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Health Care Showdown; Interview With Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Aired March 21, 2010 - 14:00   ET


DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Let's talk about the substance. I love the substance.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You can make the poison taste better. You can put all kinds of things in it. But it's still a poisonous bill in what it does to health care. It puts Washington -- these guys, they can't even give a one-minute speech and make it work, and they're somehow going to pass a 2,000-page bill?

BRAZILE: Alex, you have a vested interest --

CASTELLANOS: That's how you fix health care?

BRAZILE: -- in tearing down Washington D.C., and the institutions.

CASTELLANOS: No credibility.

BRAZILE: Twenty-five percent of the American people now receive their health care through some government force, whether it's Medicare, Medicaid, or the V.A. And I can tell you, it's an exceptionally good --

CASTELLANOS: And they're $100 trillion -- Medicare and Social Security are $100 trillion in debt.

BRAZILE: And that's why there's --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: But you don't know -- you know, the bottom line is, you do all these estimates for 10 years out and 20 years out, and you just don't know what the real numbers are going to be. Right?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go back to Capitol Hill. Dana Bash is working this story.

It's a very significant story, and there's a lot of confusion out there involving this Democratic congressman from Michigan, Dana. Bart Stupak, he's been the leader in the fight against abortion, does not like the language in the Senate bill on abortion. He says it doesn't go far enough.

He agrees with the Catholic bishops, for example, that this would give at least a backhanded way for the federal government to fund or subsidize abortion here in the United States. It goes against the so- called Hyde Amendment. What are you learning about Bart Stupak and his colleagues who oppose this legislation but maybe, maybe thinking about voting yes?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as you see, the House is voting right now, the first in a series of votes we are going to see today, a procedural vote. But sometimes when the House votes, that is obviously the time when members get together.

And just to give you a little bit of color, our producer Deirdre Walsh is out there, and she's reporting that we're seeing some of the talks out in the open. Bart Stupak is huddling in a corner in there with some of his colleagues who are also fellow Democrats who are against abortion and who are undecided. And their votes really will depend on whether they work out a deal with the White House on an executive order about this abortion language.

He's talking to Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania, and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia. Those are some of the crucial, crucial votes.

That's kind of the small caucus, if you will, of Democrats. And it seems as though they're going back and forth on the specifics, word for word of the language that they're talking about of this executive order.

So it's happening right in the open, and we're watching it. We're obviously going to try to talk to Bart Stupak as he comes off the floor to see if there is any resolution. But, again, just about an hour ago he told us he was very close. He is negotiating directly with White House lawyers on this.

BLITZER: And so, clearly, if Bart Stupak and his 10 or 12 colleagues decide to vote in favor of it, then it's a done deal by all accounts, right, Dana?

BASH: It certainly seems that way, because they all voted for the bill last time when it passed the House, and it did pass. And you've already had a handful, if not more, Democrats who voted no on the bill in November who have switched to yes. And few are going the other way. So it seems as though it's easily a done deal if that happens.

BLITZER: All right. You'll stay in close touch with us, let us know if in fact this happens. That would be very significant.

Candy, very significant in many respects. One, if they agree to do it, it would give an opening for some of those nervous Democrats who are in districts that are Republican. You know what? I was going to help you, but please give me a pass now. Let me vote no, and at least we'll have a better chance of maintaining, they will say, a Democratic majority come November.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And it helps the Speaker, because could stay Speaker, and it helps these folks get re-elected if, in fact, they need to vote no because that's where their district is swinging. And one thing about Stupak, over the course of the last week or so, when I've talked to congressmen, they said he really wants to vote yes on this. They knew all along that he wanted to, and they just needed to find kind of the magic fix. And even though you're looking and saying, OK, he's going to like reiterate the language in a presidential executive order, I mean, what does that mean?

BLITZER: It sound like --


CROWLEY: It means that Stupak.

BORGER: Insurance. Insurance.

CROWLEY: That's right.

CASTELLANOS: It's cover. That's all he's looking for.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

CASTELLANOS: But this is a tremendous political accomplishment for Barack Obama if he gets this done. He unites that which couldn't be united, the Democratic Party. But the Republicans, I think, will raise a question.

