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Reaction to State of the Union Address

Aired January 31, 2006 - 22:27   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: That was the Democratic response given by Tim Kaine, the brand new Democratic governor of Virginia. For those of you just tuning in, good evening from the Cannon House Office Building here on Capitol Hill.
Not too many minutes ago, not too far from here, the president wrapped up his fifth State of the Union address. This is a president, fair to say, who doesn't mind using the grand stage to aim high. He took on Social Security last year and back in 2003 he uttered those 16 words that just a few weeks later would take the country to war.

A bit different this time in scope and tone and perhaps what the president can make of it politically. Plenty to talk about. Joining us, my colleague, Wolf Blitzer is in THE SITUATION ROOM, in our Washington bureau, CNN's Jeff Greenfield. Also on the left and the right CNN political contributors Paul Begala and J.C. Watts and former White House adviser under Democratic and Republican administrations, David Gergen.

David, did the president do what he wanted to do?

DAVID GERGEN, FMR. W.H. ADVISER: He certainly gave a well- constructed speech and delivered it vigorously. I doubt he moved public opinion much. He may have gotten a bump but I doubt he moved it very much


GERGEN: Because I think it was not a speech that was intended to reach out to the middle and especially not to Democrats. It was a speech that was intended to be resolute, to stay on course and to appeal mostly to his base.

It was clearly a speech, last year he gave a -- opened with a domestic policy. This year he went back very importantly and made it clear that his presidency is going to be defined by his hard-edge policies in the overseas. And he understands that. That's going to be his legacy. He talked rhetorically ability domestic policy about the end but the proposals for the most part, with one exception, were modest.

COOPER: We'll talk about his proposals in a moment. Just to get a first temperature reading from everyone on our panel, Paul Begala, what did you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think David's got a point. The president's problems are not the sort that can be cured with a speech. We're asking too much of even a State of the Union address.

The president's problems are twofold. The huge majority of the country has turned against the war; 60 percent of Americans think the president is not doing a good job in prosecution the war effort in Iraq. Second, it's his own personal credibility. Whereas a couple of years ago, the overwhelming majority of Americans thought the president was a Texas straight talker, a truth teller.

Now you have the majority of American who say in the last Washington Post poll that he's not honest and he's not trustworthy. You can't cure those two problems with a speech, Anderson. It's just asking too much, as a former speechwriter for the previous president, it's just asking too much of one speech. I don't think he's going to move the needle at all on this.

COOPER: We are looking at live pictures right now of the president's motorcade leaving Capitol Hill heading back toward the White House. J.C. Watts, as you look at these pictures, your take on the speech?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Anderson, concerning Paul's point, I think that there's one thing the president can be optimistic about there are more people that -- there are fewer people that have confidence in a Democratic Congress than they do the president.

I think the president's challenge is he's going to have to get out of the Beltway. I've always thought that you needed to be on offense, you need to go to the American people, you need to be in the trenches. That battle is not going to be won in Washington, D.C.

I do think the president had a chance to pivot somewhat. He fought the battle tonight on the terrorism field, on the national security field, which was a good thing. But the president needs to be more forceful in taking this argument, whatever those arguments are, taking them to the American people, getting out of Washington, D.C.

But I do think tonight was a chance to kind of frame some of those issues.

COOPER: Jeff Greenfield, you've seen a lot of these speeches. Was the president able to pivot? And is he going to be able to deliver? Does he have the money and political will?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, I think actually what we heard here was the full-blown version of Karl Rove's notion that he told Republicans about 10 days ago that national security was going to be the key to the midterm elections.

And you can't blame Karl Rove and the Republicans for thinking that way. That's how they won the midterms in 2002, and I think to a large extent that's why the president was reelected.

The signals before the speech were we're going to hear a lot of interesting things about domestic policy, and I would have to say that we didn't. Announcing a presidential commission on entitlements, as opposed to the president's rather bold efforts to reform Social Security, is a perfect measure of how much less credibility or rather how much less popularity and political capital he has in that department.

The idea of a hydrogen-fueled car, which he said in almost as many words three years go, and which might come online in 2020, doesn't really get you very far in reducing your dependence on oil in the next decade.

