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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Senate convenes special midnight session to vote on cloture of health care reform bill, amidst bitter partisan debate between Republicans and Democrats
Aired December 21, 2009 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A late-night Senate showdown. We're just one hour away from a major vote on health care reform. Democrats say it will pass. And if it does, it will be a huge step towards a massive overhaul of the nation's health care system.
Hello, I'm Tom Foreman reporting tonight from Washington.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Doctor Sanjay Gupta at the CNN Center in Atlanta. This is CNN's special coverage of a crucial Senate vote on health care reform.
FOREMAN: Members of the best political team are joining us on the late-night shift. Our Dana Bash is standing by at the capitol. CNN's Dan Lothian is here in Washington, as well. Our Senior Political Analyst David Gergen is in Boston. April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, is in Maryland. And Democratic strategist Donna Brazile is on the phone, as well.
GUPTA: Let's head straight to Capitol Hill first. Senators are kicking off right now a brand new legislative day, an important one at that. CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is there.
What a day it's been for you, Dana. Set the scene for us. I do have a question about that. Is there a risk that someone might not make it in with all of the weather and everything that is going on?
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a very good question. I actually just was e-mailing with senior administration official who is monitoring this very closely, as you can imagine, because this is the president's top priority, who said that every senator is now here. In fact, the last three senators they were waiting for who were coming in by Amtrak have just arrived. So that really speaks to the big issue here, which is that Democrats need every single senator that aligns themselves with Democrats to actually vote yes on this very, very critical vote.
And we really can't underscore how much after all of the debate, the talk, and the many, many votes on the House, and various committees, that when it comes to the biggest hurdle that the president and Democrats across the board knew that they had, it was the United States Senate. And now that Democrats do have a compromise that they are going to vote on, the first big vote on this, this will assure, if they are correct in their vote counting, assure that they have the votes to move forward on health care in the Senate. And ultimately pass probably later this week.
Many people are asking, well, what does this mean for them? Let me give you a couple of quick bullet points. First of all, more importantly, nearly all Americans are going to have to actually have health insurance. It will be a requirement and for most people who don't have it, they are going to have to pay a fine if not. And for people who are making -- a families, I should say, making $88,200 or less, they are going to get government subsidies to help pay for the insurance they are now required to get. And for families of four, making $29,000 or less, they will be able to get Medicaid, which of course is a government assistance program for low-income Americans. That will be expanded just a little bit to make this new mandate for insurance coverage available to them, and affordable.
GUPTA: I do want to talk a little bit about the cost of this, and how they are going to pay for this. But let me just ask you for people who are tuning in right now, this vote is expected at 1:00 a.m. four days before Christmas. Why? Why now? Why in the middle of the night?
BASH: Ha, OK. Well, the why now, just broadly, it's because Democrats have been trying so, so hard to get this done as fast as they can. Remember, the president's original deadline was to get this bill done by August. That didn't happen because rallying the Democratic troops - again, it's important to underscore - trying to bridge the philosophical divide within the Democratic Party has been so hard. So the deadline that they have put on themselves is by Christmas. And the way to get this done, Democrats say by Christmas is to do this.
Why the late night, or early morning, however you look at it? Because of the way that the legislative calendar works when the Democratic leader was actually able to form this compromise, had he to formally file it, if you will, on the Senate floor, and then the procedure allowed for several hours, actually 30 hours, of debate and that ended at 1:00 a.m., or will end at 1:00 a.m.
GUPTA: And as you were talking, the Senate prayer just finishing up, there, as well. Talk about cost. You talked about costs specifically. How did the Democrats say that we can pay for this health care bill and I don't know if you've had a chance to analyze all of the numbers but does it breakdown? How does it breakdown?
BASH: Well, the gist of it is the Congressional Budget Office, which is really the arbiter of how much things cost, in Congress, they said that this price tag is $871 billion. How much -how will they pay for it? About half of it, a little more, $500 billion, in spending cuts, especially to the Medicare program.
But the rest of it will tax hikes. There will be a lot of tax hikes. There will be a 40 percent excise tax and high cost insurance plans. There will be fees or taxes on insurance companies, on medical device companies. People who makeover $250,000, they will see an increase in their Medicare payroll tax.
And there is something new, Sanjay, there is a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services. It looks like the tanning service lobby is not as strong as the cosmetic surgery lobby because so called, Botax, that was dropped from this bill.
GUPTA: That's right. A 5 percent "Botax". We had talked a lot about that.
Dana, we are going to have a lot more on this. Obviously, I want to dissect some of those numbers down a little bit further. For now let's send it back up to Tom. Dana, stand by.
