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President Obama Hosts Summit on Health Care Reform; Hillary Clinton Calls for Conference on Afghanistan

Aired March 5, 2009 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: President Obama suggests it's now or never for health care reform. He just wrapped up an emergency summit on this life-and-death issue and he says he's open to every idea on the table. He says he's flexible.

Plus, Senator Ted Kennedy at the summit and on a mission -- the ailing Democratic icon promoting one of his signature issues. And he proves he's still a power player.

And Citigroup got a lifeline from the feds. Now it's promising to help jobless homeowners afford their mortgages. But some fear the offer is too good to be true -- all of that and the best political team on television.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's a startling figure. President Obama says, every single second -- every 30 seconds, I should say, or so, someone in America is going bankrupt because of soaring health care costs. He just met with dozens of lawmakers and experts over at the White House. They're all tossing around ideas, the president also taking questions.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's got the full story on what happened on this historic day in Washington -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the president wanted to hold this summit because he wants to get health care reform done in a year. The administration admits that this is an ambitious timeline. But what they're essentially saying is that the patient is in critical condition and needs immediate attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's been some talk about the notion that maybe we're taking on too much. When times were good, we didn't get it done. When we had mild recessions, we didn't get it done. There is always a reason not to do it. And it strikes me that now is exactly the time for us to deal with this problem.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Republicans seem willing to work with the president, but they aren't laying down.

REP. DAVE CAMP (R), MICHIGAN: We are going to have to figure out just how much of our economy is devoted to health care. And that's going to be a big issue we have to face.

OBAMA: Right.

CAMP: And there's cost-shifting that goes on between public and private health care dimensions. And those are challenging things.

LOTHIAN: President Obama says the high cost of health care is bankrupting American families. So, he's pushing for reform and signaling that his ideas aren't set in stone.

OBAMA: In this effort, every voice has to be heard. Every idea must be considered. Every option must be on the table. There should be no sacred cows.

LOTHIAN: The White House says this summit is the beginning of a conversation, the ultimate goal, helping nearly 46 million uninsured Americans and others who have insurance, but can barely afford it, people like optometrist Jim Matthews, whose health problems forced him to sell a successful practice.

JIM MATTHEWS, OPTOMETRIST: I have entered into the perfect storm. I have hit the 55-year-old mark. I'm self-employed. And I have health issues. And, if you find that, you know, you're in that category, health insurance is just incredibly expensive.

LOTHIAN: The Clinton administration pushed hard for health care reform 15 years ago, but it failed. John Podesta was an adviser in that White House and now has the ear of this administration on health strategy.

JOHN PODESTA, CO-CHAIRMAN, OBAMA TRANSITION TEAM: I think things are different today because I think business is under so much more pressure because of increasing health care costs. The number of uninsured has gone up in the last eight years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: And the sales pitch is different, too, this time around. The administration is planning regional health care summits across the country, from Vermont to California, a way for the public to get involved in the process.

Now, so far, this plan lacks details, and critics are saying that it could put a tax and financial burden on some Americans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thanks very much, important information coming out of the White House today, the start of a major effort.

By the way, a story that's very close to all of us here at CNN, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, will not become the next surgeon general of the United States. He's pulled his name from consideration. Dr. Gupta, who is a practicing neurosurgeon, says he wants to continue his medical career. He, of course, wants to continue working here at CNN as our chief medical correspondent, also has another baby on the way. Spending more time with his family is critically important for him.

He's going to be a special guest tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He might be joining us this hour if we can get him to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

Senator Ted Kennedy is a veteran in the fight for expanding health care coverage to all Americans. And he was front and center with President Obama over at the White House today, refusing to let his own health problems stand in his way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Now is the time for action. I think most of us who have been in this room before have seen other times when the House and the Senate have made efforts, but they haven't been the kind of serious effort that I think that we're seeing right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

It was thrilling to see Senator Kennedy show up today over at the White House, knowing what he's going through, suffering from a brain tumor.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And Kennedy's friends and associates say that, despite that brain tumor, he is determined to do what he's done on so many divisive issues over his near half-a-century in the Senate, Wolf, and that is to craft bipartisan reform on this issue.