But on the national security front, particularly the very touch language defending warrantless wiretaps, how we're not going to sit back and get hit again, that's the same theme that worked four years ago. It's the same theme that worked two years ago. And I think that's where the Republicans and the president are going to the country this fall.

COOPER: And, Wolf Blitzer, for all the talk of bipartisanship from this president in this speech, we saw an awful lot of partisanship just in the audience.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that's understandable, given the very bitter nature of the atmosphere here in Washington, Anderson. It's pretty horrible right now, the anger from the right, the anger from the left. Democrats and Republicans unable to get together on so many of these critical issues.

I think that's something that the president certainly understands. The leadership in the Congress understands that. But remember, this is a political year. There's going to be a third of the U.S. Senate, all of the House of Representatives up for grabs.

The Democrats smell blood right now. The Republicans are very nervous, given the poll numbers that we've seen. So I suspect, Anderson, it's not going to change any time soon.

COOPER: David Gergen, Wolf Blitzer is saying the Democrats are smelling blood. But what does this say about the Democratic Party that the man that they put forward to is someone who's only been in office for 18 days and most of the country's never even heard of?

GERGEN: That was a surprising choice, but you know something, Anderson? The speech was surprisingly effective. The president had framed the issue as we're not going to go to retreat and isolationism. And the Democrats came right back and said this is not about retreat and isolation; it's about bad choices and bad management. At least they joined the argument.

COOPER: But did...

GERGEN: And I thought that Kaine coming forward and saying there's a better way several times -- you know, these responses are usually very drowsy affairs. And this one was very low key. But somehow I thought it worked better for the Democrats this time. At least we now have a fair argument in the country. COOPER: Paul Begala, though, the Democrats may have been saying that there's a better way, but they didn't really put forward what that better way was, in terms of Iraq. Did they have a policy?

BEGALA: Well, they have a lot of policies. That's their problem.

But I want to pick up on David's point. What Governor Kaine did that the Democrats did not do in 2002 in the last midterms is Governor Kaine went right at Iraq and he said, basically, the president misled you. He did it in a very kind of friendly way, but he said we were misled about Iraq and then we sent these troops in without enough body armor. That's a pretty sharp critique.

It tells me that the Democrats are no longer going to be as cowed when the president pulls out the national security card, which did work, as Jeff says, so effectively in '02 and in '04 and it ain't going work the same in '06.

COOPER: Very briefly, David Gergen, is it enough to talk about what happened long ago, about getting into the war? Don't the Democrats have to put forward something about winning the war right now?

GERGEN: Yes, I think -- listen, basically, the Democrats have been very inarticulate and spineless in responding to a lot of things. The president swept them off their feet on Alito. He is sweeping them now on wiretapping.

But at least we heard tonight from Kaine some beginnings of a response. Do they have to come up with their own policy? Absolutely. And Paul Begala is right. They have many policies; they don't have unity. They've got to find a standard-bearer who's got series policies to take on the Republicans in the future.

COOPER: A lot more to talk about ahead. David Gergen, Jeff Greenfield, J.C. Watts, Paul Begala, Wolf Blitzer, thanks. We'll be talking to you throughout this next hour-and-a-half.

More from Washington coming up, feedback from the voters, those who watched the speech. Just released, a new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll in reaction to the speech. And in a moment, maverick Republican and perhaps presidential candidate in 2008, Senator John McCain.

Plus, later, our truth squad putting presidential words to the test. You're watching a special edition of 360. Stay with us.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership, so the United States of America will continue to lead. (APPLAUSE)


COOPER: That was President Bush just a short time ago in his State of the Union. Welcome back to our continuing coverage. Wolf Blitzer, standing by in THE SITUATION ROOM with a look at how the speech was received by people listening at home -- Wolf?

BLITZER: We've just done, Anderson, a very quick poll, a CNN- "USA Today"-Gallup poll. And I want to share the results with our viewers.

A couple of footnotes before we get in to the results, though. This is a poll conducted of 464 adult Americans who actually watched the speech. The interviews were conducted during and after the speech. The poll does not -- does not reflect the broad overall sense of the American people. The poll reflects only those who were watching the speech.

Take a look at this. Among those who saw the speech, the overall reaction: very positive, 48 percent; somewhat positive, 27 percent; negative, 23 percent. Remember, since we were only polling people who watched the speech and were therefore interested in the speech, it does tend to skew partisan. More people watching the speech would tend to like President Bush than didn't necessarily watch the speech.

