June 21, 2009 -- ABC'S "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS"
JUNE 21, 2009
SPEAKERS: GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.
[*] STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello and welcome to "This Week."
Iran on edge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The world is watching.
(UNKNOWN): We are witnessing a Tiananmen in Tehran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: On Capitol Hill, health care stalls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): This is Hillary-care plus.
(UNKNOWN): We've come too far for our efforts to fail overdisagreement on one single issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Obama's top priority in peril? Should theU.S. take a harder line on Iran? Questions this morning for two keysenators, Democrat Chris Dodd and Republican Lindsey Graham, a "ThisWeek" debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is when the criticism gets louder. This is wherethe pundits grow impatient.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: The president's polls fall to earth. Is hegetting a free ride from the press? That and all the week's politicson our roundtable, with George Will, Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts,Robert Reich of the American Prospect, and just back from Tehran, NewYork Times executive editor Bill Keller.
And as always, the Sunday Funnies.
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DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: They're recounting the ballotscast in the Iranian election, and today they found 14 more votes forNorm Coleman.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: And happy Father's Day to all the dads outthere.
It was a momentous week here in Washington, with majordevelopments on health care and major tension with Iran, especiallyyesterday, when the president held several meetings on the violencethere. Hard information was hard to come by, but Saturday was clearlythe most deadly day yet. As many as 20 protesters killed in clasheswith state security forces, and the opposition leader, Mir-HosseinMousavi, reportedly told his supporters that he was prepared formartyrdom.
In response, President Obama issued his strongest condemnationyet. He called on the Iranian government to stop all violent andunjust actions against its own people, and he quoted Martin LutherKing. "The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towardsjustice. I believe that, the international community believes that,and right now we're bearing witness to the Iranian people's belief inthat truth, and we will continue to bear witness."
For more on this debate, let me bring in two key senators.Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Also, Democrat ChrisDodd of Connecticut. Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.
And Senator Graham, let me begin with you. Your friend SenatorJohn McCain and many other Republicans were pressuring the presidentall week long to take a harder line on Iran. Did he get it right withthat statement yesterday?
GRAHAM: He's certainly moving in the right direction, but ourpoint is that there is a monumental event going on in Iran, and youknow, the president of the United States is supposed to lead the freeworld, not follow it. Other nations have been more outspoken, so Ihope that we'll hear more of this, because the young men and womentaking the streets in Tehran need our support. The signs are inEnglish. They are basically asking for us to speak up on theirbehalf.
And I appreciate what the president said yesterday, but he's beentimid and passive more than I would like, and I hope he will continueto speak truth to power.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator, you know what the White House hassaid in response. They say that they don't want to become the playersin this fight and actually make the protesters seem like they're toolsof the United States. Henry Kissinger agrees with the White House.
GRAHAM: Well, these people are not tools of anyone. They're theones getting killed. No one in America is getting killed over there.
Any time America stands up for freedom, we're better off. Whenwe try to prop up dictators or remain silent, it comes back to biteus.
You know, Ronald Reagan spoke in front of the Berlin wall, hesaid tear it down, he's ready to negotiate. When he was silent on the1986 election in the Philippines, said there was fraud on both sides,that hurt the cause, so I would -- I would hope that the presidentwould speak truth to power.
This regime is corrupt. It has blood on its hands in Iran.They've killed Americans in Iraq, innocent Iraqi people; now they'rekilling their own people. Stand up with the protesters. That's notmeddling. That's doing the right thing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Dodd, has the president been timid andpassive, as Senator Graham says?
DODD: No, not at all. He's the president of the United States.He's not a member of the Senate or a columnist. He's got a verydelicate path to walk here. I think he's been strong. You don't wantto become -- you don't want to take ownership of this. The worstthing we could do at this moment for these reformers, theseprotesters, these courageous people in Tehran, is allow the governmentthere to claim that this is a U.S.-led opposition, a U.S.-leddemonstration.
This is 1979 in many ways all over again, and these areremarkable people doing remarkable things. The president has spokenout strongly. We adopted unanimously I think the other day, Lindsey,a resolution on the floor of the Senate in support of what theprotesters are trying to achieve. I think it's clear to them that westand as a nation behind their efforts. And the president I think ishandling this job as well as any president could, and that is speakingout against the unjust activities that are occurring, the violencethat's being brought against these protesters, the deaths that areoccurring. That's exactly the right message for an Americanpresident, but not taking ownership of this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Dodd, going forward, how does thepresident pursue his policy of engagement after we've seen what thisregime is willing to do to its own people? You have some suggesting,like the House Republican leader, John Boehner, that we should gostraight to tougher sanctions, stop all gasoline sales to the Iraniansnow?
DODD: Well, obviously this is a -- as someone pointed out theother day, this government is very fragile in Iran right now, andobviously we're deeply concerned about the security of our country andour allies with the possibility of, of course, developing and having anuclear arsenal.