That is why he made a dramatic return to Washington today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BASH (voice-over): The wild applause when the president walked in was not for him. It was for Ted Kennedy, back to personally deliver a brief message on health care.

KENNEDY: I feel that this is the time. Now is the time for action. I'm looking forward to being a foot soldier in this undertaking. And, this time, we will not fail.

BASH: Since collapsing at the Capitol on Inauguration Day, he's been living in Florida, where the warm weather helps his cancer care.

But Kennedy came to the White House health care summit hoping to show that, despite his absence, he is still playing a central role in crafting reform.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: He's engaged. There's no doubt about it. In fact, we talk, and it's just very clear that he's engaged.

BASH: Kennedy associates say he speaks regularly to aides in Washington, trying to direct the course of complicated and controversial health care legislation.

Ron Pollack runs a health care advocacy group.

RON POLLACK, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FAMILIES USA: There have been meetings twice a week with all the stakeholder organizations. All of this has been quarterbacked by Senator Kennedy's staff, at his direction.

BASH: Mike Enzi, the top Republican on the Health Committee Kennedy chairs, tells CNN they talk frequently, trying first to find a way to increase access to health care before they tackle the divisive issue of insurance coverage.

"We talk a lot on the phone," said Enzi, but he also admitted, "It's not the same as being there in person."

Kennedy's committee isn't the only one taking the lead on health care. The top Democrat and Republican on the crucial Finance Committee announced a bipartisan commitment to passing legislation this year. But senators on both sides of the aisle say it is Kennedy who has the clout and near unparalleled track record of reaching across the partisan divide to accomplish landmark legislation.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: And I pray for him every day. But we need that type of leadership on both sides. I think we can get it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, I spoke with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who just heard there. He said that he does look forward to working with his Democratic friend on this issue. He called him one of the few people willing to sit down and work this out.

But, Wolf, I can tell you, privately, here on Capitol Hill, there is concern that Senator Kennedy really has the stamina to shepherd the negotiations, these tough negotiations that we will see in the months ahead.

BLITZER: Well, we wish him only, only the best. I know you do as well, Dana. Thank you.

BASH: We do.

BLITZER: Right now, the Senate is pushing toward a nail-biter vote on a controversial spending bill that includes thousands of lawmakers' pet projects. It could happen as soon as tonight, Senate sources telling us that CNN -- telling CNN that the majority leader, Harry Reid, is busy working the phones, hoping to get the 60 votes he needs to pass the bill and keep the government running.

In the past 24 hours, two Democratic senators, Russ Feingold and Evan Bayh, both announced they would not vote for the bill because of its high cost.

Dismal news today from Wall Street again, stocks plunging to lows not seen since the late 1990s, the Dow closing down almost 300 points, and the other major indices also closing down over 4 percent. This wiped out yesterday's gains.

Meanwhile, fears General Motors may not survive -- in an annual report filed with the government, GM says its accounting firm has -- quote -- "substantial doubt" it will be able to continue operations. GM says, if it can't execute a major plan to restructure, it may -- repeat -- may need to seek bankruptcy protection.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, that 300-point loss on the Dow Jones industrial average is the equivalent to a 650-point drop when the Dow Jones industrials were at 14000. And that was less than 18 months ago.

BLITZER: Yes, October of 2007.

CAFFERTY: My, how we have fallen.

Former top Bush aides Karl Rove and Harriet Myers, that dynamic duo, have finally agreed to testify under oath before Congress about the firings of those U.S. attorneys. Remember that story? The Bush White House fought attempts to force them to testify, citing executive privilege, like they did on almost everything.

But an agreement has now been reached between lawyers for Presidents Bush and Obama. Rove and Miers will appear before the House Judiciary Committee in closed depositions. The committee says it might also call on them for public testimony.

Rove was President Bush's top political adviser for most of his presidency. And Miers was the top White House legal adviser to President Bush for about two years.

The controversy goes back to those 2006 firings of federal prosecutors in nine cities, and includes allegations of political interference. According to an e-mail from a former Justice Department official, some of these U.S. attorneys were singled out because they were not -- quote -- "loyal Bushies" -- unquote.