Is there such a thing now as a Blue Dog Democrat or a pro-life Democrat or a pro-business Democrat? Or are they like Sasquatch, they're a myth, you don't really see them? Because President Obama has united the Democratic Party on the left here on this bill, not in the center or the right.

BLITZER: But Gloria, what the president will be able to do, if he signs an executive order to reassure Bart Stupak and the other anti- abortion Democrats that, you know what, we're not changing the Hyde Amendment, this is good, ,there will be those liberals, let's say, or those who support abortion rights for women, who are saying this is going way too far and, in effect, ,it will undermine a woman's right, a woman's ability to get an abortion.

BORGER: Well, if he reaffirms the Hyde Amendment, which says no federal funds going for abortions, that is currently the law of the land, which the liberal side of the Democratic Party has lived with and would continue to live with in order to get health care reform. What's interesting for the Democratic Party is that you're talking about a dozen or so pro-life Democrats.

Suddenly, pro-life Democrats have become a very visible part of the Democratic Party. I was talking to a Democratic political strategist this week who said to me, "Isn't that interesting for the Democratic Party? They're on the same side as the nuns are in this, and this is not bad for Catholic voters and the Democratic Party when we go to the 2010 midterm elections."

BLITZER: All right.

BRAZILE: Well, we've always had pro-life Democrats. We just haven't seen them so visible in the party.

BLITZER: Well, this is obviously a deep matter of principle for these Democrats like Bart Stupak, and we'll see if they can finesse a way that will allow him and his colleagues to go ahead and vote for health care reform.

All right. We're getting ready for the first substantive discussion on this important day here in Washington on what is going on, and the most important votes, including the vote on the Senate health care reform legislation.

We're here. We're here for you. Our coverage on CNN continues after this.


BLITZER: We're watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives. They basically wrapped up the first part of this day, a lot of procedural issues, parliamentary maneuvers, one-minute presentations by Democrats and Republicans. And now they're getting ready to start dealing with the substance, a vote on a rule that allows this to go forward.

And then the all-important vote on the Senate health care reform bill that passed Christmas Eve. It now comes before the House of Representatives. Without any changes, the House, if it has 216 yea votes, will pass this. It will then go to the president for his signature either later tonight or tomorrow.

The separate reconciliation legislation will, that will then immediately become before members of the House. If they pass that, that will then go to the Senate and members of the Senate will start a debate that could last a few days, a few weeks, and may continue.

Those changes may or may not be approved by the Senate. They could tweak it, forcing the changes to go back to the House of Representatives. So that will still be open, but if, in fact, the Senate version is signed into law by the president, that will be the law of the land.

David Gergen, our senior political analyst, I want to underscore how significant that will be. Forget about the reconciliation bill. The fact that the House passes the Senate bill and the president signs it into law, if that happens, talk about that, because that will be historic.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It will be a gigantic change in American health insurance, Wolf, that as Sanjay has been emphasizing, there will be many benefits that will come to people directly, whether it's pre-existing conditions for children, or small businesses getting some help in paying for insurance, or people who got pre-existing conditions as adults being able to go into these big exchanges.

All of the benefits -- a lot of the benefits will start to flow quickly, then there will be other subsidizations that will come down the road. But there also is -- and I think this is why this bill is so controversial -- yes, it's historic in the sense of making big, social changes. It's also historic because we've never had, in the last 60 years, such a big piece of social legislation passed on a partisan vote, in a country that's so deeply divided.

And as you well know, for the last seven months or so, the polls have steadily shown that more Americans oppose this than favor it. So the Democrats are -- this is a courageous vote in many ways. It also may be one that's perilous for them, but I don't think it's going to end the debate.

We're going to be fighting over health care probably the rest of our lives. This will begin to put into place an insurance system. The Republicans will then campaign to try to repeal it.

There are then going to be fights over how you pay for health care. This bill does not solve the health care cost problems. Premiums are going to continue to go up.

So, we're -- I think, Wolf, this is an historic day, but in many ways it's the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end on health care reform. It's a major, dramatic step.