FOREMAN: Yes, Sanjay, we are going to run over our White House Correspondent Dan Lothian now, to get sort of the read there.
Dan, let me ask you a quick question about this. That is the senator from Tennessee talking there, right now.
How does the White House feel about this whole thing at this moment? I know they want to get a win out of this, but this doesn't really resemble what they were pitching in the first place. The president said that he wanted it in August. Then he said he wanted it again, and now they are struggling to get it done now. Is the White House saying, great, this is a victory? Or are they saying now we have a lot of repairs to do, even if we pass it, to make this thing really look like the victory they want?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly do think that this is a victory, but they are pointing out that there is still a long way to go.
You are right in pointing out that this looks like what the president was talking about many months ago. That he wanted something that would have a public option and he's not getting that at all. But they say that they are at the one yard line. They haven't gotten yet into the goal. They haven't made that goal yet. They believe that they will be able to do that and they will be working very hard.
The president engaged behind the scenes trying to make sure that this does happen. They also realize that Republicans are going to be throwing up a lot of procedural barriers. We heard David Axelrod, the senior advisor, talking about that, but they believe, though, that in the end that the will -- there is the will there to make this happen.
FOREMAN: And do they have confidence that in the final form of this, that they can get enough Democrats together, in the House and the Senate, to get this thing through with these explosive issues still out there? The debate over abortion, the debate over funding this, the debate on who is going to get hit with the extra payment on this? Even the concerns that this could ultimately lead to the president breaking his own pledge about not raising taxes on certain people?
LOTHIAN: Well, they certainly hope so. That's the big hurdle right now. Because you do have these two bills, both in the House and the Senate, that will have to be merged and there are differences. One has the public option. The Senate version does not have the public option at all. So they are hoping that they can get what they want. And ultimately they are saying, you know, what is important here is that 30 some million Americans who are uninsured will be able to get insurance. They are saying that some of the problems that you've had with the insurance companies will be broken down. And so, it will be a much different system than we currently have. There will be some kind of reforms, but clearly it won't be everything that the president was looking for.
What is interesting, here -another point, too -is that this is a president who came to Washington who said that he was going to change the way that Washington worked. He was going to change the way that deals were made in order to get legislation passed. And there is now a lot of criticism, from Republicans, saying you know, it is essentially "The Price Is Right". That the White House, the Democrats, were willing to give up a lot. In particular, you saw with Ben Nelson, getting a lot for his state of Nebraska. A lot of deal- making went into play here, so that they could get the 60 Democrats to line up on this.
LOTHIAN: And the White House saying that, listen - go ahead.
FOREMAN: Hearing you, Dan, you bring up an interesting point there. Because I remember one of the other earlier criticisms that stuck for a long time was that as a candidate, Barack Obama said that we'll have every meeting open. People will be able to watch everything that we do, all the dealing with the insurance companies, and that simply has not been the case.
LOTHIAN: Well, they say there has been a lot of transparency here. Everything that has played out, in all of the deal making, if you will, that has been going on, there's been a lot of transparency. And they say that, listen, this is what happened, whether it's Democrats or Republicans, this is what takes place. Essentially, the American people getting a chance to see how the sausage is being made here and that some lawmakers will get specific things for their states, in order to get their vote. So they believe there has been a lot of transparency here. But certainly there has been a lot of criticism, that all of what the president talked about changing, when he was coming to Washington, that is the same thing that is taking place here, in order to health care reform.
FOREMAN: We'll check back in with you again. Dan, thanks so much for that.
GUPTA: All right. And As you can see there as well, the Senate is underway at midnight, just after midnight December 21, now. And historic events taking place here.
We're going to see what happens, obviously, following this very closely. All of the resources of CNN at play here. If you haven't been interested of the health care debate up until now, because of too much noise, or just seems too political. I'll tell you what, it is getting very interesting here. In fact, since the early 1900s, politicians have made attempts to provide care for all Americans. Something you have heard quite a bit of, and tonight we're closer than ever before to seeing that promise fulfilled.
GUPTA (voice-over): The American system of health care is an accident of history. You see, during World War II, they government temporarily froze wages to head off inflation. But they also allowed companies to get tax breaks by providing benefits, like health insurance. The system stuck.
Today, more than 157 million Americans rely on their jobs for health coverage but that safety net is also getting smaller. In just the past 10 years, thousands of companies have stopped offering insurance. While at the same time, workers were asked to pay 131 percent more. From the crucible of World War II, France, Britain, Canada, not to mention Germany, emerged with government-run health insurance systems. President Truman did want the same thing here.
HARRY TRUMAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's about legislation to provide our citizens with the homes that they need, the opportunity for universal good health.