Committee Chairman John Conyers says this is a vindication of the search for truth. And, for his part, Karl Rove has told the F-word network that he's looking forward to telling the committee about his alleged role in the firing of the federal prosecutors, although Rove says it could turn into a show trial. He says Conyers probably has more interest in him, Rove, than other former White House aides -- quoting -- "I understand they may be the hors d'oeuvres, but I'm the main course. Some Democrats would love to have me barbecued."

As documents continue to surface from the Bush era, there is a hunger in some corners to set the record straight about the legality of a lot of stuff that happened over those eight years.

Here's the question: What would you ask Karl Rove and Harriet Miers about the firing of those U.S. attorneys?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

They will be under oath and subject to perjury laws, Wolf, but the depositions will be given behind closed doors.

BLITZER: It was a carefully negotiated agreement...

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: ... as they say. All right, Jack, thank you.

At one fair, more than 1,000 jobs for thousands of job-seekers, and recruiters handing out tips that anyone could use to find employment. And there are millions of people looking for work right now.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces the U.S. wants a conference to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here's the question. Will Iran be invited?

And a major bank wants to help the unemployed save their homes. But some people apparently can't believe it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN STEVENS, HOMEOWNER: It's wait and see. I think it's too good to be true. I mean, I just don't know what to believe at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New York's white-collar workers have been especially hard-hit by this financial meltdown. Today, they lined up for a job fair aimed at professionals.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, has the story -- Allan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this job fair was packed all day long, more than 3,500 people hungry for work hoping to seize opportunity in this tough economy.

(voice-over): Buddy, can you spare a job? Thousands of people out of work waited hours to gain entrance to this job fair in New York's Times Square. In this well-dressed and motivated crowd, there's no shame in being out of work. Many talented professionals are pounding the pavement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just going to keep my hopes high. It -- it -- i get excited seeing everybody here, so -- even though it's a depressing moment, but we're all in it together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I find you, send your resume, make phone calls, you don't get any responses, any acknowledgements.

CHERNOFF: Making the opportunity to meet recruiters face-to-face especially valuable. The somewhat encouraging news, the 90 companies here have more than 1,000 job openings, many of them well-paying positions in accounting, engineering, business management, finance, and health care.

ERIC WINEGARDNER, VICE PRESIDENT, MONSTER.COM: It's really right now about the handshake. It's about creating a memorable experience with these recruiters that are here. You want to make sure that they put your resume aside, to be able to call you tomorrow.

CHERNOFF: The interviewers all advise job hunters to keep your chin up and sell yourself.

JOSEPH DEJOHN, DGA SECURITY SYSTEMS: They need to know what they want and position themselves as bringing value right away to a company.

CHERNOFF: Other tips for job-hunting in a recession, concentrate on growth industries. Health care is still expanding. And medical plan manager Robin Cohen says She doesn't need people with prior experience.

ROBIN COHEN, ATLANTIS HEALTH PLAN: We're just looking for friendly outgoing people who are able to create and foster business relationships, and just go out there and sell our health plan in the community. So, we don't necessarily need someone with a sales background to do that.

CHERNOFF (on camera): The fact is, even as companies lay off, others are still hiring. But, in this economy, there's still plenty of competition to get back into the work force -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Allan, thanks very much.

Desperate people looking for jobs.

One group says it's seeing the highest number of homeowners in trouble ever. The Mortgage Bankers Association says the percentage of borrowers who are at least one month behind in mortgage payments, but not in foreclosure, rose to almost 8 percent during the fourth quarter of last year.

Meanwhile, the group says more than 11 percent of all mortgages in the country are either delinquent or in foreclosure. CitiMortgage is doing something to try to help struggling homeowners, even as its stock dropped below -- below $1 per share, before closing at just above $1 per share.

Wow.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's looking at the story for us. She's got some more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's hard to imagine that, Wolf.

But the mortgage unit of Citigroup is now offering to help some of its unemployed customers by temporarily reducing their mortgage payments. There are conditions, of course.

While some customers are hoping they will benefit, some experts say that Citigroup actually stands to gain as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): For John Stevens, it seems the only thing on track these days is his 4-year-old son Christopher's train set. Stevens lost his job at an auto dealership in October. He's fallen behind on his $900-a-month mortgage payment and is fighting closure.

And that is why he's skeptical the mortgage lender he's fighting, CitiMortgage, is offering a break to people like him.

