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Senator Bunning's Squeeze Play; Health Care Reform; New York Governor Scandal

Aired March 2, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, one U.S. senator keeps holding jobless benefits hostage, this hour Jim Bunning's defiant stand against the deficit and the reaction from lawmakers and unemployed workers.

Plus, a coastal town in Chile is reduced to little more than firewood, what the earthquake didn't destroy the tsunami did.

And chew on this, President Obama is asking reporters to keep a secret from his wife.

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


BLITZER: But first we go to breaking news right now. Let's go to Capitol Hill. CNN senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has got word that -- Dana, I take it there's been a breakthrough over the stalemate involving Senator Bunning?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Both a spokesman for Senator Bunning and aide to the Democratic leadership tells CNN that there is a deal now that will break the impasse over $10 billion worth of benefits for unemployed workers, for their health benefits, road projects, things that have been held up for the last several days, because that one senator, Jim Bunning, has been demanding that it be paid for.

Well, what is going to happen, we are told, is that there will be not only a vote on the package, but there will be another vote on a measure to pay for it, to not add to the deficit and find a way to offset that $10 billion. Now, if it is, as it appears, which is just that one vote it sounds as though Jim Bunning is backing down. Because for some time, he has said that he won't go for that and that he -- that will not be enough for him to stop his blockade of this bill.

But right now it looks like he has backed down. And we're looking, actually, at the Senate floor, Wolf, because we are expecting Senator Bunning himself to come to the floor, as well as Democratic leaders to give a sense of how this is going to go down. But we do expect those votes, Wolf, to happen to tonight.

BLITZER: All right, so let's give some perspective, Dana. Hundreds of thousands of people who have been receiving unemployment benefits would have stopped receiving those benefits. They will now be able to get those benefits. Thousands of others who received special health care benefits under COBRA, they will get it. Transportation workers involved in highway projects, they'll be able to go back to work. There's going to be a whole series of events that will follow.

BASH: Exactly. And just starting with the workers, right there, the Labor Department says that since Sunday, about 100,000 people who have been receiving unemployment benefits, but they have run out, they have not been able to get new checks because the whole idea of what was in this package and what is in it is to extend those benefits to people who have been laid off. So that's one example.

And as you said, we saw some workers who were out at a bridge not too far from here. They were told to stop working yesterday afternoon, because this money had run out. So that should resume. You know, we have been talking about this for some -- for a couple of days now, Democrats certainly have realized that this absolutely has real-world impact and that's why they have been a little reluctant to do some of the things that they could have done, work around Senator Bunning, use Senate procedure to do that, because they wanted to make a point that Republicans are stopping something that really does affect people who are very hard hit in this country and Republicans, for their part, they have said this is the power of one senator, and that's Jim Bunning and many Republicans have preferred that he not do this.

Some have said, you know, it's his right, but many politically have said, including Susan Collins, who went to the Senate floor today, said this is the wrong thing to do. So it looks like at this point Senator Bunning has gotten the message, or at least somebody came to him and said, enough, which is not easy to do, talk to any of his colleagues, with Senator Bunning. He is, as one of his colleagues told me today, a lone wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I know he's -- we're told now he's going to the Senate floor to make a statement. We'll monitor that, obviously, Dana, and hear exactly what he has to say. But when all the dust settles, will he get what he said was his original goal in all of this? The $10 billion, as they say, will be paid for, that it won't be paid for by future generations, by increasing the national debt.

BASH: That's an important question. All indications are that he will not get that. And that is, yes, he will get a vote, but the Democratic leadership have said -- they have said all along that the majority of the Senate, actually, they don't agree with Senator Bunning. That they believe that these benefits and these programs are emergency spending and it doesn't need to be paid for.

So if they are right, they will be able to defeat Senator Bunning in his attempt to get these programs paid for. So in the end, he might get a vote, but probably not what he wants, which is to not add $10 billion to the deficit.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Dana. We're going to see what Senator Bunning himself says when he shows up on the Senate floor. Gloria Borger is standing by as well -- much more on this story coming up.