GUPTA: But the American Medical Association fought back. The battle cry? No socialized medicine. Truman's plan was defeated.
Sixteen years ago the country was abuzz about the Clinton's health plan. That plan suffered a crushing defeat in 1994 forcing the health care debate out of the spotlight. I saw it firsthand in 1997 and '98, when I worked as a nonpartisan White House fellow in Hillary Clinton's office.
Today 46 million, that is more than 15 percent of all Americans have no health insurance. And in a recent CNN poll, 91 percent say the system needs some sort of reform.
GUPTA: And that is where we have been. Obviously, the question now, where we are headed? We have exclusive coverage tonight of the Senate vote on health care.
A very important night, I want to bring in Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, as well, to join this conversation.
Good night, I guess, early morning to you, David. Thanks for joining us. You and I have had a lot of opportunities to talk about this in the past. You just watched that piece. Let me ask you, sort of broadly as we get into this, when it comes to this sort of thing, is something better than nothing? This obviously is a very different bill than what I think a lot of people were expecting a year or 14 months ago.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Sanjay, a remarkable night in Washington. You find people in Washington are deeply divided on that very question. And so is the country. It was only a few months ago that the country by a significant majority thought that passing some form of health reform was more important than allowing the status quo to remain.
But in the last three or four weeks, opinion has started to move south on health care reform. So that now, in some polls, you find the majority of Americans saying it's better to do nothing than to pass this particular health reform.
I must say, Sanjay, referring back to your piece, this is an historic night, in many ways, because going all the way back to World War Ii, seven presidents have tried to get some sort of universal health care coverage in this country. All seven have failed.
This will be the first time that the Senate of the United States has embraced a universal health care reform plan, never happened before, a long way to go. But it's also important to note that I can't remember a time Sanjay, when a piece of legislation this important, this important to the economy or the future of the country has also been passed on a strictly partisan vote. And I think is disquieting.
GUPTA: Right. So just following up there -and Senator Lamar Alexander, speaking there, next to you, David.
So who is happy with this? If you sort of take a look at all of the various people who are interested in this, which is everybody, who is thrilled tonight?
GERGAN: Well, on the political spectrum, there is a great deal of unhappiness on the right, and there is a great deal of unhappiness on the left of the Democratic Party. Howard Dean, for example, is representative of that progressive part of the Democratic Party.
But I would have to say that sort of center-left Democrats, moderate Democrats, you know, the most urban Democrats, are pleased. They'd like to see it improved and there's going to be this fight.
Tonight is a big milestone, but I think it's increasingly clear there is going to be a struggle over what the final bill might look like, and whether you can hold together the coalition in the House -- which passed, after all, just by a majority -- and still hold together the coalition in the Senate. That's going to be a lot of work ahead. But this is a big victory for Harry Reid, as well as President Obama and they are very happy tonight.
FOREMAN: David, let me jump in with a question here.
FOREMAN: One of the chief criticisms of Republicans is they are basically saying - as you see, Senator John McCain taking to the podium right now. One of the chief criticism of Republicans is this notion that somehow this is being sneaked through the middle of the night. We're going to take a moment and listen to John McCain and then I want you to respond to that questions in just a moment. Let's listen to Senator McCain. (BEGIN LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I don't really like to spend too much time recalling it, but health care was a big issue in the presidential campaign, and on October 8th, 2008, just less than a month before the election, then candidate-Obama said -- and I quote, concerning health care reform -- quote, "I'm going to have all of the negotiations around a big table. We'll have negotiations televised on C-Span, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies", keep that in mind, "the drug companies or the insurance companies."
Now, that was a statement made by then-Senator/Candidate Obama. So what we have seen here, what we have seen here, is a dramatic departure. There has never been a C-Span camera. There has never been a negotiation, a serious negotiation between Republicans and the other side. There has never been.
I say that with the knowledge, Mr. President, of someone who was negotiated many times across the aisle, on many agreements. So don't stand up and say that there were serious negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. There never were.
But there was negotiations with a special interests, with PhRMA, the same ones that the president said we was going to be -- was going to see who the American people were on the side of. Clearly this administration and that side of the aisle was on the side of PhRMA because they got a sweetheart deal of about $100 billion that would have been saved if we had been able to re-import prescription drugs. AARP has a sweetheart deal, there is a provision in this deal for them, plans that medi-gap insurance sold by AARP are exempt from tax on insurance companies.
The AMA signed up because of the promise of a doc's fix. There was throughout this, we should have set up a tent out in front and put Persian rugs out in front of it. That's the way that this has been conducted.