STEVENS: It's wait and see. I think it's too good to be true. I mean, I just don't know what to believe at this point.

SNOW: CitiMortgage, a division of Citigroup, says it's offering to reduce payments to $500 for three months. It applies to CitiMortgage customers who have lost their job in the last six months, missed two payments, and have a loan less than $417,000. That could make John Stevens eligible.

STEVENS: I mean, it sounds great. That would definitely help me out a lot. But my question would be is, do they mean it? You know, been through what I have been through with them, are they just saying this to make people feel better?

SNOW: We posed Stevens' question to Sanjiv Das, the CEO of CitiMortgage.

(on camera): Your response to him?

SANJIV DAS, CEO, CITIMORTGAGE: Well, first, I really apologize for the borrower feeling the way he has. I can tell you that there is nothing, there's nothing more important to us than helping our borrowers.

SNOW: Das says it's not clear how many of CitiMortgage's 1.4 million customers will seek help. But, he says:

DAS: The economics of us keeping you in your home are in our favor. It's the right thing for us to do to keep you in your home and find solutions for you. SNOW: Experts on the housing crisis say, with the rising rate of foreclosures, it's also in the bank's interest to help homeowners right now.

ANTHONY SANDERS, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY: The household can win and Citi can win. They mitigate losses on their own end. The borrowers are given breathing room. So, this is -- they both can actually benefit from this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, as for John Stevens' individual case, he says he has approached CitiMortgage about reducing his payments. Will he qualify for this new plan? A spokesman for CitiMortgage says they cannot comment on specific customers or loans, but not all borrowers qualify -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a sign of the times of what's going on, pretty dramatic stuff.

Mary Snow, thank you.

Could Hillary Clinton soon be sitting down face to face with one of America's foes? The secretary of state calls for a high-level conference on Afghanistan and Pakistan. And you might not believe who is potentially going to be invited.

Plus, loaded with oil and simply nowhere to go, supertankers sitting, they're paralyzed, as demand for crude drying up.

And President Obama launches an urgent and massive new initiative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Our goal will be to enact comprehensive health care reform by the end of this year. That is our commitment. That is our goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Economic stimulus scams are popping up all over the Internet. And now the government is cracking down.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, to tell us what's going on.

What's going on, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there's $787 billion of stimulus money, but you're not going to get any of it by going through any of these Web sites.

President Obama's Grants is one of them, Official Stimulus Grants, another one. They might have the president's image on them. It might say "as seen on CNN," and it might invite you to give over just something as small as $1.99, which they then say will entitle you to a federal grant, as much as $12,000.

The FCC, the Federal Trade Commission, said in a press conference yesterday said that these are scams, and they are popping up all over the Internet. They're also saying that $1.99 that you hand over could turn into more than $1,000 over the course of a year in related charges and fees.

One of the things the FTC is pointing out is that ads for these sites are popping up on sites like Facebook and Google. Facebook has been pulling them down. And Google is looking at suspect ads on their site.

Some of one that the FTC pointed us to yesterday and today have now been pulled down. But, in their place, more are popping up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

President Obama says, in his campaign for health care reform, nothing, nothing is sacred, except:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The status quo is the one option that's not on the table, and those who seek to block any reform at all, any reform at any costs, will not prevail this time around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Stand by to hear the president at length on why he thinks America must overhaul health care right now.

And a lot of outside groups want to make their mark on changing the medical system, and they're ready to spend millions and millions of dollars to get their way.

Some commentators are suddenly missing Bill Clinton. The best political team on television standing by to weigh in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: The Obama administration says Louisiana will be getting $438 million more in Hurricane Katrina aid. Cabinet officials who toured New Orleans today said they were disturbed by what they saw.

Officials over at the Methodist Hospital in Houston say the former first lady Barbara Bush is in good condition after heart surgery last night to replace a valve.

Actor Robin Williams' publicist confirming he is to undergo similar heart surgery, after suffering shortness of breath earlier this week.

We wish them both speedy recoveries.

And the United States is calling for a conference on Afghanistan and its troubled region to take place at the end of the month, the announcement coming today from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, addressing her NATO counterparts in Brussels. A senior official says Iran -- yes, Iran -- is likely to be invited to that conference.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get back to our top story, a historic day here in Washington, as President Obama launches an urgent new initiative aimed at a complete overhaul of America's health care system.