And that's a tremendously high priority for us. And so you wantto put the pressure on we have collectively with the internationalcommunity. I suspect after the events of the last week, you'll seemore of that, additional pressure being put on it to make sure that wenot only see that these protesters and demonstrators who are seekingjustice in their country will achieve that goal, but also that thenear-term issue of dealing with nuclear weapons is also going to bedealt with.
That's a very delicate path of the president to walk.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So would you go along with tightening the nooseeconomically, stopping gasoline sales?
DODD: I would, but I would want to be collective with that. Ithink doing it alone on ourselves may not achieve the desired results.I think the effort to get the international community, as we have beenin getting more and more support for that, makes a lot of sense, ifyour true goal is to stop the Iranians from developing the nuclearweapons.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: Well, my goal is to make sure that we do not lose thismoment in history. If we could get the Iranian people to speak out --stand behind them as they speak out. They want more freedom. Theywant to be part of the international community. They do not like theway they're being lead, the way they're being isolated by the saber-rattling from Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader is losing credibilitywith their own people.
The regime, to me for the moment, is more important thannegotiating about nuclear weapons. If we could empower the Iranianpeople by giving them the moral support they deserve, then -- and dosanctions and stand tough against this regime.
It's one thing for me to talk here in South Carolina about Iran,the people who are out in the streets in Tehran are losing their livesare the ones that I admire. And we've got a chance here to stand bythese folks and give them the moral support we need.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So just to be clear, you're for regime change?Just to be clear, you're for regime change?
GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you, Senator Dodd?
DODD: I couldn't hear the question.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you for regime change now in Iran?
DODD: Well, I would love to see a different regime in Iran. Whowouldn't? My lord, what's going on there for the last 30 years hasbeen a disaster for the people in Iran. Certainly would like to seechange there.
But how you get there -- and this -- I think the point here, wedon't want to try to drive more of a wedge here, I think Lindsey and Iagree without any question here what we'd like to see occur.
The question is, should the United States take ownership of thisrevolution? I think we do great damage to the effort if it appearsthis is a U.S.-led effort. Then I think we do damage to the people --that's exactly what Ahmadinejad would like. It's what the supremeleader would like to say, this is a U.S.-led opposition, not ahomegrown, organic revolution being led by Iranians.
If we lose that argument, then these reformers, these people whoare courageous today could have a major setback, in my view.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me switch to the situation here at home,especially on health care. Senator Dodd, you're chairing the HealthCommittee in the Senate in the absence of Senator Kennedy.
It got pretty heated there on Friday afternoon. Let me show ourviewers a little bit of your exchange with Senator McCain.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ. I'll tell you, these hours have been awaste of time when we don't know what the bill costs and we don't knowwhat the employer mandates are, and we don't know what the governmentoption.
DODD: We can't run the numbers on it until we actually craft thelanguage and give him something. So they...
MCCAIN: They've run the numbers...
(CROSSTALK) DODD: ... various ideas.
MCCAIN: ... and it's a trillion dollars, one-third insured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, Senator Dodd, that was only a partialreport by the Congressional Budget Office, but they did find it wouldcost a trillion dollars and you'd cover one-third of the uninsured, 16million uninsured. Is that too high a price to pay?
DODD: Well, George, we're not done with this at all. If thiswere easy, it would have been done decades ago. Sixty years, theeffort has been made to have a national health care program in thiscountry.
But it's almost 50 million uninsured, and those who are insuredpaying prices they can't afford and going to escalate every day,14,000 people a day lose their health insurance in the United States,14,000 a day.
This is very hard. This is very difficult. But we're going tostick with it. We actually had a pretty good week in many ways. Wedid a lot of work, a lot of amendments were agreed to.
You've had AARP come out in favor of a House plan. You had thepharmaceutical companies look like they're going to reduce some $50billion in cost. We're moving ahead. Max Baucus is moving ahead.
This is a difficult road, I'll be the first to admit it. Anyonewho has been involved in this issue over the years will tell you that.But we're going to get there, in my view.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator, bottom line, how much is thisgoing to cost and how many people are going to get covered? Becauseyou talked about Senator Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee, theysaid to get to something close to universal coverage, it would be $1.6trillion.
A lot of people had sticker shock over that as well.
DODD: Yes. We all do. And, look, we've got to make thisaccessible. We've got to make it a quality program. We've got tomake sure we can bring down these costs. We can't consume 35 cents inevery dollar as we could in the next 10 or 15, 20 years of our grossdomestic product if we don't change the system, fundamentally alterit.
DODD: That's what the effort here is all about. We're basicallysaying look, if you like what you have, you can keep it. If you want,you choose your doctor, your hospital, your insurance coverage. That'sfine, there's no one objecting to that whatsoever. But to focus onprevention, on quality, to dis-incentive a system where it rewardsthose who show up at hospitals and doctors offices instead of tryingto keep people healthy. That's the effort we're involved in here.