But let's get to the other political drama that's unfolding in Washington right now and could soon reach a climax. We're talking about the push for health care reform. Tomorrow, President Obama will map out how he hopes to arrive at the passage of a health bill. Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. It could be dramatic tomorrow afternoon, Dan, when the president makes his statement and lays out his road map to health care reform.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It could be dramatic. I've been talking to White House officials and they're telling me that the president will talk very much about trying to get health care reform passed in a bipartisan way, but that he will make it very clear that if that's not possible, then he will move forward on health care reform.

Now what we see tomorrow is really just a follow up to that health care summit. And in addition to that, the president is sending a letter to the bipartisan leadership in both the House and the Senate. This is a copy of that letter that the president sent out. You know, he's always been talking about, certainly in most recent weeks, about how he's willing to be open to good ideas from Republicans.

And so as part of that proposal that he's putting forward on health care reform, the president now wanting to include four ideas that were proposed by Republicans -- first of all undercover investigations of fraud and waste, expanding medical malpractice reform, increasing Medicaid payments, and also expanding health savings accounts. Now, Republican Senator Tom Coburn, who by the way at that health care summit was the one who suggested this undercover -- using undercover patients to ferret out fraud and waste said that this is a path forward. But he believes that the health care bills currently in the Senate and the House are deeply flawed and just adding a few things here or there that Republicans like are quote, "won't bring you any closer to real reform_-- Wolf.

BLITZER: Walk us through how he's going to make this statement tomorrow. Because I take it there could be some guests he's inviting over to the White House as well? Do we know some of those details?

LOTHIAN: We don't, Wolf. You know I did ask a senior administration official about that. Simply what they're telling us at this point is that they're still trying to get all the details nailed down on that -- the address that he'll make tomorrow. Statements, we are told, that the president will make. Initially, we were told that he will be making those statements some time around 10:00 in the morning.

That has been pushed back now. We are told it will happen some time early afternoon. But the bottom line here, the administration trying to show that the president is willing, has been working very hard to get all of this done in a bipartisan away. We'll hear the president talk about that tomorrow. BLITZER: And we heard Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, say just a little while ago, Dan, that if the president and the Democrats can't get those 60 votes to break a filibuster in the Senate, he will go with the reconciliation procedure --

LOTHIAN: That's right.

BLITZER: -- which would allow this to be passed through the Senate with a simple up and down majority vote of 51. I assume the president will lay that out tomorrow?

LOTHIAN: That's right. We're expecting the president will lay out that, although I asked specifically if the president will talk about reconciliation. I'm told not to expect any grand pronouncements on that, but certainly the administration has been signaling that they want to do this in a bipartisan way, but the president wants to also move forward with health care reform. So, clearly, that is something we'll hear the president talk about tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right thanks very much, Dan Lothian is over at the White House. I want to remind our viewers, we're monitoring the breaking news on the floor of the United States Senate. We expect Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky to show up on the floor very soon and announce that there's been a breakthrough in the standoff over benefits for unemployed workers out there. We'll monitor what he says. Stand by for that. Dana Bash is watching it; Gloria Borger is watching it as well.

Also, whole concrete crushed by powerful water in Chile right now. That's just one example of the destruction in a fishing town now entirely wiped out.

And an idea designed to make sure -- make sure that no one dies in preventable car accidents. Wait until you hear what the transportation secretary is now recommending, not just for Toyotas, but for all new vehicles.

And a mass gathering of African-American religious leaders, renowned Princeton Scholar Cornell West (ph) was there. So is CNN's Don Lemon in South Carolina. You're going to hear about the problems they hope to solve.


BLITZER: Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky is now speaking on the Senate floor.

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: -- 30-day extension of several expiring programs that was not paid for. I offered to pass the exact same bill that was paid for, and, unfortunately, he objected to my request. Now, there was nothing stopping him from using the tools at his disposal to overcome my objections. The leader could have filed cloture on the bill and brought it to the floor last week instead of the travel bill that is a great giveaway to his state.