He spoke at an emergency summit of lawmakers, doctors and health care experts. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now, I know people are skeptical about whether Washington can bring about this change. Our inability to reform health care in the past is just one example of how special interests have had their way and the public interest has fallen by the wayside.

And I know people are afraid we'll draw the same old lines in the sand and give in to the same entrenched interests and arrive back at the same stalemate that we've been stuck in for decades.

But I'm here today, and I believe you are here today, because this time is different. This time, the call for reform is coming from the bottom up and from all across the spectrum, from doctors, from nurses, from patients, from unions, from businesses, from hospitals, health care providers, community groups. It's coming from mayors and governors and legislatures, Democrats, Republicans -- all who are racing ahead of Washington to pass bold health care initiatives on their own.

This time there is no debate about whether all Americans should have quality affordable health care, the only question is how? The purpose of this forum is to start answering that question. To determine how we lower costs for everyone, improve quality for everyone. And expand coverage to all Americans.

And our goal will be to enact comprehensive health care reform by the end of this year. That is our commitment. That is our goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president made clear that health care reform will require considerable give-and-take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Each of us must accept that none of us will get everything that we want. And that no proposal for reform will be perfect. If that's the measure, we will never get anything done. But when it comes to addressing our health care challenge, we can no longer let the perfect be the enemy of the essential. I don't think anybody would argue that we are on a sustainable path when it comes to health care.

Finally, I want to be very clear at the outset that while everybody has a right to take part in this discussion, nobody has the right to take it over and dominate. The status quo is the one option that's not on the table. And those who seek to block any reform at all, any reform at any costs, will not prevail this time around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama said many Americans are right now at the end of their rope and he pressed for quick action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There are a lot of people out there who are desperate. There's a lot of desperation out there. Today I want them and the people like them across this country to know that I have not forgotten them. We have not forgotten them.

They are why we are here today -- to start delivering the change they demanded at the polls in November; that they have continued to demand since the election. And if we're successful, if we can pass comprehensive reform, these folks will see their costs come down. They'll get the care they need and we'll help our businesses create jobs so our economy can grow.

It's not going to be easy and there are going to be false starts and setbacks and mistakes along the way. But I'm confident if we come together and work together, we will finally achieve what generations of Americans have fought for. And fulfill the promise of health care in our time.

And what a remarkable achievement that would be. Something that Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, consumer groups and providers, all of us could share extraordinary pride in finally dealing with something that has been vexing us for so long. So, let's get to work.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The United States spends over $2 trillion a year on health care. And a lot of people certainly have a vested interest in how that money is spent. And they're ready to spring into action to try to have reform their way.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin; a lot of folks bracing up for a battle right now.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Obama says that he's learned from the mistakes of the Clinton years. He's not going to present a health care reform plan to Congress, but instead will collaborate with members to craft legislation together. So it's no surprise that outside groups are now drawing battle plans to shake that outcome.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: Democrats and Republicans --

YELLIN: President Obama knows a fight is coming.

OBAMA: We won't always see eye to eye. We may disagree, and disagree strongly about particular measures.

YELLIN: Outside groups are gearing up to influence those measures, prepared to spend more than $55 million influencing just what reform will look like.

On the right -- a media campaign to limit government's role in the health care system. The group's chairman runs urgent care clinics.

RICK SCOTT, CONSERVATIVES FOR PATIENTS' RIGHTS: The free market works. It's always worked. The things that don't work is more government involvement.

YELLIN: He's committed $5 million of his own money and hopes to raise another $15 million for ads like this.

SCOTT: Let's remind the politicians, Americans know what works. Choice -- that means choosing your own doctor.

YELLIN: On the left -- a number of coalitions have formed in anticipation of health care industry resistance.

ETHAN ROME, HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA NOW: In the insurance industry, the drug companies are lining up to oppose reform. Our job is to win reform and to make sure that it doesn't get watered down.

YELLIN: His group wants to expand coverage to the uninsured and widen patient protection. It plans to spend $35 million on ads similar to this one, run against John McCain during the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Under John McCain's health care plan, 20 million people could lose their insurance at work. I could be one of them.

YELLIN: In all of this, the devil is in the details. For example, the insurance industry says it's on board --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to work with you.