And it's not say to do this, but we're working at it. Thenumbers come back. We've got to obviously have better numbers thanthe ones we've seen. And we need to cover a lot more people thanwe're seeing. That's what we've been working on all weekend, in fact.And we'll work on it again this week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring it Senator Graham in on this.Republicans seem to be digging in, Senator Graham, on a couple of bigissues. On the issues of taxes to pay for health care, on the issueof a public health insurance plan. But let me show you this "New YorkTimes" poll that's just out this morning showing 72 percent, 72percent of the public supports a government health insurance plan and57 percent of the public is willing to pay more taxes for universalhealth care. They seem to be ready for the kind of change thatRepublicans are fighting.
GRAHAM: Well, it's just not Republicans, George. The reasonyou're not going to have a government run health care pass the Senateis because it would be devastating for this country. The last thingin the world I think Democrats and Republicans are going to do at theend of the day is create a government run health care system whereyou've got a bureaucrat standing in between the patient and thedoctor. We've tried this model -- people have tried this model inother countries. The first thing that happens -- you have to wait foryour care. And in socialized health care models, people have to waitlonger to get care and the government begins to cut back on what'savailable because of the cost explosion.
The CBO estimates were a death blow to a government run healthcare plan. The finance committee has abandoned that. We do need todeal with inflation in health care, private and public inflation, butwe're not going to go down to the government owning health care roadin America and I think that's the story of this week. There's been abipartisan rejection of that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you call it a death blow. Let me justpress that point. Are you saying now that Republicans just as we sawin the stimulus where I think only three Republicans voted for thepresident's stimulus package -- if there's a government run healthinsurance plan, are Republicans going to vote on that against thispackage?
GRAHAM: I don't think it's just going to be Republicans. You'vegot Senator Conrad talking about a co-op. You've got other Democratsrunning away from the government-run health care where the bureaucratstands between the doctor and the patient. I think this idea isunnerving to the members of the Senate and will be to the public whenthey understand what it means, that you'll wait longer to get treatedand you'll get health care the government decides for you, not that ofyour doctor. So yes, I think this idea needs to go away and replaceit with something maybe like Kent Conrad's proposal.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now Senator Dodd, I think that Senator Grahamtalked about the public there. We just saw that hole. But his readof the Senate seems pretty accurate right now. You have not onlyRepublicans but several of your Democratic colleagues, including thechairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Baucus saying thepublic option isn't going to fly in their committee. They wantsomething bipartisan and that can't include this public healthinsurance option.
DODD: Well, again, I'm delighted to hear Lindsey talk about thepossibility of having something like a co-op and non-profits. Ihappen to support a public option, I don't think you can bring downcosts without it. If there isn't some competition out there to drivedown the overall cost -- costs have gone up 86 percent since '96,1996. Forty-five percent might stay the loan, increase in health carecost. The American average working family can't afford this. Afamily of four now it's $12,000. We're being told in 20 years, itcould be half the gross income of a family spent on health carepremiums. That is just unacceptable.
Now how we get those costs down -- use a lot of these buzz words.No one I know is for socialized medicine. We're going to develop aU.S. plan, not a Canadian or a U.K. plan, one that meets our needs inour country. It's designed for Americans, by Americans, that isn'tsocialized medicine. But you've got to drive down these costs. Weneed quality, accessible health care in bringing down those costs areabsolutely critical, or we're going to bankrupt the country. It'sunsustainable. That's why we're at the table.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK gentlemen, we're going to have you both backif this makes it through the process this summer, but Senator Dodd,before I let you go, real quickly, I see that Senator Kennedy is doingan ad for you up in Connecticut, starting today. How is he doing?
DODD: He is doing pretty well. I talked to him the other day,had a good conversation with him. In fact, the day we started themark up in the health committee on health care, he's been a championof that for four decades. And he stays very engaged, very involved,knows everything that's going on. And is anxious to be back, and noone's more anxious for him to come back than I am.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll bet. Senators, thank you both very much.
GRAHAM: Thank you very much.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to go straight to the roundtable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And as everyone takes their seats, take a lookat these tipping points from history. Is Iran now facing a similarmoment?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that, let me bring in the roundtable.I'm joined, as always, by George Will. The executive editor of theNew York Times, Bill Keller, just back from a week in Iran. Bob Reichof the American Prospect in Berkeley. Sam Donaldson and CokieRoberts.
And George, let's start with that question suggested by thoseclips right there. Is this the tipping point in Iran?
GEORGE WILL, ABC NEWS: It will never be the same there. And thelegitimacy of the regime, such as it was, is much diminished.
Whether or not that's a good thing is another matter. Thepresident is being roundly criticized for insufficient rhetoricalsupport for what's going on over there. It seems to me foolishcriticism. The people on the streets know full well what the Americanattitude toward that regime is, and they don't need that reinforced.
Furthermore, there's an American memory of encouraging thingslike the Hungarian revolution in 1956, with rhetoric about rollingback communism. We had balloons flown in and dropped medals with theStatue of Liberty on it and leaflets. Came to crunch, there wasnothing we could do about it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Bill, you, as I said, spent much of thelast week in Iran. Could you get a sense from the people you wereable to talk to how much they wanted the United States involved?First of all. And also, give us some sense of the scale of theprotests. You know, there's this debate here over how much of theelection was stolen, over how many people these opposition protestersactually represent.