BLITZER: It sort of reminds me -- David, you were there. It sort of reminds me of what happened in the first year of Bill Clinton's administration when he got the Congress to pass his economic package including tax increases, and there was no Republican support for that. He got it passed, and he paid a huge price in the midterm elections in '94, the Democrats did, but that was done without any significant --

GERGEN: The Democrats --

BLITZER: The Democrats paid a huge price. He got himself re-elected in '96, but the Democrats did pay a huge price for that.

GERGEN: The Democrats paid a huge price in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. For Bill Clinton, that bill actually did help to turn the economy around so that he went on to win re-election rather handily. But they did pay a price in the Congress.

What is also striking though, Wolf, is how different this health care fight is from the Clinton health care fight. You know, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have carried the ball so much farther down the field. You know, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton's health care plan was extremely controversial, so much so that it never got out of committee. It never even got to a floor vote. So this is a huge advance from the Democratic Party's point of view, as Gloria has been pointing out and Donna has been pointing out, but it also does represent, as Alex has been saying continuously here now, it represents a big political gamble for the party.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. I want everybody to stand by.

The clerk has now started reading the rule of what this bill will be allowed to do and won't be allowed to do, some of the procedure. This will be the first vote in favor of the rule. You know, I just want to listen in briefly and give you a little parliamentary flavor of what's happening on the House floor.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... pursuant to Section 202 of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2010 if called up by the majority leader or his designee. All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived except those arising under Clause 10 of Rule 21.

The amendment and the nature of a substitute printed in Part A of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution, modified by the amendment printed in Part B of the report of the Committee on Rules, shall be considered as adopted. The bill, as amended, shall be considered as read.

BLITZER: You get a little flavor of the parliamentary jargon that's going on, on the floor of the House of Representatives. This will set up the first vote in this process. This vote will then be followed by a vote of the Senate bill and a separate vote on the reconciliation bill.

The changes in the Senate bill, that reconciliation bill, as it's called, will be sent to the Senate for a consideration. The Senate bill, if passed by the House, will then go to the president of the United States for his signature, and that will be the law of the land.

Gloria Borger is here. She's been watching all this with Candy Crowley and the best political team on television.

You wanted to make a point.

BORGER: Yes. I just want to add to something that David just said before, because I do think we're going to be arguing and arguing and arguing over this for years because this is a measure where you don't see a lot of the benefits for some time. And also, you don't pay for it, a lot of it, until the back end.

And my big question here is, everyone understands we have a big deficit problem in this country. They pushed back one of the largest revenue raisers in this bill, the so-called excise tax on high-end insurance plans, Cadillac plans, largely because unions did not like it and were adamant about it.

BLITZER: I don't think that takes effect until 2018.

BORGER: Now it's -- that's right. So the tax does not take effect until 2018.

Now, if you're a member of Congress in 2018, and you've got a new tax coming down the pike, you all can answer this question. Have you ever met a member of Congress who's going to say oh, sure, ,I'm going to let that new big tax go into effect without maybe just deciding I want to vote against it instead? So that's something that a lot of people find very worrisome when you talk about deficit reduction, because can you ever really expect that tax to go into effect?

BLITZER: But there will be some other taxes that will go into effect right away.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: For example, the tax on investment gains, for example, for wealthier Americans. That will go into effect pretty soon, and so that will bring in some revenue if people are interested about the revenue side of this.

Let's listen in a little bit more. The Republicans right now objecting to some of these rules that have been proposed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the debate, the chair will put the question of consideration. The chair recognizes the gentleman from Wisconsin.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Mr. Speaker, let me just quote from a letter to the Speaker of the House by the director of the Congressional Budget Office dated yesterday.

"The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the total costs of those mandates to state, local and tribal governments and the private sector would greatly exceed the annual thresholds established under the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act."

Mr. Speaker, this bill is the mother of all unfunded mandates. There are mandates on states. The new Medicaid mandate is expected to cost, according to the CBO, $20 billion addition on states.

Mr. Speaker --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order. The gentleman deserves to be heard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman may continue.

RYAN: Let's start with the state mandate -- $20 billion on states in Medicaid. Democratic governors have been speaking out against this.

