let me jump in here with this, too. You mentioned Medicare and Social Security, both very popular, very important parts of our fabric in America, but both of them are in financial difficulty. Here we are, putting more weight on Medicare at a time when it's already facing tremendous problems because of the baby boomers that are coming along.

DONALDSON: But George is quite correct. Because of the demography of the country and the way it's changing, yes, we have to fix these things.

LOTT: When are we going to do it?

DONALDSON: Well, you're going to do it because you have to do it as we go along.

LOTT: We've been having to do it for the last 10 years. We didn't do it.

DONALDSON: That's right. And we fixed Social Security, apparently, in the early '80s. We had to fix it again. We may have to fix it down the line, Trent, but that's no reason to abandon it or abandon this kind of health care.

WILL: Tom talks about costs. One of the first and most predictable consequences of this bill is going to be that health insurance premiums are going to go up. They have to, Tom. We're changing the risk pool.

Once you say to people -- to insurance companies that they cannot discriminate against people who have pre-existing conditions, then when you bring the risk pool in, all these people who already have troubles, you're going to have the premiums go up. That's the first...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: But it's also requiring you to have insurance...

(CROSSTALK)

DASCHLE: But George is right about premiums. I mean, there -- there -- there are issues involving premium, but what he hasn't mentioned is the increased transparency, the fact that we're finally going to get away from rewarding volume. We're going to start rewarding value.

We're going to have delivery reform for the first time. We're going to be dealing with the structural problems in our health care system for the first time in history. And those are, by -- again, by CBO account, going to have a profound effect in bringing costs down, not -- not raising them.

LOTT: Let me make one other point here. I know process in Washington consumes us, and the average American out there is saying, "What is all this?" But I have never seen such a contorted process to try to get a bill through the House, through the Senate. They talked about just deeming the bill passed. At least they were wise enough yesterday to back away from deem and pass, even though you didn't vote on it, and now it's going to go back to the Senate for reconciliation. Now, I used reconciliation, but not like this.

DASCHLE: Trent knows procedure as well as anybody in Washington, and he knows that the Republicans are very masterful, if they want to be, just as Democrats were in the minority, at stopping virtually every procedural opportunity there was, so...

KARL: All right. Let me -- let me get to...

(CROSSTALK)

DASCHLE: How can the Republicans be complaining about process when they themselves have put them -- put their bodies in front of that legislative process for the last 18 years?

KARL: Let me -- let me...

DONALDSON: It's a different ox to be gored. That's the thing.

KARL: Let me get to the next step, which is the Senate.

DONALDSON: You're the boss. You go right ahead.

KARL: I mean, this supposedly is not over, right? I mean, this reconciliation fix still has to pass in -- in the Senate. And many of those House Democrats that are going to vote yes today are doing so because they have been assured that it will pass in the Senate.

LOTT: They can trust the Senate.

KARL: I spoke to Senator Mitch McConnell about this, and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: I think any House Democrat who votes for this bill thinking the Senate is going to clean up the mess is delusional. Plus, they're trusting the Senate to clean up the mess. As Lamar Alexander, one of my colleagues put it, you know, it will be walk off the cliff and hope that Harry Reid catches you.

KARL: And is he going to catch them?

MCCONNELL: I don't think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Senator Daschle?

DASCHLE: Well, listen, we're going to pass the reconciliation package in the House. It's going to go to the Senate. There are 20 hours. Amendments can be offered. Procedural challenges can be made. At the end of the day, the majority is going to rule, and Harry Reid has -- has got the votes, and he's going to demonstrate that beginning this week.

KARL: I found it interesting, he did release the letter, and it's a letter, you know, giving the House Democrats assurance, and they tell us that there are 51 signatures on the letter. But in what's been released, the signatures are left off. It is a blank sheet of paper.

WILL: And is it -- is it not the case that if so much as a comma is changed, it goes back to the House?

LOTT: That is correct.

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: And there's no way it goes through unchanged, is it?

DASCHLE: But this is a protected measure, that is, it is an expedited procedure that allows the majority in the House, the majority in the Senate, purely the majority. We've got supermajorities in the House and the Senate. There's absolutely no reason why we wouldn't have the votes necessary to pass reconciliation when it happens.