BILL KELLER, NEW YORK TIMES EXEC. EDITOR: Well, Iranian publicopinion is a hard thing to measure, but it's not just Tehran and it'snot just a sort of effete group of university students and professors.It's definitely more widespread than that.
The thing you would see over and over again as you sort of rounda corner, and there would be a group of young men, mostly, throwingrocks or wheeling a kind of burning dumpster out into traffic, andthen the riot police would come after them.
And then came the really interesting part, which is all of thetraffic backed up for blocks and blocks in all directions, would starthonking in support of the guys throwing the rocks, not in support ofthe police.
You had working-class families waving V's out the window, littlekids with green ribbons tied around their fingers. So the support isclearly -- you know, Ahmadinejad talks about the unity of the Islamicpeople of Iran, but the people clearly are a lot more complicated thanthat.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And your columnist, Roger Cohen, writes thismorning about even some of the security forces not seeming all thateager to carry out their responsibilities.
KELLER: I think that's right, although they have these Basiji,who are kind of the authorized militia, who are utterly ruthless. Igot to see them in action a little bit in Esfahan, where I went for aday, a place that doesn't really get any press coverage, and it was akind of a glimpse of what we might be in store for in Tehran if thewindow closes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Cokie, we've also seen a remarkable aspectof this velvet revolution, if it is one, is the power of the women inIran.
COKIE ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Right. And being very brave. I mean,when you talk about this special force, they've been vicious againstthe women, just in everyday life, much less in this situation. Andso, to have women being brave out there and saying, you know, this isthe change that we have to see -- now, you know, Iran's interestingthis way because there is a huge class of highly-educated women, who,many of them who have left, and a lot of people here are supportingthis revolution because of -- or if it is a revolution -- because ofthe role of women and the oppression of women.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Sam, you covered Ronald Reagan. Of course,we heard Senator Graham talking about Ronald Reagan's tardy responseto what was happening in the Philippines, when Marcos tried to stealan election, but then that very forceful speech he gave at the Berlinwall. Is President Obama being Reagan-esque enough?
SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS: I think President Obama is about on theright track.
You know, the difference between the illustrations that youshowed of revolution in our times and Iran is they were secularrevolutions. Iran is not. When you talk about regime change, oryou're talking about, well, Mousavi, we think the election was stolen,rather than Ahmadinejad, or you are talking about Khamenei and themullahs -- that's a Muslim country. And I think for the foreseeablefuture, certainly in our lifetime, it's going to remain that.
So for us to say somehow we can help change it in a democraticsense, is not possible. ROBERTS: But he has to stay on top of it a little better, Ithink. Because Khamenei was, I think, undermined himself.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The supreme leader of Iran.
ROBERTS: The supreme leader, the ayatollah, undermined himself,in the speech that he gave on Friday supporting Ahmadinejad. And thefact that people continued to protest after that speech is verytelling. And I think, you know, the president saying that therereally wasn't that much difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi,is, you know -- might have been true then, but it might be differentnow, because the people do have an effect, and -- the people in thestreets.
And I'd be very curious, but you didn't answer the second part ofGeorge's question, about what are the people saying about America'srole? Are they saying we should be doing more?
KELLER: Well, first of all, there was clearly an Obama influencein the campaign, at least in the trappings, the symbols and so on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: "Yes, we can," was the slogan of Ahmadinejad,right?
KELLER: Right, and change. Change was all over the place.
KELLER: And yes, they would -- people were crying out for alittle bit of moral support. Where that leads and what they wouldwant beyond just attention and recognition, I think they feel that theoutside world acknowledging what's going on there and not letting itslip from our view, empowers them. More than that, I didn't hearanybody ask it.
REICH: I think regardless of what happens there, George, even ifthe powers of oppression are victorious, Iran is not going to be thesame. And there is going to be an opening for the United States, thatwas not there before. I was very interested that the supreme leader,the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, actually last Friday, made Britain theenemy, not the United States.
REICH: That was telling. Also, I don't think any of us shouldunderestimate the power of Obama's Cairo speech a couple of weeks ago.It had an electrifying effect across the Middle East, particularlyamong the young.
DONALDSON: That speech, which set a new tone. We're going tohave to deal with whatever regime emerges in Iran. If we say Mousaviwould be better, I think that's probably true, for Iran. But we'regoing to have to deal with Ahmadinejad, if, in fact, he remainspresident. And I think to say that somehow, we've got to crack down,in the George W. Bush-type style is wrong.
WILL: The reason we care about Iran is that they have a decades-long program, nearing fruition, of achieving a nuclear weapon. Andthere's no reasons to believe that Mr. Mousavi is opposed to a nuclearIran and lots of reasons to believe that he's for it.
DONALDSON: And that's why we have to deal with whoever emerges.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the question would be, Bill, let me bringthis back to you, because there's two other things going on. One is apower struggle, not only in the streets, but also at the top levels ofIranian society. You have the former president, Rafsanjani, probablythe wealthiest man in Iran, seemingly to take on the supreme leaderhere. And we find out just this morning that his daughter has beendetained. How much power does Rafsanjani have to actually -- does heactually have the power to pose some kind a real threat to Khamenei?