Now, how do these numbers compare overall with some of the other speeches, State of the Union addresses he's given? The 48 percent very positive compares in 2004. He had 45 percent thought it was very positive. That was the worst number he had in all of these speeches.

The best, 74 percent, thought he did a very positive speech right after 9/11 in 2002. That was his best very positive.

Remember, these are numbers that reflect those who watched the speech, largely partisan because the audience would tend to skew towards those who like the president himself.

Paul Begala and J.C. Watts are here was as well. Paul, what do you think of these numbers?

BEGALA: Well, I think that, if I were working at the White House, I wouldn't be as happy. You know, you need -- he's got to move it higher than that.

And you're right. The people who are watching are going to tend to be people who are more favorably disposed to the president. And I think one of the ways he failed is that he's fallen into Washington jargon, which is surprising, because he did have this wonderful -- I'm from Texas -- this wonderful way of talking like a real person, a Texan.

He talked about competitiveness. What is that? You know, people sitting at home just want to find a way to pay for their kids' college costs. And I contrast that with Tim Kaine who said right away, "Look, they're going to be cutting student loans. Kids need that to go to college."

He didn't talk about competitiveness. The president talked about isolationism -- whatever that is -- protectionism. These are Washington buzzwords. So I think he was very distant and out of touch with the real lives of real people.

BLITZER: Congressman Watts, J.C. Watts, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, what do you think?

WATTS: Well, Wolf, I think they ought to send Governor Kaine to bed without no dinner for saying they're cutting student loans and cutting Medicaid funds. You know, that is not the case.

However, I still make the claim that the president -- people want -- I do believe people want to like this president. And I think there are a lot of things going on out there, in spite of all the stuff that's happening, Katrina relief and, you know, fuel prices, and trying to get judicial nominees confirmed and all the stuff that's going on. There's a lot of positives.

And I think the president needs to continue taking his argument to the American people. Unemployment is 4.9 percent, almost no unemployment at all. Inflation's low. You know, interest rates are low. The economy is clicking on all cylinders.

And I do believe that the American people trust this president when it comes to fighting terrorism. This needs to be said to the American people over and over and over again.

BLITZER: J.C. Watts, Paul Begala, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.

Anderson, I want to get back to you, though. And, remember, Anderson, these numbers reflect only those Americans whose watched the speech, not all Americans.

COOPER: Well, one American watching the speech was Republican Senator John McCain. He, of course, a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq, also known for being a maverick within his own party. He made a presidential run in 2000. He hasn't ruled out another one in 2008. He joins me now.

Senator, thanks for being with us.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: I got to say, one of my favorite moments during tonight was the cutaway of you applauding vigorously. And it looked like you were just about the only one when the president talked about battling special interests and earmark reform. You know, the Democrats are trying to paint the Republicans basically as fat cats, you know, who are lining their pockets. Polls show most Americans think the Republicans are just as corrupt as the Democrats. Are they?

MCCAIN: Well, I think there's a system here that breeds corruption. That's why you have Congressman Cunningham who has pled guilty already and other scandals which we're going to hear more about. It's a system where this, quote, "earmarking," which is pork- barrel projects, have skyrocketed out of control geometrically into tens of billions of dollars.

And the American people are fed up with it. And we've got to fix it. Lobbying reform is fine, and I'm working very hard with Democrats and Republicans to reform that. But the fundamental problem is this pork-barrel spending, which has gotten out of control.

But by the way, I think the president gave a fine speech tonight and laid out a lot of challenges that we face and gave us some solutions.

COOPER: Were you disappointed, though, that he didn't talk about pork spending? I mean, he talked about, you know, getting a line-item veto passed, but every president in every State of the Union since Ronald Reagan, as I can remember, has talked about that. It happened once under Clinton, but it was ruled unconstitutional.

MCCAIN: Well, I was pleased that he talked about the need for honesty and integrity in government. He talked about that. He also did bring up the so-called earmarking, which is the pork-barrel projects, and his opposition to it. So I was happy about that, Anderson.

COOPER: There seems to be so much focus now on drawing down troop levels in Iraq, even by the president. He made a point tonight in the speech saying, you know, that's going to be done based on military necessity not on domestic politics. But are domestic policies driving military strategy right now in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I don't believe so. I think the president is staying the course. And I do believe that he stated very clearly when he said troop withdrawals would be dictated by conditions on the ground.