And, of course, then so the special interests were taken care of, then we had to take care of special senators. And the one deal is called, we've got new words in our lexicon now, the Louisiana Purchase, the Cornhusker Kickback. I got a new name, the Florida flim-flam, the one that gives the Medicare advantage members in Florida, around the country that benefit but my constituents in Medicare Advantage don't.
And so in answer to this question today, the majority leader said, quote, "A number of states are treated differently than other states." Really? "A number of states are treated different than other states. That's what legislation is all about. That's compromise." Where is that taught? Where is that taught?
A number of states are treated differently than over states. That's what legislation is all about, let's compromise. My friends, that's not what the American people call governing. That's called exactly what the -- an opposite, a contradiction of what the president of the United States says we will have negotiations televised on C- Span so that people can see who is making arguments.
I see the leader from Illinois, over there, just a few days ago, I said what is in the bill? The senator from Illinois says, I don't know. I'm in the dark too. I can give him his own quote. So, here we are, as the senator from Tennessee said, in the middle of the night. And here we are, my friends about to pass a bill with 60 votes; now 60 votes represents 60 percent of this body. And I can assure my friends on the other side of the aisle
(END LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)
FOREMAN: All right. That is Senator John McCain, from Arizona, and you can see how fired up he is. I want to get back to David Gergen with a question, in just a moment, but first let's go to Dana Bash over there.
Dana, I have been watching this, as you have today. And this is the sort of thing that we have been hearing from Republicans, all evening long. This sense of this wasn't bi-partisan, they weren't brought in on the conversations. They feel, and they feel like -- as they keep saying -the Democrats are ram-rodding through bad legislation in the middle of the night right before Christmas, because that is when they can get away with it. Is that pretty much the party line?
BASH: That's right. Very much so. There are a whole bunch of issues all at once there. You heard from John McCain. He summarized them quite well.
On the whole question of bi-partisanship, look, there simply isn't. I mean, that is the bottom line. For a time there were really serious, earnest talks between some Republicans and some Democrats that lasted for a very long time, but they ended up breaking down.
On the issue of transparency, look, the bottom line is, as somebody who has tried to cover these negotiations and trying to figure out what has been, at least in the past two weeks, what is going to be in the final democratic bill. It has been hard. Not just for me, but for my colleagues in the Capitol Hill press corps. There is not question about it. There hasn't been a lot of transparency. And it has been hard to get details.
John McCain is right on that. However, I will tell you, that is not unusual for Capitol Hill. It is business as usual, which is the point that John McCain is trying to make. That is what is President Obama campaigned against. So, it is very interesting to hear all of the Republican arguments wrapped into one with John McCain, but things haven't changed much here on Capitol Hill. I'll just leave it there.
GUPTA: And, David Gergen, let me bring you back in as well. One of the things that was talked about quite a bit was that there was a coalition of partners with regard to reform this time. The AMA, as you just heard mentioned, PhRMA, various organizations that back in 1993, and 1994 simply were not on board. What I'm hearing, from Senator McCain and Dana just now, is that it sounds like there was a lot of quid pro quo going on here. At least very much from the tone of Senator McCain's remarks. Fair, is that is that fair, David?
GERGEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think what we're seeing in John McCain is the fury that exists on the Republican side, about the way that this whole thing has been undertaken. Dana has a good point. In the Senate Finance Committee there was a long series of negotiations with Senator Baucus putting it together, with a number of Republicans at the table like Olympia Snowe. They did breakdown.
But there is a sense among Republicans, more broadly, that there are only a few of them represented there. There was nothing like sort of the roundtables that we have seen in the past. I think Dana is right, that is not very different from what we have seen in Capitol Hill. But I must say what we have seen in Capitol Hill in recent years. Going back to Medicare and Medicaid, all the way through Reagan, with tax reform, in 1986, what we saw then was bi-partisanship in which people actually were brought to the table, there were votes from both sides. We had super-majorities that passed things.
And in instead of having this kind of partisan divide, we had legislation that went through with the sense in the country this represents the will of the entire country. Now what we are going to have instead, this is going to be - they are likely to get this, in the end. But what we are also seeing with Senator McCain is we are heading for another big fight in the fall of 2010, as Republicans run candidates straight against this health care reform. This issue is not going to go away with the passage of a bill. We have more politics ahead I'm afraid. And furious politics.
BASH: And Sanjay, if I might just add one quick thing and that is, that the other thing that John McCain was talking about, and David alluded to, is the deals cut with some of the interest groups. That is very true and it was done very directly by the White House and by Democratic leaders, as a defense mechanism. They cut a deal with pharmaceutical industry because they didn't want those ads, those successful ads back in 1994 to come back and hit them again.
So this was all done, perhaps they would say defensively, but very specifically and very directly to try to keep the coalition of very important and very powerful interests on their side.