KELLER: Hard to say. Probably not very much. I mean, what'sreally happened here, I think, and I'm no expert on Iranian politics,but it's a system that has sort of two pillars. One of them, thedominant one, is the clergy. And it's sort of unanimity behind therule of the Koran.
And the other is this Democratic, secondary leg, which issupposed to give some legitimacy to the whole thing and create anoutlet for public pressure. Both of those pillars have been verybadly shaken. They have seen that the power structure is now a bunchof veterans of the revolution, squabbling among themselves for power.And even the ayatollah has been tainted by that. And of course theelections haven't proven to be much of an outlet at all.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that can make it very difficult for theUnited States to deal with, whoever comes out of this.
ROBERTS: And that is a serious problem and obviously that'ssomething the president is trying to walk a fine line on. But hemight be walking too fine a line. You know, the thing that is sointeresting to all of us, of course, is how even in a very repressiveregime, you can't repress the news in the modern world, that we areable to see on YouTube. YouTube is the main source of information.
REICH: That's really an interesting question here because Chinahas managed to repress all of this technology. And it's kind of arace in many of these countries between the technology of opening ademocracy, versus the technology of oppression.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's true but the problem we've seen over theweekend is the government has been able to clamp down a lot more asthe week has gone on. We're going to take a break right now rightnow. Come back, talk about health care and a lot of politics of theweek.
And later, "The Sunday Funnies."
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JIMMY FALLON, TALK SHOW HOST: I wouldn't mind a second opinionfrom the other supreme leaders. Burrito supreme, Taco supreme and ofcourse, Diana Ross.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: We will be right back with "The Roundtable" and"The Sunday Funnies."
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SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: President Obama's love affairwith the mainstream media continues.
OBAMA: I was up tossing and turning, trying to figure outexactly what to say. Finally, when I couldn't get back to sleep, Irolled over and asked Brian Williams what he thought.
MARK HALPERIN, TIME MAGAZINE: Barack Obama, with the help of thepress corps who really likes that side of him, is able to pull it off.I think he's untouchable on things like this.
OBAMA: Why bother hanging out with celebrities when I can spendtime with the people who made me one?
BILL MAHER, TALK SHOW HOST: You don't have to be on televisionevery minute of every day. You're the president, not a rerun of "Law& Order."
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the president getting a free ride from themedia? We're going to look at that question in just a little bit.But first, let me bring our "Roundtable" back in. I'm joined again byGeorge Will, Bill Keller of "The New York Times," Robert Reich of "TheAmerican Prospect," Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.
I do want to get to that. But first, George, let's pick up onthe health care debate we just had with the senators. This was afairly rough week for the president on health care reform. You hadthe Congressional Budget Office score the two, main plans, saying theywould cost $1 trillion and $1.6 trillion. The House wouldn't even puta price tag on there. Now the White House comes back and says no,we're developing consensus on cost control and getting some progresson prescription drugs. How much trouble -- how much water did thepresident's plan take this week?
WILL: Some. But it's not floundering yet. There has been afeeling that they want to rush this through as fast as possible,because many people believe that what sank Hillary-care in the early'90s was that it took so long. And the more people looked at it, theless they liked it. Now the initial response of many people,including I suspect Robert Reich over here, is when the CBO numberswere unattractive, they said, well, OK, we'll just get numbers fromOMB.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That ain't going to work.
WILL: No, of course, not, from the Obama White House. But itturns out, it's very expensive. I think the long and the short ofthis is, what this is going to do is drive tax reform. Sooner orlater we're going to see there's absolutely no way you can do thiswith the current revenue system.
REICH: I think that's probably right. The OMB numbers -- inthis town, the green eye shades really do rule and people don'tunderstand that. But those numbers did not take account of what Ithink is the linchpin of the entire plan, which is the public option.If there's a public option there to actually discipline the privateinsurers, to negotiate with drug prices that are lower, the entirecost structure --
WILL: Bob, there's a --
REICH: Discipline. The private insurers have actually run ourentire health care system. So, if you try to make projections ofhealth care costs without a public option in your projections, thosecosts are going to be much, much higher than otherwise.
I agree with you, George. There's going to have to be some talkabout -- serious talk about where the taxes are going to come from.But not a trillion dollars worth.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the other problem, Cokie, on the taxside. They can't come to an agreement to how to pay for this. Everycommittee has a different idea.
ROBERTS: No. And they don't tell us how they do plan to pay forit. The Democrats' plan in the House last week, was just oh, we'llfigure that out later. But the president and the people who arepushing for the change, have an opportunity here.
In "The Wall Street Journal" poll last week, about a third saidthey were for the president's plan. About a third said they wereagainst it and about a third said they had no opinion.
So, that's basically a blank slate that you can write on. Butone of the things that the Republicans have a problem with here, whenthey say, as we just heard Senator Graham saying over and over, youdon't want a bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor. Whatpeople now have is an insurance agent standing between them and theirdoctor and everybody knows that. That is not some myth anymore, thatwe used to not understand how important insurance companies were.Now, your doctor tells you all the time how important they are.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's an important point because I think thesuccess, Sam, of how far the president's going to be able to keep onpushing this, is if he can convince people that what we have now ismuch worse than what they're going to get.