I think he's holding fast on that. I worry about political pressures, as we're in election year, but so far the president, I think, has been standing fast.

COOPER: In every State of the Union, not just this president, every State of the Union, Republican, Democrat presidents make a lot of proposals, a lot of projects they put out there. A lot of times you just never hear about them again. Why should Americans believe this time that some of these things we've heard about tonight are going to happen?

MCCAIN: Well, I think some of them won't. These are proposals that have to be acted on. But I really believe that if there's one proposal the president resonated outside the foreign policy issues is this dependency on foreign oil. That got a strong reaction from the people in the chamber, but also, I'm sure, all over America. They recognize our vulnerabilities. And I was glad he laid out some of the solutions including, by the way, nuclear power.

COOPER: But, I mean, I agree with you. That certainly got bipartisan applause, and certainly I think just about everyone will agree America is addicted to foreign oil from unstable parts of the world. But in every State of the Union, every one that I've looked back on in all of these five that this president's given, he has talked about that, and yet it doesn't seem like there's much progress made.

MCCAIN: I don't know if he's given it the emphasis that he gave it tonight. Look, we're vulnerable in Venezuela, from Russian oil, that Putin seems to be playing the card to -- now Iran to our failure to be able to bring up Iraqi oil exports.

Look, this is -- we are far more dependent than we've ever been in the past. The president, I think, laid out a very strong case. And I hope that the Congress will react positively in a bipartisan fashion.

COOPER: I don't know if you had a chance to hear the Democratic response. I'm curious to know...

MCCAIN: Yes, I did.

COOPER: ... what you thought of it and what you thought about the fact that the Democrats chose to put out a relatively new governor. I think he's been involved just 18 days. And most of the country has never heard of this guy.

MCCAIN: Well, he just ran a very successful governors race in what was believed to be a Republican state, ran a very effective campaign. I think it was a smart move on the part of the Democrats.

But I also appreciated very much the president's opening comments about the need for bipartisanship and for us to lower the rhetoric here in Washington. I hope we'll all respond negative -- positively, not negatively, to that plea. And let's practice what the president preached tonight.

COOPER: I don't spend much time in Washington, but everyone I've talked to -- Wolf Blitzer was saying that it seems more partisan than a lot of people can remember in recent memory. Why is that?

MCCAIN: I don't know all the reasons for it, but it's bitter, and it's angry, and it's unnecessary. And I don't think the American people like it.

There are issues like this dependence on foreign oil that there shouldn't be any partisanship associated with that. There's many other issues that we've got to sit down together. And the first one I think is this lobbying reform, so we can begin -- and eliminating earmarking -- so we can eliminate some of this mess in Washington.

COOPER: Again, I love the moment when you're applauding, because you were clearly excited. It was probably the most genuine moment I saw in the entire evening.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: We'll play the video later on. Senator McCain, appreciate it. Thanks.

MCCAIN: See you.

COOPER: So how did the president's speech play on the other side of the aisle? Coming up, we'll talk with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Plus, our truth squad dissects the speech, what was fact, what was fiction, when this special edition of 360 continues.


BUSH: Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism; in reality, the future security of America depends on it.



COOPER: Well, coming up, we're going to talk with Democratic leader, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. But first, to the White House. The president is preparing to hit the road tomorrow to sell what he pitched tonight. Fair to say, he's got a mixed record on that score. And unlike last year, when Social Security reform went nowhere, he is riding even lower in the polls. This time with that as a backdrop, how do they see things at the White House tonight?

Well, let's guess. CNN's Dana Bash is there with some late reaction -- Dana?


Well, you know, of all of the things that the White House knows defines this president, it is Iraq. So let's start there.

Over the past year, especially over the past several months, they know here that Democrats have really perhaps found their voice when it comes to hitting the president on Iraq. And it has very much brought down his poll numbers. It has the Republicans, who are up for reelection this year, very worried. So the president tried to tone down the debate on Iraq. Let's listen.


BUSH: In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure.


Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Now, Bush aides also understand that terrorism is still the president's number-one asset. And the president did something he hasn't done before in the State of the Union; he actually said Osama bin Laden's name two times. That is part of the White House effort to convince Americans that terrorism is still a threat and to, as the president did again tonight, defend the controversial surveillance program that is actually going to come before Congress next week in hearings.

Now, on the domestic front, the White House, Anderson, promised we wouldn't see a laundry list of initiatives, and they definitely kept their promise.

Instead of a sweeping big initiative, what the White House tried to do was have a sweeping theme, if you will. And that theme was keeping America's leadership role in the world.

And on that note, the president did give some initiatives, very modest initiative in terms of education, in terms of research and development, but also on that particular theme, if you will, the president tried to hit an issue that, as you mentioned, we have heard many times before: reducing the dependence of the United States on foreign oil. But he tried to do it in a very dramatic way, as a former oil man. Let's listen to that.


BUSH: Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is to through technology.

Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, members of the Supreme Court and diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens, today...


BASH: And that was the president talking about oil. But also the other point there, Anderson, of that was for the president to try to really connect to what Americans care a lot about. And gas prices certainly tops that list. People are feeling the pinch at the pump. They know that here at the White House.

The president is going to go, as you mentioned, on the road starting tomorrow to talk about all of these things. We didn't get a lot of meat, in terms of new policy initiatives, a little bit of details, but they are going to talk more about it. They say the president himself will do it as he takes his show on the road starting tomorrow -- Anderson?

COOPER: All right. Dana Bash, we'll be following him on the road. Thanks very much.

We have a lot ahead, really a whole two-hour block. "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming on at midnight Eastern Time with a great line-up of guests. So stay tuned for that, as well.

Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer right now who is in THE SITUATION ROOM checking the facts -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Anderson. In advance of the president selling this week, let's take a closer look at some truth in advertising, if you will, how the president's words tonight square with reality.

We've asked our correspondents to listen carefully to the speech and assign each of them a topic. Candy Crowley is here. She's going to talk about health care. Joe Johns is here on the economy. John King on the war in Iraq and terrorism.

John, let's start with you. The president was relatively upbeat in giving us his assessment, what's happening in the war. Is that optimism, though, justified?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is not justified if you look at public opinion polling, which is one of the reasons the president had to make that case aggressively in his speech. He needs to change public opinion.

Nearly six in 10 Americans right now believe it was a mistake to send troops into Iraq, so the president was saying, "I hear the message. We're adjusting strategy when necessary," but he was emphatic that we are winning.

One of the reasons he has to make that case is the American people don't believe -- didn't believe that the war would be this difficult. Let's look at some of the numbers.

The war in Iraq has cost more than $250 billion so far, well in excess of what the administration thought it would cost. It has also cost sadly the deaths of 2,242 U.S. servicemen. That is a number well in excess of what anyone anticipated before the war.

Troop levels is also a big issue now. The president said he would start to bring them home if the commanders say he should. There are more troops in Iraq than many Americans thought would be there. Ninety thousand when the war began. In March, a year after the war began, in March 2003, close to the peak at 151,000 at the end of the year, 138,000 now, Wolf. They hope -- hope -- to be able to get it down to about 100,000 this year.

That is key to making Americans feel more optimistic about the war, but they don't share the president's optimism right now.

BLITZER: Since 9/11, whenever the president has argued with the Democrats on issue of terrorism, he almost always has prevailed. Are Republicans confident that, in this election year, he can help them prevail, as well?

KING: The White House is confident. Republicans are nervous, but they know the president has to win this debate again if they are to succeed in the midterm election years. But the challenges for the president are many. And let's just tick off a few of them. Here are some of the pressure points he faces.

One is Iran's nuclear program. The president mentioned that tonight. He says he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

The president also has to deal with Hamas winning in the Palestinian elections. This is a president who wanted democracy in Middle East. He wished for democracy; now he has to deal with Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

There is the domestic surveillance program. The president emphatically defending that tonight, hearings in Congress next week on that program. They think they will win that debate, but it's a dicey one.

The treatment of terror detainees is still an issue, more so probably outside of the United States than in the political debate. And the one wild card for this president, he has been the president now. He's in his sixth year in office, and he says he is winning the war on terrorism.