Let me quote Governor Rendell from Pennsylvania. "I think it's an unfunded mandate. We just don't have the wherewithal to absorb this health care bill without some new revenue source."

There is an individual mandate. It mandates individuals purchase government-approved health insurance or face a fine to be collected by the IRS which will need $10 billion additional and 16,500 new IRS agents to police and enforce this mandate. There is a business mandate. It mandates businesses provide government-approved health insurance or face penalties. If you don't offer health insurance coverage, you have to pay $2,000 per employee. If you do offer health insurance coverage, but one of your employees decides to take the federal subsidy, you have to pay up to $3,000 per employee anyway.

There's a health plan mandate. There are mandates and health plans to comply with new federal benefits, mandates without any funds to meet these new requirements.

There are new medical loss ratios of 80 percent and 85 percent. This hardly jives with the notion if you like what you have you can keep it, because millions of Americans will exactly lose just that.

There is a provider mandate. This mandates many health care providers must actually provide exactly what Washington says. They're forced to take unilateral reimbursement cuts from the new Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I want to elaborate quite a bit more, but I will reserve the balance of my time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman reserves the balance of his time.

BLITZER: Paul Ryan, one of the rising stars in the Republican Party, making it clear he hates -- he hates this proposed health care reform legislation, and he's outlining his points, why this would be a disaster for the United States. We're going to hear a very different perspective from some of the Democrats who will argue over this.

It's interesting, Candy, that they're beginning this debate really right now on this rule issue, whether or not the rule will go forward. Let's talk about that and we'll talk about more.

Our special coverage of this health care reform debate on the floor of the House and the upcoming votes will continue right after this.



RYAN: And look at what we're looking at. Before even passing this bill, Mr. Speaker, we are going into a tidal wave of red ink of debt. The interest alone on the national debt that's about to befall us will be crushing to our economy.

I ask the Congressional Budget Office, what would my three children face when they were my age?

Mr. Speaker, I would simply say the House is not in order.

BLITZER: Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin, making the case that this health care reform legislation, if enacted by the Congress, signed into law by the president, would cause an explosion of debt for the United States, deficit spending. He has that chart showing it would go on for years and years to come.

All of this is just very early in the process of the next few hours, where we will see whether or not this legislation lives or dies.

Sanjay Gupta is here with us, our chief medical correspondent.

Sanjay, the cost -- a lot of people are worried, deeply worried about the cost. Stand by for a moment.

I'm just told that Dana Bash is getting some new information up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, what are you learning?

BASH: Well, Wolf, I want to tell you, I'm actually just off of the House chamber, so I am in a very good location because we're seeing members of Congress go back and forth. In fact, just moments ago, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, ,walked right by here. Her office is right down there.

And I walked with her just to ask her where things stand. She was very careful not to say explicitly that she has that crucial 216 votes to pass this bill.

She said, "I never talk about a vote." But as she turned the corner, into her office I said, "Madame Speaker, presumably you would not bring this bill to the floor if you didn't have the votes."

She stopped. She turned. She smiled. And she said, "That would be correct."

So that was a pretty strong indication that they're feeling pretty good, the smile and that very definitive answer there.

One other thing that she did say, or maybe she didn't say which was noteworthy, and that is on this whole question of whether or not that group of Democrats who are staunchly anti-abortion, whether they are close to a deal with the White House on language on an executive order making clear there would be no federal taxpayer dollars for abortion. She said that this is something that the White House is dealing with and that we should check with the White House.

Very interesting dynamic going on here. They have -- the Democratic leadership, they have kind of put this in the White House's hands. And it was clear talking to Bart Stupak earlier, he told our Lisa Jansen (ph) he is directly negotiating with White House lawyers on this.

BLITZER: Very interesting stuff. Dana, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Debbie Wassermann Schultz is a Democratic congresswoman from Florida. She is in the leadership in the House of Representatives. She's joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Two hundred and sixteen votes. Is it a done deal, Congresswoman? Congresswoman, I don't know if you can hear me. It's Wolf.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: I can hear you now, yes.

BLITZER: Is it a done deal? Do you have 216 votes?