DONALDSON: Well if we could just lower our health care costs asthey increase, by 1.5 percent, we would solve our budgetary problems.Look, the president has to get into this. They're kind of waiting inthe sidelines. Next month, he's got to have to make his choices andhe's got to them there. They can't write the bill on Capitol Hill.Nancy Pelosi says, without a government option, there will be no bill.You heard Senator Graham this morning, never pass the Senate. He isgoing to have to put his prestige on the line. Let's get it done now.If you have to use a Wilbur Mills surtax.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's a Wilbur Mills surtax?
DONALDSON: Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson wanted to pay for thewar. Wilbur Mills, before that, the powerful chairman of the Ways andMeans Committee got through a $50 a head for income tax surtax. Let'spay for it. In the long run, we're cheaper and we cover people andwe're healthier.
REICH: You know, the worry here is that the president may have-- and the White House staff, may have over learned the lesson of theClinton health care plan fiasco, which was don't deliver a package tothe Hill. Let the Hill take ownership.
And that was true up to a point. But I think that Sam isabsolutely right. Right now, the president has to get involved, twistarms. And say, if I don't have "A," "B," and "C," I'm not going tosign this bill.
ROBERTS: Except that there's a great advantage to the investmentof time and ownership that members of Congress are placing on thismeasure because, at some point, if they are -- have done so much workon it, they want to see it completed.
REICH: Yes, Cokie. But we've reached a tipping point. I thinkthe problem is, there's so many different bills up there, there's somany different conceptions of where the money's going to come from,whether there's going to be a mandate, whether there's going to be apublic option, what the public option is going to look like, thatthere's no coherence. The president has got to get in there and giveit coherence.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And George, I want to bring this back to youbecause I think Bob is right in part, about 1994. Here's what Iwonder, though.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There was a point in '93, '94, it started out 22Republican senators for universal health care. As the debatecontinued over a long period of time, the politics changed. Itwouldn't matter what was in the bill at the end. The Republican Partydecided they weren't going to go along with this.
It appeared to me this week that you started to see thatdeveloping among the Republicans. Cokie's right, that you build upthis sense of ownership the more you negotiate, but it seems like thelast Republican negotiating now is Chuck Grassley.
WILL: That's right. And they're down to saying it's a $1.6trillion bill, let's tax root beer. We're going to have a 3-cent taxon sugary sodas. They don't know what to do about the financing ofthis.
I still believe, Bob, drop your public option, drop the fictionthat although we have 103,000 providers of health plans in thiscountry, we need another one, a government program. We have acompetitive market in computers without a government computer program,a competitive market in car insurance. Why do we need it here...
ROBERTS: The most popular health care plan in the country isMedicare, and it is a government-provided health care plan.
REICH: In fact, it's a single-payer plan, Medicare.
ROBERTS: Actually, one of my favorite stories about this is JohnBreaux when he was in the Senate being stopped at an airport by anelderly lady, who said, Senator, whatever you do, don't let thegovernment get its hands on my Medicare!
REICH: This is the biggest fight, and it is really going to bethe definitive fight in terms of health care. A public option. Notanything forced on the public, but a public option that keeps insurershonest by actually having the ability and scale to negotiate lowerdrug prices.
WILL: (inaudible) the idea that government is the lagoon ofhonesty, that it's going to bring honesty to other people. The factis...
REICH: George, it's not a matter of honesty in terms ofgovernment being honest. It's a matter of competition that createsbenchmarks against which the private insurers can measure themselves.Right now...
DONALDSON: ... poll in the New York Times, not only 72 percentwant something done, but they like the government option.
WILL: Suppose that -- suppose the New York Times question hadbeen, do you favor a government option, if it has, as the Lewin (ph)group suggests, the effect of driving the vast majority of people outof private insurance, into public insurance, to the degree thatprivate insurance disappears in this country?
DONALDSON: ... and whether the efficacy of it...
KELLER: The interesting part of that poll was that majority saidthat they would be willing to take a tax increase to pay for universalhealth care, I thought.
But both of those, basically, just suggest that Obama has won thewar so far at the bumper sticker level, you know, the slogan level.Once you get down to the, you know...
STEPHANOPOULOS: The actual taxes that are going to be increased.
KELLER: The actual taxes that are going to be increased and onwhom. And once you get down to the actual makeup of a governmentprogram, it's not just that things start to come apart in Congress. Ithink public opinion starts to fracture.
ROBERTS: Public opinion on the question of the deficit. I mean,in all of these polls that have come out in the last -- in the lastweek, people are saying that they're very concerned about the deficit.They think that he has no coherent plan for dealing with the deficit.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the New York times poll, it shows -- I'llbring it up in a second. Go ahead.