YELLIN: -- but already objects to some of the White House's initial ideas regarding how to control Medicare costs. ROBERT ZIRKELBACH, AMERICA'S HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS: We believe that we can get the resources needed to fund health care reform without relying on one segment of the population to fund a disproportionate share of health care reform.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And as if the pressure from all those outside groups isn't enough the president also faces some disagreements in his own party over, for example, whether the plan should include a government- run health insurance option and how quickly this legislation should happen.

Wolf, there's a lot of negotiating still before they have a bill to vote on.

BLITZER: The goal by the end of this year, he says it's got to be done. We'll see if that happens.

Thanks very much, Jessica.

Crying out for fiscal responsibility -- one columnist says he misses Bill Clinton. Is President Obama that much different?

Plus, why millions of barrels of oil are sitting out there; they're parked offshore right now. We're about to get to the bottom of this little-known oil industry strategy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Back to our top story.

Joining us right now: our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political contributor, Steve Hayes of the "Weekly Standard;" and our CNN political analyst Roland Martin. They're all part of the best political team on television.

He says very clearly, you know what, I have an open mind. Let's all work it out. I'm flexible. When all is said and done though there has to be a deal by the end of the year. Is he in effect punting to Congress, Gloria, and saying you guys work out the details?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

I think it's not so much punting, Wolf, as it is learning from the mistakes that Hillary Clinton made. You recall 15 years ago, she went up to Capitol Hill with a health care plan that had been written and presented it to Congress and presented it to all the special interest groups. And nobody liked it.

And so President Obama, I think, is trying to learn from those mistakes and say, "Here are my guidelines. These are the kind of things I want to achieve. I want the $634 billion pot to help pay for this plan. But you guys try and work out the details. I'll have to give a little and you'll have to give a little. BLITZER: The Republicans who were there at that meeting today, Steve, including the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, they were all very positive in saying this was really a good way to kick it off.

STEPHEN HAYES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I think Mitch McConnell said he was encouraged at the bipartisan approach to this. And sort of said this is a good starting point. I think you will find very quickly, as Democrats in Congress get their hands on this and help to shape this, that it will start to veer towards, you know, more socialized style health care plans. And Republicans will object, and object strenuously.

BLITZER: Some of the Clinton folks who are now working for President Obama, Roland, they say the model they want to use is the way Bill Clinton got welfare reform through in a bipartisan way, historic legislation; that they want to do the same thing right now with health care reform.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Keep in mind, there were Democrats who were opposed to the same welfare plan that President Bill Clinton pushed through. You'll likely going to see Democrats who don't believe this may go far enough.

I think also what President Obama is doing by having the buy-in with Congress, the failure with the plan under Clinton was that, it was perceived as being the White House's plan exclusively. They took all the brunt of the criticism.

What Obama is saying if they're going to attack us on this, you're going to be in this ballgame with me, in the boat with me. You better come along and protect the plan as well. And so he's shared responsibility is critical to the success of this.

BLITZER: In the end, though, Gloria, I think there's a fair point that he may have to disappoint some on the left. Some in the Democratic Party who are perhaps going to believe he's not going far enough.

BORGER: Yes, he is. He may have to disappoint himself. I think we saw today, in one of the few real questions that was asked at this session today, Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, who's the ranking Republican on the committee that's going to write this bill in the senate, asked a question about the president's idea of a public insurance plan that would essentially compete with private insurers.

The White House believes that you have to have this component if you're going to try and insure everybody. And Republicans starting from today, are saying, you know what -- we don't really want that. So that's going to be a really big bone of contention. And, you know, the president may have to give on that one.

BLITZER: Do you think so, Steve?

HAYES: I couldn't hear everything that Gloria said, but I'm going to assume it's as brilliant and profound as it always is. I think Republicans are going to adopt the language of Democrats on health care. And then challenge them pretty hard on the substance of it.

BORGER: Right.

HAYES: Barack Obama has said publicly before that a single payer system or something like it is his goal, but it wasn't practically feasible at this point in time. He said that, I believe, during the campaign. If that's the case, if this is sort of a step toward that kind of a socialized system, a British system or a Canadian system, Republicans are going to fight, and fight very hard.