SCHULTZ: I think with the last -- just having done some whipping on the floor, talking to some of the members that were concerned about the abortion language, I know they're in the final stages of working out some language for an executive order with the White House. And I believe once that's finalized, then I think we will be able to be confident about the final vote.

BLITZER: You're the deputy majority whip -- the chief deputy majority whip.

SCHULTZ: One of them.

BLITZER: But you're the chief deputy majority whip. Is that correct?

SCHULTZ: No. There are several of us. I'm one of the chief deputy whips.

BLITZER: All right. Well, never mind. Then you're not the chief deputy majority whip.

But your job is to count the votes, get the votes. So what I hear you saying is that Bart Stupak, the Democratic congressman from Michigan, if he gets this executive order promised from the White House, tightening up some of the language on abortion, he will then vote yea.

Is that right?

SCHULTZ: Wolf, I haven't spoken to Bart Stupak directly. I have spoken to other members who are also concerned for the same reasons that Bart Stupak is. So from the conversations I've had with them, the language is being finalized. And once finalized, I believe that will bring us over the -- at 216, if not over the number that we need. But we're still working diligently outside of those -- that group of members to make sure that we address the concerns and answer any questions for other members that might be on the fence.

BLITZER: And as someone who supports abortion rights for women -- and I know you are in the forefront of that battle -- are you OK with that, if the White House makes a side deal, in effect, with Congressman Stupak and the other anti-abortion Democrats, tightening up this language? Is that something you're OK with?

SCHULTZ: Well, it's not a side deal and it's not language-tightening. It would simply, from what I understand as a pro-choice member, restate that the Hyde Amendment is in effect, that no federal funds will be spent to cover abortion in the health care reform legislation, which is what we've been saying the language already does. If that gives greater comfort to those members that have concerns, then I'm totally fine with that.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Congresswoman. Thanks very much.

SCHULTZ: Thanks.

BLITZER: Debbie Wassermann Schultz is a deputy majority whip in the leadership of the House of Representatives.


BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. We'll go back to the House floor and see what's going on. We know one thing for sure -- there's a lot of drama going on. And we're not leaving it right here on CNN.


REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND: "... for which he fought so long. His heart and his soul are in this bill."

While the above quote could easily refer to my father and the context could easily describe this health care debate, these words were, in fact, spoken by my father as he rose on the Senate floor to honor his brother, President Kennedy, during the debate on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The parallels between the struggle for civil rights and the fight to make quality affordable health care accessible to all Americans are significant.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

Health care is not only a civil right, it's a moral issue.

Thank you, Madame Speaker, for your political and moral leadership for helping those to secure more advanced protections and benefits, especially in the area of mental health and addiction.

Thank you, President Obama, for delivering on your promise of providing the politics of hope rather than the politics of fear.

And I yield back the balance --



BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of Capitol Hill inside the House of Representatives on the floor right now. They started the debate on health care reform. They're considering a rule that will allow this process to go forward, some passionate discussion already under way. You heard Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin make the case that this is simply way too expensive, will cause the United States to go further and further into historic debt if this is passed. He obviously doesn't like it. The Democrats are making exactly the other -- the opposite case, that the country needs this right now to avoid those kinds of escalating costs for health care in the United States. We're staying on top of this. We'll watch all the votes. Dana Bash is our senior congressional correspondent. She is up on Capitol Hill. Dana, you have some guests. Help us better appreciate what's going on.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You spoke to Debbie Wassermann Schultz who is a Democratic congresswoman from Florida. I have another female congresswoman this time on the other side of the aisle, veteran Republican Congresswoman Sue Myrick of North Carolina. Thank you for joining us.


BASH: So you are somebody who has been known to work across the aisle but on this issue no way. Why?

MYRICK: Well, because the bill is too massive. We can't afford it right now and it's a very big concern of mine that government is in control of health care. A lot of us could have worked together across party lines and done eight or nine things that we can all agree on, move bills separately, gotten the job done and then move on to further whatever needs to be done. That wasn't given as a choice.

BASH: Are there some things though in this bill that you actually like, substance wise, that you could say, I would support that if it was just independent from the big bill?