GUPTA: And, Tom Foreman, you know, it is interesting because now what we are hearing is this idea that the re-importation of drugs is not going to be happening, because they have to be FDA approved. There has to be safety issues sort of dealt with. We are going to investigate that a little bit, to really figure out exactly what is happening there.
FOREMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely, Sanjay, and I don't have any doubt with our whole panel here, that as the next months go on, we are going to see more and more stories about precisely what the deals were, because as we know, one of the problems is this is a very complex, very big bill. And there is a lot that we really don't know about it. Even if you read through it, you can't sort out all the details very easily.
We are just getting started, here. Stay with us. This is a very big night with a very big vote. When we come back, we'll talk a little bit more about the high political stakes for the president and his party. Because they are putting a lot on the line here tonight.
(LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)
SEN. TOM HARKIN, (D) IOWA: So, we couldn't filibuster. So, we couldn't have any debate on it, that's what they did. That's what they did. We didn't do it that way.
(END LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)
(BEGIN LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 31 million people out there without health insurance aren't going to get health insurance.
(END LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)
FOREMAN: That is Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who has been a long proponent of the idea of taking health reform and getting some legislation that will make a big difference, a Democrat from Iowa there.
Beyond the particulars of what is actually in the Senate health care bill, obviously there is a tremendous amount of political weight in play here, for the White House, and for the president's party.
We have the best political team on television here to help us sort through all of that, a tremendous number of good folks there. Dana Bash, over there, Dan Lothian, from the White House, David Gergen, always with us, good to have him with. And April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, is also joining us now.
April, let me start with you, with a quick question here. The Democrats truly seem to be putting an awful lot of chips into this kitty and saying, we believe this will really work. And for all of the Republican anger that we saw from John McCain there, you also see Republicans saying to quote Jon Cornyn earlier today, from Texas. He said, there would be a day of accounting for this. They believe that the Democrats are making a big mistake that is going to eat them alive next fall. What do you think?
APRIL RYAN, CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: Well, this is definitely political, politics of politics. But at issue, Democrats are fighting among themselves, as well, about this. And we saw that with the White House versus Howard Dean. But we are also seeing the White House rallying with Democrats to pass this. And it is Democrat versus Republican. This is definitely a major win for the president. If he can pull this off.
Again, we have said this tonight. This is something that we've seen before, many presidents have tried, seven presidents have tried, and if he indeed does get some type of health care reform, it may not be the original mandate that he started out with when he was a candidate for president. But if he gets some type of health care reform, within the next few months, this is definitely a big win for him, for his party, and it also translates into the elections, the upcoming elections in 2010, as well as 2012.
FOREMAN: David Gergen, let me ask you a follow-up question on that very issue. I asked earlier about the notion that Republicans keep saying that they are hustling this through in the middle of the night, near the holidays, because they don't want people to look at this very closely. Whether that is true or not, perception means a lot in politics. That seems like the kind of massage, to me, that could sell pretty well in the country, if details start coming out of this thing that bother people.
GERGEN: I agree with that, Tom. And I think that from a Democratic point of view, it's unfortunate that they are going to have to vote at 1:00 in the morning. It will be far better to do this during the working day. But they do have this pressure that is built up on them to get this bill passed in the Senate before Christmas for a couple of reasons.
They don't -- there's a real concern about momentum. There's been a loss of momentum in these polls around the country. In Nebraska for example, Ben Nelson when he made his deal and when he got his $45 million Medicade deal for Nebraska. As well as, getting some of the language changed on abortion. He was facing a poll back in Nebraska that said 67 percent of people in Nebraska are against this reform.
So, there was a real -- there has been a real fear among Democrats that if they don't get this done now, people go home from Congress and they hear from their constituents and this goes on for two or three or four more weeks with a drooping polls. That they would come back unwilling to pass it. So they wanted to get it done now. And they also don't want it to extend too far into the New Year because the closer it does get to 2010, elections in November of next year, the more jittery people will get. Is this going to cut for me or against me.
If you pass it now or in the next couple of months, let's say it's not popular back home, you're a Democrat. It's unpopular back in your home, you may have eight or ten months for things to heal if you pass it by January or February, you may have time to come up, the terrain can change and you can still survive what could be a very tough vote.
If you do it much, much later in the year and you pass to something that's unpopular you have very little recovery time. And so there's been real -- there's political reason to get this done. It is -- this has become a highly political issue but I must tell you, I think one of the reasons that the country has turned on this, and is less enthusiastic as it was, it's become so political. That people worry it's all -- that politics is driving the substance and not substance driving the substance. GUPTA (on camera): And as we watch Senator Tom Harkin there at the podium you are watching our exclusive coverage here of the Senate vote. Tell us back to Dana Bash, I believe you have some new information Dana.