If he had done that, this bill would have been signed into law already. He also could have filed cloture on the bill and worked through the weekend and it would already be law. Or the leader could have proceeded to the bipartisan Baucus/Grassley bill that paid for these programs and it would have been signed into law by now. Or he could have accepted my request to pay for the bill and we would not be here tonight.

Instead, the leader decided to press ahead with a bill that adds to the debt and violates the principles of pay-go everybody claims to care about. Just over a month ago, the majority in this Senate passed pay-go legislation that supposedly said we are going to pay for what we spend. I support the idea, but I knew at the time the legislation would be ignored. And unfortunately, I was right.

Barely one week after President Obama signed the pay-go law into effect the majority leader proposed a bill that was not paid for. The bill passed and added $10 billion to the deficit. That is $10 billion your children and my children and grandchildren will have to pay for. That is $10 billion on top of a $14 trillion national debt.

After passing $10 billion more debt on to the future generations, the majority leader proposed to pass another bill to add another $10 billion to the debt. That's when I said, enough is enough. We cannot keep adding to the debt and passing the buck to generations of future workers and taxpayers, my children and your children and our grandchildren. As we all know, the national debt has grown at a record pace in recent years.

A large part of that has been a result of a downturn in the economy a decade ago and then during the last few years. But increased government spending has been a major factor too. Over the last few days several senators on the other side of the aisle have blamed Republican spending for the debt and asked why we did not pay for things when we were in charge. Well, Mr. President, they have a point.

I wish we would have spent less and paid for more of it when we were in charge. There are some votes I wish I could have back. And I'm sure many of my colleagues on this side of the aisle feel the same way. But it's not fair to blame Republican spending for all the drastic increases in our national debt. Our side has not controlled the Congress for more than three years.

And the current Congress is spending more and faster than ever before. For example, last year the majority pushed through a so- called stimulus bill, followed quickly by an omnibus spending bill that combined -- contributed -- excuse me -- that contributed to the government ending the year $1.4 trillion in the red, the largest one- year deficit in the history of the United States of America.

Clearly, we are not headed in the right direction. I do not want to turn this into a partisan debate, because it isn't a partisan issue. I only make these points to show that neither side has clean hands and what matters is that we get our spending problems under control. As every struggling family knows, we cannot solve a debt problem by spending more. We must get our debt problems under control and there is no better time than now. That is why I've been down here demanding that this bill be paid for. I support the programs in the bill we are discussing and if the extension of those programs were paid for I would gladly support the bill. The unemployment rate in my state is well over 10 percent right now. Many rural families get their television through satellite providers in Kentucky.

While more than half of our state is bordered by rivers and flood insurance is vital to the people that live near those borders and any of the major minor rivers in the state. In fact, I wrote the law that enacted the current version of the Flood Insurance Program, so I care about it deeply. I'm concerned about all the other programs in this bill as well, as every other member of this body.

That is all the more reason to pay for this bill. If we cannot pay for a bill that all 100 senators support, how can we tell the American people with a straight face that we will ever pay for anything? That is what senators say they want and that is what the American people want. They want us to get our budgets in order, just like they have to get their budgets in order, every day.

But that is not what the majority is doing. So, tonight, tomorrow, and on every spending bill in the future, we will see whether they mean business about controlling our debt or if it is just words. We will see if pay-go has any teeth or not. Tonight, I am offering a substitute amendment that pays for these important programs with Democratic ideas.

BLITZER: All right, so there you heard it, from Senator Bunning. He says he's got a deal that he's going to work out. He says he's still holding firmly to his principles, but he's going to allow this measure to go forward. He will introduce legislation to make sure it's paid for. Dana Bash has been listening to Senator Bunning on the Senate floor. He's making it clear he's not moving away from his principles, Dana, but he is going forward and allowing this measure to go forward itself so that the workers can get their unemployment benefits, transportation workers can go back to work and COBRA recipients can get that health care insurance benefit. It's an important development.