BLITZER: Not only Republicans, Roland, there will be some Democrats who will try to resist that as well.

MARTIN: But also, what you're going to see is you're going to see the president also link this issue of health care with the economy. You already hear people saying, frankly, this is going to be too costly what's happening with our economic situation right now.

But what he is saying is, people are filing for bankruptcy, people are hurting, people are desperately trying to hold on to jobs, not for the income, but for their health benefits as well. You're going to see this linkage, if you will, with the economic reality within trying to get people to understand, it goes beyond just the whole notion of just health care, it's tied to the economy and our overall well-being.

BLITZER: A columnist, Gloria, for the "Chicago Tribune" Steve Chapman -- he wrote this saying, he sort of misses Bill Clinton already, looking at Barack Obama.

He says: "Under Clinton, they demonstrated that his party could exercise fiscal responsibility, contain the role of government, learn from liberal failures, like welfare, and generate broad prosperity. Right now I miss him. Before long, Democrats may as well."

Sort of jumped out at me when I read that earlier.

BORGER: After Bill Clinton did that, you'll recall that he lost control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections.

So, you know, I think that what President Obama is doing, you know, it's interesting, Bill Clinton ended up negotiating with himself in many ways. Cutting the deficit was very, very important. I think what you're seeing with President Obama, it may or may not be a good strategy, is he's thrown everything out there that he wants in this budget. Knowing full well, I believe, talking to folks at the White House, that he's not going to get it. And so -- and he knows he's going to get it from both sides.

So that is, I think, their strategy, as compared to what Bill Clinton did.

BLITZER: Steve, there is no doubt, though, that this team, inside the White House, they learned from the failures of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton on health care. And they're trying to avoid those pit falls right now.

HAYES: I think that's exactly right. The question is, are they overcompensating?

BORGER: Right.

HAYES: You had Senator Evan Bayh yesterday write an article in the "Wall Street Journal" expressing concerns about the size of the budget and about omnibus spending bill. I think he's at real risk of alienating some moderate to conservative Democrats.

There are 80 Democrats in the House of Representatives right now who are elected from districts that George W. Bush carried in 2004. There are a lot of conservatives in the Democratic Party that he's going to have to deal with. And this sort of bold everything at once plan may not work with them.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much. We'll continue, Roland, tomorrow. Steve, Gloria, thank you.

Oil companies are running out of oil -- running out of room, I should say, to store their oil. We're going to tell you what they're doing about it.

And Michael Jackson announcing something, we're not quite sure what he announced. But Jeanne Moos will be taking a most unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL JACKSON, SINGER: This will be it. This is it. When I say this is it, it really means this is it because --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Take a look at this. Many of the world's oil tankers are sitting full of oil right now. It's part of a tactic by the oil companies that could impact prices here in the United States and around the world. It's a sign of the times of what's going on.

Let's bring in Brian Todd who is looking at the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's become an odd sight on the high seas, Wolf. Analysts say there could be up to about 45 huge oil tankers either floating or anchored at sea, just sitting there. They're in places like the North Sea, the Persian Gulf, off the coast of Nigeria and around the Gulf of Mexico.

We did the math and figured that combined they hold enough crude oil to fuel nearly 3 million cars for a year. We asked the experts what in the world are they doing this for?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD: This is what an oil glut looks like. A tanker at sea may seem like the very picture of a market on the move, but analysts estimate that dozen of tankers are now simply parked offshore with nowhere to go. Why are oil companies doing this?

FAREED MOHAMEDI, PFC ENERGY: They're buying the crude oil, storing it in tankers or in storage facilities and then sells it at a later date, so they can make money that way.

TODD: With the world economy in recession, motorists driving less and oil demand way down, prices have come down. Analysts say the oil companies are buying crude at lower prices now, but trying to avoid selling it at those same prices, so they're taking it off the market and letting it sit in tankers. They're essentially betting that the price will go up later then they'll bring it ashore to refineries.

Also, there's so much oil on the market now, that even some of the biggest storage facilities like America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve and its massive storage tanks in Cushing, Oklahoma are nearly full.

Analysts say we may soon start to see few of these tankers just floating around because oil-producing countries have started cutting back on production to keep pace with falling demand.