DANA BASH, SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've just wanted to give you some information just as if it wasn't already obvious how important and how critical this was to President Obama to give you some color about that. To illustrate it, several of his top aids when it comes to health care are here at this very late hour or early hour, depending on how you want to look at it. The secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, she is in the Capital for this vote.
The President's deputy chief White House chief of staff, Jim Messenas, somebody who has been really, actually has been here a lot, trying to negotiate it and through every minute of these talks, to try to bridge the Democratic divide, he is also here. And Nancy DeParle who is one of the President's top advisors on health care. They are all here in the building right now. Rom Emmanuel who is Chief of Staff, he was here earlier. And he left. So that just gives you a sense of what we are talking about. How incredibly critical this upcoming vote is.
Despite all of the talk, all of the votes, all of the rhetoric and in terms of what the President really needs going forward and how close they really think they are to finally getting this, this particular Senate vote is what they consider a milestone when they get it in Nevada in half an hour.
GUPTA: It really does underscore the importance of this -- no question. That vote expected about 27 minutes from now about, 1:00 a.m., four days before Christmas, we are giving you a sort of insiders look at what's happening there specifically. We'll have much more after the break.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pursuant to the honest leadership and open government act of 2007 and the question had to do with...
FOREMAN: Members of the Senate are working late into the night of the health care measure that Senator Chris Dodd on the floor right now. He's been under considerable pressure at home over a lot of issues lately, let's listen in for a moment about what he is saying about health care.
SEN. CHRIS DODD, (D) CONNECTICUT: Specifically at this effort, but goes back 40 or 50 years in terms of drafting and efforts that have been made to achieve what we're trying to achieve this evening.
At the end of the day, however, this legislation is really about freedom from fears. As I said a moment ago. The bill frees Americans from the fear that if they lose their job, they'll never find insurance coverage again. The bill frees Americans from the fear that they might get sick and unable to afford the treatment that they need. And the bill frees Americans from the fear that one illness, one accident could cost them everything that they built, their homes, their retirement, their life savings.
In a nation, Mr. President, founded on freedom and sustained by unimaginable prosperity, as I've mentioned before, this bill is long overdue and critically important. No American can be free from fear when getting sick could mean getting broke. This fight is older than most of us who've served in this body. Our path has been illuminated by a torch lit years ago. The days of Harry Truman and sustained by decades by good people, Republicans and Democrats.
The Nixon administration, the Clinton administration, members like John Chasey who worked tirelessly behalf on trying to craft a good health care bill. You've heard others talk about the regrets that they have and not acknowledging his ideas when he proposed them. We might have not -- we might have been able to address this issue years and years ago. So, good people have tried to come up with some answers to this issue.
It's with a note of sadness that we're going to have a partisan vote on this matter. I wish it was otherwise. I'd like to point out that many of us have fought and challenged us to come up with these answers.
But tonight, this is our answer. The 60 of us who will vote to go forward with this. The Senator Harkin just pointed out, it is hardly finally the last answer on this matter. But it allows us to begin that process of addressing these issues in a more thoughtful and comprehensive way in the years ahead.
And of course no one was a better champion of all of this, as Senator Harkin pointed out than our diseased and beloved colleague from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. He fought these battles for so many years. He tried it peace mills. He understood that you could never solve all of these issues in one fell swoop at all.
It was going to take an incremental approach to get us there. And while I can guarantee you that if he were to read this bill there'd be disappointments he'd have in it. I knew him well enough to know that, to say that this evening. If he could have written it on his own, he would have written differently. But I guarantee you as I stand here this evening, were he among us this evening, he would urge all of us to move forward on this bill to, address it, to vote for it, to allow this nation to begin to grapple with this issue that could have been solved more than 50 years ago.
And so this evening, again, as we come down to the final minutes of this debate, let us remind ourselves that I think history will judge us well for taking up this challenge once again and asking ourselves to give Americans the opportunity to live freedom and freedom from those fears that they have for this very evening and tonight we begin to alleviate those fears. And I urge my colleagues to support this effort. FOREMAN: That was Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut, a true believer in this holding. Bringing up what's been brought up many times today, David Gergen, this remembrance of Senator Ted Kennedy. And I remember reading a speech that he gave back when he ran against Jimmy Carter where he really laid out almost all of the principles that the Democrats were fighting for all this year in this measure. Certainly his spirit hangs heavy over everything tonight. Doesn't it?