MYRICK: Well, it's no pre-existing conditions continues to stay in there. Of course I support that and some of the insurance changes , but I will not vote for this bill the way it is. I mean, our debt is already the largest anybody can remember in history and here we are adding another trillion to it.

BASH: I want to ask you a little bit about the atmosphere. You have seen protesters everywhere, outside the offices, outside the capitol, even in the House chamber just a short while ago. You've been here a few years. Have you ever seen this kind of passion and frankly anger about an issue?

MYRICK: I've never seen this level of intensity but most people are more fearful than they are angry. They are afraid for what's happening to their country and they are afraid for their children's future. That's what you're hearing in the protests. It isn't really anger.

BASH: Thank you very much, thank you for joining us. And Wolf, we have one other member of Congress here, very, very different. We've been talking about the freshmen Democrats, those who have a lot on the line with this vote. Here is one of them. This is Dan Maffei. He is a freshman Democrat from the state of New York. Thank you for joining us, congressman.

REP. DAN MAFFEI, (D) NEW YORK: Good to be here.

BASH: Now, you are -- you voted yes on the House bill. You were unsure if you were going to vote yes on this bill but you are voting yes. Why?

MAFFEI: Well, because of the changes that were made in the Senate bill. I had a lot of concerns about the Senate bill, how it would affect New York, my own state and how the taxation on benefits might actually hit middle class people and in fact hurt our effort to improve health care as we're trying to improve it. But I think the changes that the president suggested and that we were able to negotiate do address all of those problems and in the end, doing nothing is really not an option. I was convinced by the president among others and my own constituents that this was our one and best chance.

BASH: You've told me before this is a tough vote.

MAFFEI: Oh, it's an incredibly tough vote. I really do believe in that word representative. And this has been the most divided my constituency has been on any major issue. I still believe a major of my constituents support it but there's been a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of -- Congresswoman Myrick is right. People are awfully afraid. I almost think the other side is overplaying this a little bit so much that after this passes and people still have insurance and the sky doesn't fall and in fact small businesses start to get tax credits, they're going to say wait a minute. I thought the whole thing was supposed to blow up. That's what the Republicans told me. Lo and behold everything is fine and in fact, some things are improved. So I actually think that not necessarily from our doing as Democrats, but the Republicans are overplaying their hand a bit and people will see there are a lot of good things in this bill that they wanted a long time.

BASH: Now you are one of those Democrats -- you're a new Democrat, meaning you're a freshman. You are from a swing district. You are kind of one of those who is ground zero for potentially losing your job over this vote. Do you think that's true? Are you worried about that?

MAFFEI: I think any member of Congress who comes here and only thinks about whether they're going to get re-elected is not really doing his or her job well. You can lose your job at any time. I mean, if that's what the founders wanted. They wanted a representative body, one that would be directly accountable to the people in their district. So, look. You know, it is a tough vote. You never know for sure whether the policy is right. But I will tell you this. Again, the fact that we're doing things like pre-existing conditions, making sure that people don't get denied care for that, making sure there won't be medical bankruptcies again, there are all these things that both parties have wanted a long time. A patients' bill of rights was bipartisan and that's all in here. And, you know, this is so far from a government takeover, frankly it's less government involvement than Nixon's legislation in the early '70s. So I really do think the other side is overplaying its hand. These are some good improvements. It's not perfect. It's not as much as I wanted. I was for a public option. But this is better than the status quo.

BASH: We'll see you on the campaign trail.

MAFFEI: Go Qs, beat Gonzaga. We got to go on to sweet 16.

BASH: That's a little March madness action for you there Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We've got our own March madness going up on Capitol Hill right now and it is not ending at least in the next few hours. We'll watch it unfold. March madness here in Washington. Our special coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Let's get right to one of the Republican leaders in the House of representative Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia. He's the minority whip, the number two Republican in the House. Congressman, any way you can stop the Democrats from getting 216 votes to pass the Senate health care bill?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R) MINORITY WHIP: You know, Wolf, we're trying to do everything that we possibly can to defeat this bill. The fight will continue. We're looking towards the vote to take place sometime later this afternoon or this evening but it's very clear that the vote count on the other side is tenuous at best and there's a reason for that. The American people have rejected this bill and this vote today, Wolf, is reflective of the fact that this country is truly at a crossroads. And, you know, how folks vote today on this bill I think will have a lot to do about the legacy they leave and frankly whether they come back in November.