MOHAMEDI: They've cut back 4 million barrels a day, which is quite substantial. In fact, it's the largest cut pretty much in history.

But the problem for them is they do not know where low is. They don't know how low this demand is going to go. And that is sensed by the oil markets and that's why you've had sort of wobbly oil prices.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Wobbly meaning the prices could end up soaring again if the oil producing nations continue to slash drilling and production and keep these tankers at sea. That would create an energy crunch and, of course, Wolf, we would all be feeling that crunch eventually.

BLITZER: And oil close to $43 or so a barrel. It was $150 just a little while ago, as you remember.

TODD: A few months ago, right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Let's go back to Jack. He has "The Cafferty File." These oil companies -- pretty clever, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, they are, that's true.

And if you look back last year, the biggest corporate profits in the history of American capitalism were turned in by the likes of Exxon and some of them. The question this hour: Is what would you ask Karl Rove and Harriet Miers about the firing of those U.S. attorneys under President Bush? You'll recall, they've agreed to give closed-door depositions to congressional investigators.

Carl in San Francisco writes: "My question to both of them is simple. Who gave you your marching orders? There aren't many in the administration who had authority over you, so specifically, who authorized you to initiate this process?

Adam writes: "It's not like they'll really answer anything. Congressional hearings are absolute jokes for people with political clout. Nothing will happen to them and they won't say a thing.

Jim in Chicago: "While I think it's important to find out what Rove and Miers wanted the fired attorneys to do that they refused to do, it's even more crucial to me that we get to the bottom of what the terrible two asked the remaining lawyers that they didn't refuse to do.

Lisa in Yucca Valley, California: "What makes you think you're above the law and can twist it to fit your goals even when your actions are clearly illegal? And which federal prison would you prefer to spend the rest of your life in?"

Ann in New Jersey: "What sense of fulfillment did you get out of firing those lawyers who for probably good reasons of their own were not loyal to President Bush and probably ruined their careers."

Anne writes: "I'd like to know why they're even trying to cover anything up. Why not just be open about the whole deal? They know they're not going to be prosecuted for anything. It isn't as if they aren't laughing about the toothless justice system anyway."

Denny in Washington writes: "I would ask them specifically on a case by case basis on what grounds were each of those U.S. attorneys fired?

And Ryan in Columbus, Ohio: "How do you sleep at night?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog cnn.com/cafferty file. Look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.

We'll take a quick break. Jeanne Moos with a most unusual piece on Michael Jackson when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Michael Jackson is headed back on stage for a last tour. Our Jeanne Moos has more on a "Moost Unusual" comeback.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's hard to live up to your image when you're introduced with a video montage of your greatest hits featuring overwrought fans and a gigantic statue. And then in you come, all 5'10" of you.

Michael Jackson took the stage for about 3 1/2 minutes and between silences, basically repeated the same two things.

JACKSON: I love you. I love you so much.

MOOS: But when it comes to his main message. This is it.

JACKSON: This is it. This will be it. This is it. And when I say this is it, it really means this is it.

MOOS: Michael never finished that sentence. That's one of the tricky things about going live to an M.J. press conference. You never know if he'll actually speak.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Michael Jackson.

MOOS: Some who watched on TV wondered are you sure it was him? "That wasn't even M.J., that was an imposter, you can tell by the wig and the voice." But fans on hand knew better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Leave him alone, you know. Leave him alone. He's going through a rough time. So are we all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Personally I find him quite scary, but I think it's cool at the same time.

MOOS: At least those reports of a terminal illness seem premature. Though at age 50 --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can join AARP.

MOOS: The point of the press conference was to announce ten concerts in London in July.

JACKSON: This is it. I mean, this is really it. This is the final. This is the final curtain call.

MOOS: All those "this is its" led CNN Tony Harris amused.

HARRIS: Wasn't that a pretty popular Kenny Loggins song?

MOOS: Snarky blogs like the "Thamer" (ph) remarked on Michael's eerie Hitler-like gestures, but this isn't that.

JACKSON: This is it and see you in July.

MOOS: And that was it.

JACKSON: This is it.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is it.

MOOS: -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: This is it for me today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well. See you back here tomorrow.

Let's go to New York right now. CNN's "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" about to begin. Kitty Pilgrim filling in for Lou -- Kitty.