GERGEN: It does and it -- it was as Senator Kennedy said that toward the end of his life. But one of his greatest regrets was that when the opportunity came to form, a bipartisan effort with President Nixon who favored universal health care access, that effort failed. And President -- Senator Kennedy always looked back on that with regret.
FOREMAN: And David, I'm going to have to interrupt you --
GERGEN: Yes, sure.
FOREMAN: Going to interrupt you with regret at that moment because Mitch McConnell is now speaking and we want to listen to what he has to say.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: Will determine whether our children can afford the nation they inherit. It is one of the most consequential votes any of us will ever take. And none of us take it lightly. But make no mistake, if the people who wrote this bill were proud of it, they wouldn't be forcing this vote in the dead of night. Here are just some of the deals, we've noticed, $100 million for an unnamed health care facility at an un named university somewhere in the United States.
The bill doesn't say where and no one will step forward to claim it. One state out of 50, one state out of 50 gets to expand Medicade at no cost to itself. While taxpayers and the other 49 states pick up the tab. The same Senator who cut that deal, secured another one that benefits a single insurance company, just one insurance company in his state. Do the supporters of this bill know this? I would say to my colleagues, do you think that's fair to all of your states?
What about the rest of the country? The fact is, the year after the debate started, few people would have imagined that this is how it would end. With a couple of cheap deals, a couple of cheap deals and a rush vote at 1:00 in the morning. But that's where you are. And Americans are wondering tonight how did this happen? How did this happen? So I'd like to take a moment to explain to the American people how we got here, to explain what's happened and, yes, what is happening now.
Now, everyone in this chamber agrees that we have health care. Health care reform, everybody agrees on that. The question is how. Some of us have taken the view that the American people want us to tackle the cost issue and we proposed targeted steps to do it. Our friends on the other side have taken the opposite approach. And the result has been just what you'd expect. The final product is a mess. A mess. And so is the process that has brought us here to vote on a bill that the American people overwhelmingly oppose. Any challenge of this size and scope has always been dealt with on a by partisan basis. The senior senator from Maine made that point at the outside of the debate and reminded us all of how these issues typically been handled throughout our history. The Social Security Act of 1935 was approved by all but six members of the Senate. The Medicare Act in 1965 had 21 senators. And the Americans with disabilities act in 1990 only had eight Senators who voted no. The Americans believe that issues of this importance, one party should never be allowed to force its will on the other half of the nation.
The proponents of this bill felt differently. In a departure from this history, Democratic leaders put together a bill so heavy with tax hikes, Medicare cuts, and government intrusion that in the end their biggest problem was not convincing Republicans to support it. It was convincing the Democrats. In the end, the price of passing this bill wasn't achieving the reforms Americans were promised. It was a blind call to make history. Even if it was a historical mistake.
Which is exactly what this bill will be if it is passed. Because in the end this debate isn't about differences between two parties. It's about $2.3 trillion, 270,033 page health care reform bill that does not reform health care. And in fact, makes the price go up. The plan I'm announcing tonight, the President said, on September the ninth will slow the growth of health care cost for our families, our businesses, and our government.
My plan, the president said, would bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family. I'll outline a plan that doesn't add a dime to our deficit, the president said, either now or in the future.
And on taxes, no family making less than a $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase he said. He said he wouldn't cut Medicare. He said people who like plans they had wouldn't lose their coverage and Americans were promised an open and honest debate.
That's what I'll do in bringing all parties together. Together then-Senator Obama said on the campaign in trail, not negotiating behind closed doors but bringing all parties together and broadcasting these negotiations on c-span.
Well, that was then. And this is now. But here's the reality. The Democrat bill we are voting on tonight raises health care cost. That's not me talking. It's the administration's own budget score keeper. It raises a premium, that's the non partisan Congressional budget office talking. It raises taxes on tens of millions of middle class Americans and plunders Medicare by half a trillion dollars.
It forces people off the plans that they have, including millions of seniors. It allows the federal government for the first time in our history to use taxpayer dollars for abortions. So a President who was voted into office, on a promise of change, he said he wanted to lower premiums. That changed. He said he wouldn't raise taxes. That changed. He said he wanted lower costs. That changed. He said he wouldn't change Medicare and that changed, too.
And 12 months and $2.3 trillion later, lawmakers who made these same promise to constituents are poised to vote for a bill that won't bend the cost curve, that won't make health care more affordable and that will make real reform even harder to achieve down the road.
Now, I understand the pressure our friends on the other side are feeling, and I don't doubt for a moment their sincerity. But my message tonight is this. The impact of this vote will long outlive this one frantic snowy weekend in Washington.
Mark my words; this legislation will reshape our nation. And Americans have already issued their verdict. They don't want it. They don't like this bill. And they don't like lawmakers playing this game to secure their vote they need to pass it.