BLITZER: But is there any way you think you can get 216 votes to beat it?

CANTOR: Well, you know, we're shooting to get 38 Democrat no votes because along with that, together with unanimous Republican opposition, we can defeat this bill.

BLITZER: How many Democrats do you have in opposition right now?

CANTOR: Wolf, when I'm asked that question I always say, look, I'm the Republican whip not the Democratic whip. And what we're trying to do is work with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, many of them who are hearing from their constituents just as we are, that this is just a bad bill. You know, people don't want Washington in between them and their doctor. They don't want to lay on top of the debt we already have a trillion more dollars. This is a bill that takes us in the wrong direction. And as you know, Wolf, we have been working throughout the last year positing a much different solution and that is a common sense step-by-step approach that would first and foremost reduce costs of health care for most Americans and begin to expand access to coverage in a much more sensible way.

BLITZER: All right, Candy Crowley and Gloria Borger are here Congressman. They have a couple questions for you as well. Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Congressman, we've had a lot of talk about what a risky vote this might be for Democrats because of the polls that you're referring to, but other polls also show that people do like some of the major elements of this bill. Is this not also risky for Republicans when people see that, A, they can't be thrown off their insurance for getting sick, that, B, there will be no lifetime caps that, C, pre-existing conditions for children will no longer be an excuse for not giving them coverage? Aren't those popular items which might cause the American people to say, you know what? This was a pretty good bill.

CANTOR: Candy, if this bill passes, it's going to pass because Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues have used every bit of power they have and frankly some power that they shouldn't have to strike some political deals to deliver the votes to ram this thing through. But if that is going to happen and if this does pass, Republicans will work to repeal this bill as the American people want but we will work to replace it with positive reform that speaks to the kind of issues that you raise but does so in a sustainable way that will lower costs. The problem here is, Candy, this is a trillion dollar bill that lays taxes on small businesses, that cuts Medicare benefits for seniors and it does nothing to rein in costs. We are going to be in a much worse condition in 10 years from now, five years from now and then have all the debt to live under.

GLORIA BORGER: This is Gloria, congressman. With all due respect, how can you take away something from people that they like? I mean, don't you think you might have some fewer Republicans along with you if as Candy says you have this legislation that does some things that they actually like? How can you repeal the whole thing?

CANTOR: Gloria, as you know, some of the real detractions in the bill like the taxes on small business owners, like the taxes on your capital gains in your stock dividends. Those kick in long before the benefits of this health care bill kick in so you're going to have a situation where the American people if you think they're frustrated at this attempt now, they're really going to be frustrated.

BORGER: But you have to pay for it, congressman.

CANTOR: Well, the fact of the matter is you don't go about paying for it with a trillion dollars right now. We have proposed as you know every step of the way a very common sense approach that promotes competition that allows folks to maintain the freedom of decision making between them and their doctor and doesn't bankrupt this country. That's the difference in our approach. Sure, you have to pay for changes. But let's do so in a way that promotes competition and gives patients choice.

BLITZER: So the bottom line right now, Congressman Cantor, it looks like the Democrats are getting very, very close to 216 and Nancy Pelosi says she just told our own Dana Bash she wouldn't have a roll call if she didn't think they would get the 216. If they pass the Senate version, they will then send that legislation to the president. He will sign it into law either tonight or tomorrow and that's the law of the land irrespective of what the Senate does as far as the fix that the reconciliation, the fixes the reconciliation bill is concerned. Is that your understanding?

CANTOR: That is exactly right. That's the risk here for many of the Democrats who are on the fence, because they know the certainty, the dispositive (ph) act here is passage of the Senate bill. It then goes to the White House for a signature and becomes a law of the land. And remember, that bill has in it all of the kickbacks, all the back room deals that the public has become so enraged at. And there is no guarantee that the Senate will be able to deliver on this reconciliation bill in any of the fixes, frankly, that the Democrats on the fence want to see happen. So you could end up with all of the worst things happening and again, end up costing this country, our kids, their kids, a trillion dollars.