BASH: It's absolutely an important development. This was absolutely -- had halted everything in the Senate for several days. And this is something that Democrats had frankly wanted from the beginning, to allow Senator Bunning to have a vote because they -- if they're right, if their vote counting is right, they believe that they can defeat it. And this vote that he's actually announcing right now is specifically to allow these benefits to go through, to get those workers back on the job, to get those unemployed workers their unemployment benefits again, but to do it by paying for it with unused stimulus funds, as he just said, with money from a Democratic idea.

Again, we don't think that that is going to pass. We're going to see a vote probably in about an hour and 10 minutes. That will be the first vote on Senator Bunning's amendment. And then following that, we expect actually to have this benefits package finally passed with another Senate vote. BLITZER: We'll continue to monitor what's going to happen, an important development, though, and a lot of workers who are receiving those unemployment benefits they will be relieved to hear this news. Dana thanks very much.

There's also breaking news coming from New York State right now, involving the governor, David Paterson. We'll check in with Mary Snow right after this.



BLITZER: And there's breaking news from Albany, the state capital in New York involving the embattled Governor David Paterson. Let's go to CNN's Mary snow. She's in Albany for us. All right, Mary, what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the second resignation in two weeks. New York State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt (ph) has stepped down abruptly from his post, not giving any reason, but state police confirmed that he has resigned. And if you remember, when this whole story came about, the allegations are the state police had contacted a woman who said that she had been a victim of domestic abuse and had accused a Paterson aide of that abuse.

Now, if you remember last week, Harry Corbitt's (ph) boss stepped down, Denise O'Donnell (ph), and she said that any direct contact by the governor and state police, the fact that they had acknowledged, no matter what the intentions were, the fact that there was contact with this woman, Denise O'Donnell (ph) said was unacceptable and she resigned her post. So this is the second resignation in two weeks.

Governor David Paterson was here at the Capitol. He left just a short time ago. He took a few questions. He was asked about this resignation. All he said about it was that he would miss Superintendent Corbitt (ph) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So it's all part of this David Paterson scandal, these resignations. They seem to be dropping and the pressure is clearly mounting on the governor to resign as well?

SNOW: It certainly is, but he is staying put and we are told by the governor's office that the governor does plan to have a cabinet meeting tomorrow morning. He has reiterated that he would not resign. We did talk with the Democratic chairman of New York State, who encouraged David Paterson, he told us today -- he said he encouraged the governor to tell his story. The governor has been saying that he can't talk about this whole thing because of the investigation that's going on right now, but he is being encouraged to come out and tell his story, his involvement in these allegations.

BLITZER: Mary, stand by. Thanks very much. Let's get some perspective from CNN's Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst -- Gloria, the pressure as they say on Governor Paterson really intense right now, but he's trying to resist. GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he and you know when you talk to people in Washington and the congressional delegation, they say that they're not really close to him, perhaps with the exception of Charlie Rangel and that he has a real core of people who do surround him. They here in Washington feel kind of isolated from him, but one suggested to me the one reason he may decide to hang on is the same reason that Eliot Spitzer stayed in office, and that is as a sitting governor, you have some leverage if you've got legal problems and you can use your resignation as a way to bargain, if you will, with the attorney general's office, so that may be one reason he's deciding to kind of hang back and sit it out for now.

BLITZER: And yesterday word came out that he is not going to seek election in November, opening up the door in New York State for someone else, obviously, to run including the attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, who's leading this investigation of Governor Paterson right now. It's a little complicated and it raises all sorts of questions.

BORGER: Yes, it does. I mean there are some who say that Andrew Cuomo ought to in fact give the investigation to somebody else to do, since he's clearly likely to be a candidate for governor. There are others who say if he conducts the investigation quickly and gets it over with that won't be much of a problem, but in the end, everyone expects that Andrew Cuomo will be a Democratic candidate for governor.