Let's think about that for a moment. We know that the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to this bill. And yet the people who wrote it won't give the 300 million American's who's lives will be profoundly affected by it as much as 72 hours to study the details. Imagine that when we all woke up yesterday and when we woke up yesterday morning, we still haven't seen the details of the bill that we're going to be asked to vote on before we go to sleep tonight. When we woke up yesterday morning, we still hadn't seen the details of the bill we're going to be asked to vote on before we go to sleep tonight.
How can anybody justify this approach? Particularly in the face of such widespread and intense public opposition. Can all of these Americans be wrong? Don't their concerns count? Party loyalty can be a powerful source.
We all know that. But Americans are asking Democrats to put party loyalty aside tonight to put the interest of small business owners, taxpayers, and seniors first. And there is good news. It's not too late. All it takes is one. Just one, all it takes is one. One can stop it. One can stop it. Or everyone will own it. One can stop it or every single one will own it. My colleagues, it is not too late.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President -- majority
FOREMAN: That was Senator Mitch Mcconnell from Kentucky. He's the minority leader now. Let's listen to the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid from Nevada.
SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) MAJORITY LEADER: More and more Americans have come down with the flu, or even developed diabetes, suffered a stroke. More and more Americans who have a skin condition are dying rather than being cared. Pull out the medical records of these patients and official forms will tell you that they died from complications of disease or maybe some surgeon. But what's killing more and more Americans everyday are complications due to our health care system.
Much of our attention has consumed this health care debate and the national study done by Harvard university found that 4500 times this year, nearly 900 times every week. More than 120 times per day, an average of ten every ten minutes without end, an American died as a result of not having health insurance. Every ten minutes, the numbers are numbing. They don't even include those who did have had health insurance but died because they couldn't afford a plan that met their most basic needs.
This country, the greatest, the world has ever seen is the only advanced nation on earth where dying for lack of health insurance is even possible. And to make matters worse, we are paying for that privilege. The price of staying healthy in America, it goes up, it goes up, it goes up. And not surprisingly, so do numbers on Americans who can't afford. In fact medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.
And there's the second choice that is way down the list, it is medical bills. That's why we are here. Just as we have the ability to prevent diseases from killing us to soon. We have before us the ability to provide quality health care to every American and we have the ability to treat our unhealthy health care system. That's what this historic bill does. It protects patients and consumers. It lowers the cost of staying healthy. And greatly reduces our debt.
This land mark legislation protects American's youngest citizens by making it is illegal for insurance companies to refuse to cover child because of pre-existing conditions. Mr. President it protects American's oldest citizens by strengthening Medicare and extending the life for almost a decade. We are also taking the first step to close notorious loophole known as the donut hole that costs seniors thousands of dollars each year for the prescription drugs.
These are some of the reasons that AARP, the American Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- I'm sorry American Association of Retired People, not the NAACP -- I'm sorry about that, Mr. President. These are some of the reasons that AARP and it's 40 million members are supporting this bill.
Contrary to what we heard, from my distinguished friend , Republic leader say premiums are reduced, Mr. President, by 93 percent of people who have insurance will have reduced premiums. This effort also strengthens our future by cutting our towering national deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion over the next two decades.
But my distinguished Republican counterpart is saying is without basis and fact. These aren't numbers that I came up with. These are the numbers the Congressional budget came up with. $1.3 trillion, that's trillion with a t. It cuts the deficit more sharply than anything Congress has done in a long, long time. It lowers costs, it talked about Medicare.
My friend the Republican leader said it's going to reshape our nation. That's why we are doing it Mr. President. That's why we are doing this, we want to help shape the delivery system in our country. Is it right that America has 750,000 bankruptcy as year, by 80 percent of them are caused by health care costs. 62 percent of the people that have filed bankrupt because of medical costs have health insurance.
We are reshaping the nation. And that's what we want to do -- we have to do. With this full, rejecting the system in which one class of people can afford to stay healthy while another cannot. It demands for the first time in American history will not depend on great wealth. Good health should not depend on how much money you have. It acknowledges finally that health care is a fundamental right, that my friend, Senator Harkin spoke about so clearly.
A human right, not just a privilege for the most fortunate. President Johnson, formerly majority of the United States Senate, signed Medicare into law when he was President. With the advice and I quote, "we need to see beyond the words to the people that they touch." close quote. That's just as true today as it was 44 years ago when he signed the legislation.
This is not about partisanship or about procedure, and everyone knows we are here at 1:00 in the morning because of my friends on the other side of the aisle for them to say with a straight face, and I notice that some of them didn't have a straight face, we are here because of us...