REICH: I'm sorry. The Republican plan, and it is the AMA plan,the Chamber of Commerce plan, it's the same plan they've used since1944. Franklin D. Roosevelt came up with the first idea for nationalinsurance. They said, no, it's socialized medicine. You're going totake over government. You're going to interfere with thepatient/doctor relationship and you are also going to bust the bank.This is the same... (CROSSTALK)
STEPHANOPOULOS: It is the same argument. But here's the I guessthe problem...
REICH: It's not true.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... because you write about this. I know a lotof Democrats are banking on this, but I'm just not sure it's possible.They say they look at this and say, wait a sec, you know, we don'treally need the Republicans. We can alter these budget rules and putit through on this so-called reconciliation measure that would allowyou to get -- with the majority vote. The more you look at that, theless viable that plan actually is, both for political reasons, becauseit's not going to have political durability, but also a lot of theexperts say you put the plan through that process, and it's going tobe full of holes.
ROBERTS: And at that point -- at that point, the presidentabsolutely...
ROBERTS: ... owns the deficit. You know, at this moment,Americans are still blaming George Bush for the deficit, at leastaccording to the Wall Street Journal poll. But if the Democrats dothis all by themselves, then at that point, the deficit becomes theDemocrats'.
DONALDSON: If this president loses this health care fight and weemerge with practically nothing, the blood in the water is going to beterrific. The loss of powers and everything else.
REICH: It's very important to keep the threat of the 51-votereconciliation measure out there. Whether it's actually used or notis another issue.
But, Cokie, on the deficit, there's so much demagoguery going onright now.
REICH: We are in an economy in which people don't have money tokeep the economy going. Consumers aren't. Businesses are not goingto invest as long as there aren't customers. Exports markets aredrying up because it's a global recession or worse. And so,government has got to run deficits. This is Keynesian 101.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me bring in...
ROBERTS: I'm just saying what the public opinion is on it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And let me bring that back in, because it's yourNew York Times poll, again, Bill Keller. We asked a couple ofquestions -- you asked a couple of questions. Number one, hasPresident Obama made the economy better? Two to one, 32 to 15 percentsay, yes, his policies made the economy better.
But then you get to that question Cokie was talking about. DoesObama have a clear plan on the deficit? Two to one, the other way.No clear plan to deal with it...
KELLER: What both of those answers tell you...
ROBERTS: Even about making the economy better is down from thelast New York Times.
STEPHANOPOULOS: From where it was before.
KELLER: What both of those answers tell you is that Obama hascome to own the economy. At the point when he can keep saying overand over again, that he inherited all of these problems, althoughthat's true, that's the point -- he has reached the point ofdiminishing returns there. People now think it's his economy.
DONALDSON: And that's just another reason why he needs to win onthe health care plan. Because they do have to have something that notonly covers everyone, but that lowers costs. And the lowering costswill make it easier to reduce the deficit.
WILL: First of all, a majority of Americans -- a large majorityof Americans, have insurance. And 80 percent of the insured Americanssay their care is good or excellent. Second...
DONALDSON: Forty-six million don't.
WILL: ... there are 70 million -- sorry. There are 70 Senatevotes for something like the Bennett-Wyden bill. Liberals get amandate, you get to boss people around, tell them what to do. Andconservatives...
ROBERTS: Which was first proposed by Richard Nixon.
WILL: Precisely. And conservatives get a market. You can dothat. All it lacks is the public option, why do they depend so muchon the public option?
REICH: Wait, can I -- can I just get back to your notion thateverybody loves the health care system we have?
WILL: That's not my notion.
REICH: Not all -- people like their doctor. But people areholding on by their fingernails as premiums, co-payments, anddeductibles all go up. And this is not just the uninsured, this iseverybody. This is the middle class of America. They are demandingchange.
ROBERTS: Which is one of the reasons why with unemployment ratesthe way they are now, the safety net that had been placed forunemployed people to try to keep their health care, the so-calledCOBRA, used to be something that you could afford. And now, no longercan people afford to pay their health care benefits under COBRA.
So it's another part of the impetus to get something done. And Ireally do think that having it fall apart at this point would besomething that would be absolutely devastating.
DONALDSON: Completely devastating. But saying let's let theinsurance companies do it is like saying to Wall Street, all right,let's let you do it. We don't need more regulation. Go and sin nomore.
DONALDSON: The insurance companies have not been able to do itfor all of these years.
REICH: One of the most interesting things that Lindsey Grahamsaid this morning was he might be able to support Kent Conrad'scompromise on the public option, which is a cooperative. Nowpersonally, I think that's just papier-mache. You know, that is notgoing to have the bargaining leverage to get costs down. It's sort ofa stalking horse, it's a Trojan Horse. But it's interesting that the Republicans are beginning to say,yes, a public option is possible. And that's opening a hugepossibility for bargaining.
ROBERTS: And it's interesting that the drug companies aresaying, and we'll help you out with the cost of drugs to the tune ofabout $80 billion. So, there are things that are happening.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That could be, actually, one of the mostsignificant things that happened this week. This was thisannouncement the president made yesterday where the drug companies arebasically going to fill -- which everyone on Medicare knows aboutthis, the doughnut hole.