But his critics would say, "Then why are Osama bin Laden and his top deputy still at large more than 1,600 days after the 9/11 attacks?" The president saying he's still on the hunt. And as Dana noted, very unusual, twice actually mentioning Bin Laden by name tonight.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the economy, Joe. When the president did speak about the economy tonight, what stood out in your mind?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he has talked repeatedly about cutting spending, because he's under pressure from Congress to do just that, particularly from conservatives. So among the things we heard, earmark reform -- that's something that's become very popular lately -- as well as bringing back the line-item...

BLITZER: Explain that to our viewers out there who don't know what earmark reform means.

JOHNS: Earmark is pet projects, the individual pet projects that a member of Congress may be able to insert into a bill in order to bring home the pork to the district, particularly House districts.

There's also the issue, of course, of the line-item veto. That is something that has come up again and again and again in State of the Union addresses. Members of Congress, of course, a number of conservatives have said they'd like to see that idea, even though the Supreme Court shot it down as unconstitutional many years ago.

But the translation to all of this of what the president said it really is, cut back the power of Congress to control the purse. And when you look at the reality, we do have some numbers to show you. Right now, the numbers are just out of control. The projected 2006 deficit, $360 to $400 billion. The national debt, $8 trillion and climbing.

And the most important thing a lot of deficit hawks say is the $2 trillion held by foreign banks. A number of people on Capitol Hill, the budget hawks, say this is an issue of national security, because those offshore banks can control the United States, and perhaps one day even dictate things the United States might want to do -- Wolf?

BLITZER: When the president, a former Texas oil man, says the American people are addicted to oil, those are strong words, especially coming from him. What did you think of that, that phrase?

JOHNS: Well, when you look back over his speeches, he's probably talked almost every time he's given a State of the Union address about dependency on foreign oil. This, as you said, was no exception. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.


BUSH: Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.


JOHNS: Now, this is an interesting position the president of the United States is in. He has to talk about this. Of course, a lot of Americans out there are really taking it in the pocketbook with the issue of energy prices.

Natural gas, up something like 35 percent right now. Heating oil up 23 percent. Gas up 46 cents a gallon. The reality, of course, is that a president can only do so much with the issue of energy. It's all a question of supply and demand. A lot of economists will tell you he's talking about the long run, 2025. A lot of Americans, though, are feeling it right now.

BLITZER: For a lot of Americans, Candy, health care is the most important issue. We heard the president talk about it in his speech tonight. What did you think?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, I was surprised by how little he spoke of it, considering what a huge issue it is. One of our pollsters asked last fall to Americans, "Do you think that health care is a major crisis?" Almost 80 percent said, yes, it is.

And here's why, a couple of reasons. Some people don't have coverage. The number of uninsured continues to rise in this country. Something like 45.8 million Americans have no health insurance. That is major.

The other problem is the cost. The current cost of health care in this economy is $2 trillion. Health care amounts to 16 percent of the economy.

This comes out when you see Ford letting people go, United Airlines, all of those. It's the cost of health care is driving a lot of those layoffs. And we are paying $6,280 worth of health care for every man, woman and child in this country.

So it's a major issue. It affects everyone, or everyone's afraid it's going to affect them. So it is sort of a major issue on the plate, which the president hopes to move in increments.

BLITZER: He did once again, as he often has -- he spoke about these health savings accounts. Is that seen as a viable answer, though, to this huge problem that's out there?

CROWLEY: It's seen as a part of an answer. We all learned from Hillary Clinton that perhaps you don't take on the whole system.

The president has pushed these health accounts, and it depends on who you talk to. Look, the pros to this, those who believe in health service accounts, say, "Look, it gives consumers more choice." And, therefore, it can have a market effect on health care prices.

The idea is you set up a sort of 401(k)-type health insurance. And you buy high deductible, some people call it catastrophic. So let's say your deductible is $1,500 a year. You can put money in a health savings account, and then you can draw it out for things like well baby care or well mother care or whatever it is and use it for that. People think that will have a competitive pressure on the market.

You also have low premiums, because catastrophic health care is lower than normal health care. They think that will be attractive to the insured. Also, some tax breaks. But on the con side, a lot of people think that will discourage preventative care, because of course people will say, well, no, that's my money and I'm not going to spend it.

BLITZER: A good discussion. Candy, thanks very much. John, Joe, thanks to you as well. Let's go back to Anderson. He's up on Capitol Hill.


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