DONALDSON: Look, the bill is going to pass. Reconciliation is going to pass. It's becoming the law. And then in November, people will argue, as part of the off-year elections, about it. And down the road, they will keep arguing. And down the road, it will have to be fixed again.

If this bill, as I perceive it, were the only thing that's going to pass and would never change, if I were in the Senate, I'd vote no, or the House. But clearly, we have to take the first step. Tried for 100 years, couldn't do it, couldn't do it. Without a first step toward that 1,000-mile journey, you're never going to make it. Along the way, you're going to have to change the steps, but without this first step, we're ruined as a country.

LOTT: The only time I've ever seen the Congress turn tail and run and reverse a bill that had just passed, you know what it was?

DONALDSON: Yes, I know exactly. In the House...

(CROSSTALK)

LOTT: ... health insurance.

DONALDSON: Exactly right.

LOTT: And we passed it in the fall, went home, got an earful, came back the next year and -- and reversed it.

DONALDSON: But you remember that bill, don't you? It said that older people needed to pay if they wanted catastrophic health insurance if they had the money.

(CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: And most of the older people who didn't wouldn't have to pay, but elderly people who were wealthy would have to pay, and they rose up in arms. "Don't you touch me."

KARL: Let me ask you, we've now just spent this entire show talking about health care, and we looked back at the president's speeches over the last month, and we put it in into a program that shows you a visual representation of how many words, the big major subject lines he uses. Take a look at this, if you can see. They call this is a word cloud.

And you can see, of course -- this is 35 speeches over the last month, health, insurance, the big issues. Try to find jobs on that little word cloud. I think we can help you if we have another graphic. It's right up there. I mean, this health care has completely crowded everything else out. You won't see a single mention in any of those speeches of Afghanistan, of terrorism.

Has this been a cost that this has dominated not only the last month, but it's dominated much of Obama's presidency so far?

DASCHLE: Well, it has, and it's by design. Clearly, this president cares deeply about this issue. He has said to me it's his legacy, and he understands the balance and the importance of this.

But he's also done an extraordinary amount of work in the other areas, as well. We've made progress on the economy. You know, we're doing very well in Afghanistan and Iraq right now. The elections just were held. I mean, you look at all the other aspects of his presidency, and I would say that, in spite of the fact that he may not talk about them to the -- in rallies around the country, the fact is that we're making progress.

This is where he's put his emphasis for a reason. Today is that day. Today is when we're going to see health care passed.

LOTT: But the pattern goes beyond health care. We see just last week there had been negotiations on so-called financial services reform. There's been a lot of bipartisan effort going on with Senator Corker, Senator Shelby, Senator Dodd, and others.

And all of a sudden -- under pressure, I believe, from President Obama and from his left flank -- Chris Dodd said, eh, no more negotiation, try to find bipartisan common cause. We're going to ram this through without any Republican participation.

There is a pattern here. And I think it's -- they're paying -- they're going to pay a tremendous cost...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: And we've heard from Lindsey Graham, who...

DASCHLE: But that isn't what Chris Dodd. Chris Dodd actually said, I want to continue to work with Bob Corker and others, other Republican senators. I mean, they -- he thought that -- I mean, he had called them over to his home. He worked out details with task forces on a bipartisan basis. I mean, Jack Reed is working with the Republican counterparts.

LOTT: But why did they stop and you came up with a bill that clearly is not going to make it through the process?

KARL: Well, one -- one of the few Republicans who has been working on a variety of issues with -- with the president and with Democrats is Lindsey Graham, and he has made no bones about it that he believes going through with this process, this reconciliation process, is going to destroy his efforts to work on health care -- I mean, on immigration, on -- on the Guantanamo issue.

(CROSSTALK)

LOTT: On energy, too.

KARL: It's going to destroy it all, energy. I mean, Sam?

DONALDSON: Well, it's not going to.

KARL: It's not going to?

DONALDSON: Some Republicans -- some Republicans say that, if this health care bill passes -- and I think it will -- that it will destroy the country. Well, that's nonsense. It's not going to destroy the country.

KARL: Well, it's not going to destroy the country, but is it going to destroy bipartisan? I mean, if you don't even have...

DONALDSON: What bipartisanship? At the moment, both these gentlemen -- and the clip that you started our roundtable with -- demonstrates there's not much bipartisanship up there.

LOTT: But we were able to do it together in the '90s and working with...