The prescription drug coverage, when you go from $2,000 to$5,000, all of a sudden you are paying every penny. Thepharmaceutical companies are saying they are going to start to fillthat. That could bring along support of the AARP across the board forthe president's plan, which could make a big difference.
Let me bring something else up here -- uh oh, but first I want tosay, George?
WILL: I'm just looking at my Medicare card.
WILL: I showed it to my doctor. He said, that's wonderful,George, now, we will send your bills to your children.
WILL: I wonder whether that's the plan we want.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Because he's not going to take Medicare.
DONALDSON: But wait a moment...
WILL: Oh, he will take it.
DONALDSON: ... the Bush tax cuts are being paid for, eventually,by our children. So, where's the outrage there? As Bob Dole wouldsay, where's the outrage, George?
(UNKNOWN): And Social Security is being paid for by ourchildren.
ROBERTS: And we've paid a lot for our children.
DONALDSON: This is Father's Day. You had a chance to speak inMay. REICH: I really think that the details, you know, over the nextthree or four weeks, the president has to weigh in. And it is overthe details, Bill. You know, we are all talking...
DONALDSON: Where the devil is? Yes.
REICH: Yes. And this is going to be made or break -- or brokenon the details. This -- what is the definition of public option?Where is the money actually going to come from? Is there going to bea mandate? Or not a mandate? This is where the action is.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the president is going to answer a lot ofthose questions Wednesday night at this -- in this conversation thatDiane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson are having with him, which has sparkeddebate on talk radio, about whether the press has been too easy onPresident Obama.
Here's what -- how the president answered the question in aninterview this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I've got one television station that is entirely devotedto attacking my administration. I mean, that's a pretty...
(UNKNOWN): I assume you're talking about Fox.
OBAMA: Well, that's a pretty big megaphone. And you'd be hard-pressed if you watched the entire day to find a positive story aboutme on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, George, I've always been struck by how-- and it's not too strong a word -- how obsessed the president andthe White House are with Fox News.
WILL: Well, it's the discordant note in an otherwise harmoniouschorus, I suppose that's why. But three great love affairs in worldhistory are Abelard and Heloise, Romeo and Juliet, and the Americanmedia and this president at the moment.
But this doesn't matter over time. Reality will impinge. If hisprograms work, he's fine. If it doesn't work, all the adulation ofjournalists in the world won't help (ph).
STEPHANOPOULOS: And there are some who say actually thepresident has gotten an abnormal amount of coverage of his personallife, personal style, celebrity coverage.
KELLER: Well, first of all, he has got a fascinating life story,so, of course the personal side gets covered as the first obviouslyAfrican-American family in the White House. But you know, don't confuse attention with love. I mean, here isa new president who has promulgated one huge ambitious program afteranother. So, of course, he gets a lot of big, page-one headlines.
But I don't think, at least up until now, it's been unskepticalor uncritical. Read our business columnists on his approach to thedeficit, his quasi-nationalization of the auto industry. He's gettingexamined pretty microscopically.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How is the White House press room doing?
DONALDSON: I think it's doing OK. I mean, they're going to cometo life as the public...
DONALDSON: He's done a lot of things that you should commend himfor. It's not as if he invaded the Bay of Pigs. It's not as if hetold the military, don't ask, don't tell, in the first 48 hours. Andthey told him, no, sir, sit down, please, in the corner. But he hasnot made huge mistakes. He's made some.
REICH: But a distinction has to be drawn I think betweenadulation the press might have toward the person -- and we saw thiswith John F. Kennedy, we saw it with Ronald Reagan -- and the way thecoverage is going on the policies.
And I think, Bill, you're absolutely right. With regard tofinancial regulation, boy, he got a licking on the front page of theNew York Times and many other places. This health care debate isbeing covered quite in a tough way.
DONALDSON: And in the polls, you see that his popularity isdiminishing somewhat.
ROBERTS: And particularly on the car question, nobody agreeswith him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We have only about a minute left. And I don'twant to let Bill Keller go without asking you about this amazingstory, David Rohde, your reporter in Afghanistan. November 10th oflast year, he disappeared. He's held hostage for the last sevenmonths. Escaped...
KELLER: 122 days.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What can you tell us about what happened?
KELLER: From the beginning or the end? I mean, until I debriefDavid, I can't tell you an awful lot. I can't even tell you what thecircumstances were that created this opportunity at the end. But atthe end, he was in a compound in northern Waziristan. He and histranslator companion hopped over a wall, climbed over a wall, madetheir way to a Pakistani army base, and he's now free and safe.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And yet -- but no ransom was paid.
KELLER: No ransom was paid.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And it really is amazing that you were able tokeep this quiet for so long, over that whole seven months...
KELLER: Keeping anything quiet for seven months in our...
STEPHANOPOULOS: It probably helped save his life.
(UNKNOWN): You had to debate that decision, didn't you?
KELLER: We debated it among ourselves over and over and overagain.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's all we have time for today. Thank youall very much.
KELLER: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well wishes to David Rohde.
This roundtable is going to continue in the green room, atabcnews.com.