BLITZER: Gloria, thank you very much. We'll stay on top of this story as well. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well a plan to fire all teachers at one of Rhode Island's poorest performing high schools and start from scratch has teachers' union officials up in arms. The union has filed state labor charges calling the move unfair. School officials last week voted to let the entire Central Falls High School faculty of 90 go by the year's end. President Obama cited the firings as one example of the need for accountability for poor student performance.

An Iowa jury has convicted a man of first-degree murder in the death of a well-known high school football coach. Twenty-four-year- old Mark Becker was found guilty today of gunning down Coach Ed Thomas. Last June Becker shot the 58-year-old Thomas six times in front of students. He said Thomas was Satan and had been tormenting him. Thomas held a 292-84 record and two state titles over 37 years of coaching and coached four players who went on to the NFL.

President Obama has a new proposal that he hopes will be as popular as the "Cash for Clunkers" program. Speaking at a technical school in Savannah, Georgia, Mr. Obama said the administration's "homestar" program would offer incentives to people who buy energy efficient equipment. Now, the program would give those people on the spot rebates of $1,000 or more. The cost of implementing the program is estimated at $6 billion and it would require Congress' approval. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says his department may recommend that all new vehicles sold in the United States have breaks capable of overriding the gas pedal. And this idea appears to be gaining support as Toyota returned to Capitol Hill for another round of hearings. Toyota has said it will put such a system in all its new cars sold in the U.S. It also says it will give its U.S. and Canadian divisions more authority to decide when to issue future recalls. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Damage control on the part of Toyota. Let's hope it all works out. Cars are safer. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

By the way, General Motors is also initiating a recall of 1.3 million Chevrolet and Pontiac models in North America. At issue, faulty power steering linked to 14 crashes and an injury in the United States. All of the cars in this recall are essentially the same car, mechanically and body type. Those affected are sold as 2005 to 2010 Chevy Cobalts and 2007 to 2010 Pontiac G-5 models in the United States. 2005 to 2006 Pontiac Pursuits in Canada. And 2005 to 2006 Pontiac G-4s in Mexico. A GM spokesman says the condition tends to affect vehicles with 20,000 to 30,000 miles on them.

In Chile right now, they're trying to put battered lives back to together after that devastating earthquake, Chile still shakes. There have been at least 12 aftershocks, experts say, recorded in the past 24 hours. Also, Chilean officials have increased the death toll to now 800. 13,000 Chilean troops are being deployed to help restore as much calm as possible. As for aid, it's slow to arrive. CNN's Carl Penhaul is in one area entirely wiped out after the earthquake.


CARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look at the force of that water, concrete, concrete and brick constructions. It withstood the earthquake, according to the inhabitants, but then were just crushed by the power of the water. And so if I take you -- and I'll get Ken, our cameraman, to take you on a spin, a 360 or 180 spin around here, and look what is left of this town. This town thrives on the fishing industry, but it's also a tourist resort. Look at what is left. Nothing. Nothing. Talking to one of the police officers who's on site here, he said to me, he said, about 80% of this town is now destroyed. He said what is left, he said, is hardly even good for firewood.


BLITZER: CNN's Carl Penhaul on the scene. And NASA, by the way, now says that the earthquake in Chile was so powerful it actually made our days shorter. The force of it displaced so much of the earth's mass that it impacted the planet's rotation, shifting the axis about three inches, but it's doubtful you'll notice the change. It's only 1.26 microseconds, which is just slightly longer than 1/1 millionth of a second.

It's called the great gathering. Bringing together religious leaders, scholars and activists with one main goal, keeping young African American men out of trouble. CNN's Don Lemon is there. We're going there live. And mail deliveries on Saturdays could become a thing of the past as the U.S. postal service looks for ways to stop the bleeding of billions of dollars.


BLITZER: Members of three African-American churches are coming together for the first time in almost half a century. It's called the great gathering and it's addressing what one attendee calls a state of emergency among America's black youth. CNN's Don Lemon is in Columbia, South Carolina, working the story for us. Don, what's going on there?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Basically what's going on, Wolf, is that we're having church in here. There are people who have been preaching, we've been hearing choirs, it's very interesting to watch all this. But as you said, three different Methodist denominations. 5,000 strong here, but really 5 million strong or so across the country. What they're trying to do is basically correct a social problem in three days, one that took decades to build.