DONALDSON: You mean you and Tom?

LOTT: Yes, and -- and working...

KARL: I recall some fights, though, every once in a while.

LOTT: ... with the Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: ... history from the standpoint of some of those colloquies on the floor of the Senate?

LOTT: Well, we did have our disagreements, but we also came together on welfare reform, balanced budgets, surpluses, safe drinking water, portability of insurance, big things in a bipartisan way.

WILL: The Democratic members of the House and Senate, their appetite for difficult votes is now exhausted, which means the country will -- and this is the good news about health care -- having sucked all the oxygen out of this town, we are going to be safe from cap and trade and we will be safe from a number of the other follies that would require Democrats to continue casting suicidal votes.

(CROSSTALK)

DASCHLE: I really think, George, that you've -- each one of these takes on its life, and they start developing the kind of momentum. We're going to have an energy bill.

LOTT: Not this year.

DASCHLE: We're going to have a financial securities bill. Well, it may not be -- it may not involve a capped system as -- as I would like it, but you're going -- you're going to see progress on these other important issues, I guarantee you. They all take on their own life and their own momentum, and the next ones are coming, financial regulation in particular.

DONALDSON: I agree -- I agree with George. You're going to take a hit. The Democrats are going to take a hit in November. It maybe mainly because of the economy, rather than the health care dispute, but you're going to lose more than the off-year losses, and you're not going to have the control in Congress that you have right now.

I think the president was wrong to try to say we'll take all the islands at once instead of one island at a time, but he was right to take the big island of health care. I think that's very important. But I agree: You're not going to get a lot through.

WILL: The Wall Street Journal-NBC poll shows the job approval in the country in Congress is 17 percent, which raises two questions. Who are those 17 percent?

KARL: Yes, who are the 17 percent?

WILL: And, second, haven't we found a way in the last three or four weeks to lower this approval? Now, I understand politics is a transactional business, but some of the transactions in this -- are you at all embarrassed about water suddenly being released to the California valley because of health care?

DASCHLE: Well, I -- you know, you're going to see polarization. And when that polarization continues as it has, people are -- are not very enchanted with Congress. I mean, they want to see cooperation. They want to be able to see some progress on some of the issues.

LOTT: The highest approval rating of the Senate...

DASCHLE: I guarantee you, once health care passes...

LOTT: ... was when we were working together after 9/11 in 2001. The approval rating went up to 71 percent. Why?

KARL: It was an extraordinary time.

LOTT: Because people saw us working together to do the right thing.

KARL: Can I ask you -- we don't have much time. I've been wanting to ask you this for some time. Harry Reid is facing -- he may be the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate, or certainly one of them. You were in exactly that situation as a -- as a leader facing a tough re-election race.

What do you make of Reid's chances? What advice do you have for him in juggling those two -- those two problems, running for re-election and keeping -- running your caucus?

DASCHLE: I think you've just got to do the right thing. That means be the best leader you can be, the best senator from the state of Nevada or South Dakota or Mississippi that you can be. Do what you've got to do to lead this country as well as you can do it, for as long as the people of your state give you that chance. And that's what Harry Reid is doing.

KARL: I mean, he -- he -- what do you think? He's going to lose, isn't he?

DASCHLE: I don't think so. I really think Harry Reid can turn this around. I really do. I think, once health care passes -- and, you know, and people start focusing on the other -- on the opposition, he's -- he's as strong a competitor -- he's never lost -- he's lost one election. And I have to tell you, he's -- he's a resilient political leader.

DONALDSON: Jon, you'd have a real headline if Tom said no...

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: Predicting that Harry Reid was going to go out.

DONALDSON: Look, in the short run, the Democrats will lose seats in November. In the long run, when people discover there is no death panel, they're not going to cut basic Medicare, when I have my aortic valve replaced next year, it will be the same, they're cutting the subsidy for Medicare Advantage...

KARL: We've got 10 seconds.

(CROSSTALK)

LOTT: ... less health care, more taxes, more fees, more government intervention. That's what they're going to really experience.

KARL: And there you have it. Besides, we are out of time. Thank you very much, George Will, Trent Lott, Tom Daschle, Sam Donaldson.

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: The Roundtable will continue in the green room on abcnews.com, where you can get all the political updates all week long by signing up for our newsletter on abcnews.com.

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