BLITZER: One final question. We only have a few seconds left, Congressman. Is it true that the Republicans are going to try in the House floor in the next few hours to delay and delay and delay and get a final vote, maybe even in the middle of the night?

CANTOR: Wolf, we're going to try and maintain a seriousness about the way we go about our opposition to this bill. You will see today on display Republicans engaged in the debate talking about the principles as to why we oppose this takeover of our health care as well offering the alternatives that we have every step of the way to show that there is a better way and that you know what? We can do better, that people expect Washington to do better.

BLITZER: I'll take that as a yes, Congressman. Thanks very much. We'll check back with you and I'm sure we'll talk several times over the next few hours. Appreciate it.

CANTOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break and we'll continue our coverage of this important legislation right after this.


BLITZER: There's still a little bit more than four minutes left on this first of several preliminary votes before the real votes start falling into line. This is a vote on will the House now consider the resolution and they're talking about the rules resolution that will define some of the rules. There will then be two hours of actual debate on the Senate bill before the members actually vote on the Senate health care reform bill. It looks like, Candy, at least based on some of the preliminary information we're getting, this could be a long night?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because I'm just guessing, because what the Republicans want to do at this point, if it were up to the Democrats they'd have the vote and we'd all go home. The Republicans want to make their points. This is, you know, primetime watching at this point and they feel the need in this last moment to use the House floor and get their points across, which they're doing.

BLITZER: This first vote by the way is pretty much along party lines right now which -- we shouldn't be surprised, Gloria, that the Democrats will vote one way, the Republicans would vote another way. The divide is pretty significant.

GLORIA BORGER: Yeah and it's really important in these votes as we all know they have these teams of whips as we call them and they're walking up and down the aisles saying you better follow your party on the rule because the rule sets the terms of the debate. And so it's very important for the Democrats to get the rule passed or else they can't actually have the debate on the issue of the day.

BLITZER: But unlike the Senate, Donna Brazile, in the House there's a limit to how long the delaying tactics could go forward. The Senate it's basically open ended and the House, the speaker has a lot of control.

DONNA BRAZILE: That's absolutely right. And I think the Democrats understand how to get around all of these what I call procedural gymnastics where people will come and try to, you know, reject something, call for a motion to a quorum call. They will come up with all kind of crazy tactics. But at the end of the day, the speaker can continue with the regular order and call for a vote once they get to the proper place and what I call the rules of the day and there will be a vote.

BLITZER: You heard Eric Cantor, Alex Castellanos (ph), say, you know what? They're going to do whatever it takes to stop this because passage would be a disaster.

ALEX CASTELLANOS: I think Donna said something earlier and Gloria, too, that this is not just about the politics of this thing. This is actually an issue that on both sides people feel important principles are at stake. I think for Democrats you're seeing a big difference here, Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats are more comfortable perhaps with an America where you give up a little prosperity for a little more equality and they might say Republicans might do the reverse, might -- we won't have as equal a health care for all but we might have a more prosperous society. These are big, fundamental issues about the role of government in our lives so, yes, you're going to see them I think pull out all the stops, Republicans, to try to stop this thing.

BLITZER: I think it's interesting, Sanjay and you're a doctor. A lot of the doctors' organizations, the hospital organizations, the nurses' organizations, they're with the Democrats on this. They think while not perfect by any means, vote yes in favor of health care reform.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. It's hard to sort of use a big, broad brush to sort of talk about all doctors and all health care professionals. Some of the organizations including some of the specialty organizations, American College of Surgeons for example, 75,000 members are against it and they've outlined their reasons, sent letters to Nancy Pelosi and to Harry Reid, but, yeah, the AMA which has gone back and forth as you know, Wolf. First they were very much for it, then there was some concern and then they're for it now in the end as you know, but it's been I think hard to categorize them as well.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We're going to continue our coverage. The votes are beginning on the floor of the House of representatives. We'll update you on what's going on in this important day right after this.