LEMON: Not much comes between Jeff Freelon and his mother, except maybe a news reporter asking questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you glad she brought you? Honestly?

JEFF FREELON JR., FRESHMAN, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Honestly, I'm still kind of iffy about it, but I have to say, I am learning a lot.

LEMON: Instead of spending his spring break gathering on a beach with friends, the 18-year-old University of Michigan freshman was dragged by his mom to another gathering, the great gathering, a Methodist convention in Columbia, South Carolina.

You're relentless?

SHEILA WILSON-FREELON, JEFF'S MOM: I am. And he knows it. So I and other parents do need to have a hand in raising their children. And it was not easy for me. It was a struggle.

LEMON: Jeff's dad died when Jeff was 3. He says that although he avoided trouble, it wasn't easy.

FREELON: You see them struggling with two jobs, you obviously want to help them in some kind of way. The easiest way, the quickest way, one right outside your door is selling some drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is simply a great gathering.

LEMON: This three-day event is to teach Jeff and young black men like him to avoid an increasingly common fate, prison. Princeton Professor Dr. Cornel West told the audience here it's America's emergency. CORNEL WEST, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: We need to cast a limelight on their plight, a limelight on their predicament and to recognize that it's a state of emergency, it's a matter of national security.

LEMON: Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman told them it's the worse crisis facing African Americans since slavery.

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN, CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND: You've got over 80 percent of black children in fourth and eighth and twelfth grade who cannot read or compute at grade level. And if you cannot read or compute in this economy, you are being sentenced to social economic death.

LEMON: That's why Reverend Staccato Powell is challenging 5 million Methodist members to become foot soldiers in a campaign to save young African Americans.

REV. STACCATO POWELL, CHAIRMAN, THE GREAT GATHERING: We've got this myth that only athletes and celebrities can be role models. The greatest role model is the father that's in the home. The greatest role model is somebody you can access every day.

LEMON: For Jeff, that's his mom, Shelia.

FREELON: She made sure that the right people were around me, so I would be what I am today. And I love her for that.

WILSON-FREELON: I love you too, son.

FREELON: I love you too, mom.


LEMON: Wolf, what a nice kid and what a nice family. Tomorrow's the last day of this event and that's when they will unveil what they're calling their nationwide initiative. President Obama will close this event out, not live, though. It will be through a hand- delivered videotape, delivered by his director of white house fate- based and neighborhood partnership, Wolf.

BLITZER: They are doing important work and let's wish them total success. Don Lemon, our man in Columbia, South Carolina, thank you very much for bringing us that report.

You may soon be making fewer trips to the mailbox. The U.S. postal service is looking for ways to cut costs and Saturday delivery may be on the chopping block.

Plus, the lunch President Obama doesn't want his wife to know about. We're serving up all the details.

And you'd probably do it for a television or a car, so why not comparison shop for health care? We found out you can literally save thousands of dollars.


BLITZER: Let's update you on the breaking news. You heard it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM, just a little while ago. Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky announcing he's now ready to let the legislation go through that will extend unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers right now. You heard that announcement and only a few minutes after he wrapped up, we heard from the Democratic majority whip, Dick Durbin, of Illinois.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: This could have been done last week. He was offered this chance last week. He wouldn't take it last week. And as a result, a lot of people have suffered and a lot of them have gone through hardship. It is his right to do it, as a United States senator. But I think the reaction on the floor of the United States Senate, I might add, from both sides of the aisle, is a demonstration that sometimes just because we have the power to do things, we ought to think twice before we use that power.

BLITZER: The majority whip, Dick Durbin, saying that Jim Bunning was clearly wrong. We'll continue to monitor and watch this story for you, because the ramifications for a lot of people, hundreds of thousands of people out there are, indeed, very, very serious.

Smart shoppers know it pays to search for the best bargain, but did you also know that that holds true for health care? Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, found out that you can save thousands of dollars simply by shopping around. Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can save thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars by bargain shopping for health care. I know, because I went to New Hampshire on a shopping trip.


COHEN: Here in Concord, New Hampshire, like any place, when you go shopping, you can go price comparisons, whether you're looking for a car or a pair of shoes, but what I think people here or anyone else fail to realize is that you can also go comparison shopping for health care services and save yourself thousands of dollars. So, come on, let's go bargain shop for a colonoscopy. Our first stop is the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center. They charge nearly $5,000 for a colonoscopy. Let's see if we can get a better deal. Come on. Here at the Concord Ambulatory Surgery Center, a colonoscopy would only cost me about $2,800. Now, remember, the most expensive place to get a colonoscopy would set me back nearly $5,000. So by coming here, I save more than $2,000. See, it pays to bargain shop. I'm so excited about how well I did with the colonoscopies that now I'm going to go bargain shopping for a hernia surgery. Here at St. Joseph's Hospital, they charge $13,400 to repair a hernia. That is so expensive, I'm not even getting out of the car. I'm going to try to find something cheaper. At Elliot Hospital, they only charge about $4,500 to do a hernia repair. It's the exact same procedure. Why does it cost $9,000 less here? I'm going to call these high-priced hospitals and ask them why do you charge so much? Hi, this is Elizabeth Cohen calling from CNN. The hospitals wouldn't comment. So I found someone who can explain these crazy health care prices to us. Her name is Heather Staples and she analyzes prices of health care for large employers in New Hampshire.

I go shopping for a gallon of milk and there's a huge price difference, I'm going to see it right there, on the shelf. But with medical services, people don't know. There's no price tags.

HEATHER STAPLES, CONSULTANT, NH PURCHASERS GROUP: That's correct. And it's even difficult for consumers to call a facility and ask for the price of services.

COHEN: So actually, the reason for these discrepancies in some ways is pretty simple. Which is when you go "buy" a colonoscopy, there's no price tag on it?

STAPLES: That's correct.

COHEN: Give me another example of a procedure where there's wild differences all in the same city.

STAPLES: Sure. For a knee scope, at Dartmouth south, it's about $5,300. In the same region at St. Joseph's Hospital, it's about $10,500.

COHEN: So we all bargain shop for cars and stuff like that. Does it pay to bargain shop for medical services?

STAPLES: It absolutely does. We're talking about a $5,000 difference. It absolutely makes a lot of sense to do it.


COHEN: The prices in my story or for people who don't have insurance. But even if you have insurance, you're still going to find a wide span of costs for the same service in the city that you live in. Now, if you're thinking, well, I have insurance, what do I care? They're paying for it. Well, think again. Many of us have a copay, for example, a 20% copay. So let's use the example for that knee surgery that heather mentioned. If you have a $10,000 knee surgery with a 20% copay, you're going to owe $2,000. If you have $5,000 surgery, you're only going to owe $1,000, so you can tell, Wolf, it pays to bargain shop.

BLITZER: Excellent advice from Elizabeth Cohen. She's been doing really good reporting for us all week on these matters. By the way, she's going to have more tomorrow on what's going on. That's going to be on "AMERICAN MORNING." She visits one hospital that has cut costs for big savings. You'll see that.

Details of President Obama's not-so-secret lunch today. Here's a hint, it definitely was not health food.

Plus, the first lady celebrating Dr. Seuss. We'll hear from Michelle Obama.

Cat in the hat, one of my favorites. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting new information into THE SITUATION ROOM on that assassination in Dubai. There are now 27 suspects and the investigation stretches around the world after the carefully choreographed killing of an operative in Dubai. Dubai blames Israel and every day there's fresh fallout from that mysterious hit. CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Dubai. Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is still this slow drip feed of information coming in to us from the Dubai police, which is ensuring that this story is staying in the headlines. This is what we know today. In fact, over the past couple of days, the police chief has been talking publicly and he has said that he wants to see if he can ban Israelis from coming into the country. Reports saying that he wants to see if he can catch them out at border control. The interesting thing is that Israeli nationals are already banned from entering Dubai or the United Arab Emirates. There are no diplomatic ties between Israeli and the UAE, but we have seen in the past and what the police chief says he has seen from these alleged suspects that many have dual nationalities so they're able to come into Dubai on a second passport. A source close to the investigation was talking to CNN and said that this is not a police matter. It's a federal border control matter and they have no plans to change any of their rules at this point. And also bear in mind, just last month an Israeli tennis player actually came to Dubai. She was given a visa so she could be part of the Dubai competition. So it seems as if the border control can actually overlook this ban on Israelis when it suits them. Meanwhile, an Australian team is back to land here in -- actually, land in Israel. They want to talk to those who believe they have had their identities stolen. This is very similar to what we saw from the UK team as well.

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks working the story for us in Dubai. We'll check back with her tomorrow.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: The U.S. postal service announced plans today to reduce its workforce by another 30,000 positions, mostly through attrition. In other cost-cutting measures, it has crafted a list of more than 150,000 post offices for potential closure. And it is also considering discontinuing Saturday delivery. The postal service lost almost $4 billion last year. It says volume has plummeted more than 36 billion pieces in the past two years, the most drastic drop in two decades.

Tiger Woods, he's back at home. A source with knowledge of the golfing great's schedule tells CNN Woods returned to his Florida home after a week of family counseling. That person says Woods returned from Arizona and is now working on rebuild his golf and workout routine. The source did not say when he might return to the circuit.

And Dion Warrick is calling on Congress to pass legislation compelling radio stations to pay royalties to performers. At a Capitol Hill event in Washington today, the singer said AM and FM stations have gotten a free ride and should compensate singers, backup singers, and other performers for their work. Satellite radio, internet radio, and cable TV music channels all pay fees to performers. The National Association of Broadcasters opposes the bill. It says fees would put thousands of radio jobs at risk. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you very much.

Let's check in with Campbell to see what's coming up at the top of the hour. What are you working on, Campbell?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, there, Wolf. We are following tonight's breaking news, of course. The deal that should end the standoff that is blocking unemployment benefits for 1 million Americans.

Plus, Wolf, have you ever sat at work and wondered, if only my boss could do my job, then he would understand the day-to-day challenges I face. Well, tonight we're going to talk with the top bosses of two big companies who did exactly that and hear what they learned. That coming up at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: Sounds great. See you in a few moments, Campbell Brown. Thank you very much.

If the first lady, Michelle Obama is watching, the president doesn't want you to see this. We're going to show you what he had for lunch today. Guess what, it's definitely not a low cholesterol diet.


BLITZER: On our political ticker, Michelle Obama visited young friends today and celebrated what would have been the 106th birthday of Dr. Seuss. The first lady did what the legendary children's author would have wanted. She read from the Seuss classic "The Cat in the Hat." And she talked about her family's own future in the history books.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: It makes you feel very proud, right? Because you think of all the other people, all the other presidents and all the other families who served in that office, how many people sat at that desk and the kinds of important things they made happen. And to think that you can be a part of that history, that one day in decades to come somebody's going to be talking about the time that the Obama family was in the white house. So it makes us feel like we've got to take our responsibility seriously and do good things while we're there so that we don't embarrass our mothers.

BLITZER: Good advice from the first lady. Here's something the president says he wants to keep secret from the first lady. He had a hearty southern-style lunch during his trip to Savannah, Georgia, today. On the menu, get this, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. Not exactly health food for a man who was just told by his doctors to try to lower his cholesterol. The president told reporters he didn't want any lectures, and he joked above all else -- get this -- they shouldn't let the first lady know what he had been eating. Can't trust those journalists, Mr. President. We've got to report the news.

For all the latest political news anytime, you can always check out You can also follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on twitter. You can get my tweets at, all one word. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.