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Live Coverage of Health Care Debate

Aired March 21, 2010 - 16:00   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What's interesting is oftentimes what Medicare and Medicaid are paying, to some extent dictate what private insurers will pay as well. So if Medicaid reimbursement rates do go down, it is likely that the private insurance industry will start to follow suit. What about mental health rights in medicine?

I'm fascinated by this. There's this thing called parody, mental health parody, basically meaning that the same sort of rights are given to physical illness, in terms of what they cover, how much they cover should be given to mental illness as well. That hasn't been true in years past. But there is a law in the books now over the last couple years says that parody should exist.

I couldn't find it in the 2,700-page bill specifically saying that was going to be continued. So I'm sure that's going to be an issue that comes up for a lot of people.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're getting a lot more tweets. Because I'm seeing them come in myself. I'm getting a lot of questions out there from viewers as well. They're fascinated, they're interested and they're worried. A lot of people are worried if it doesn't pass will they still be able to have their health insurance if they get sick or very, very sick? If it does pass what will happen to the quality of health care? These are significant questions we're going to continue to take a look at. All of these.

And I just want to remind our viewers we're waiting to hear from Congressman Bart Stupak pretty soon. He's going to go over to that press gallery area. That little news conference you see how it's jam- packed right now. He'll be walking in there fairly soon and announcing we're told, whether or not he'll vote in favor or against this legislation.

David Gergen, I know you're still watching this with me. On the abortion issue which is so significant for Congressman Stupak and some of the other democrats who oppose the Senate version, you can't change the Senate language on abortion in the reconciliation fix-it bill. Because that's a substantive issue in the reconciliation process, only deals with funding or appropriations.

If the president goes ahead and issues an executive order would that be sort of the guidelines on how the Senate version on abortion would be enacted? Is that what they would be doing now? Because very often Congress passes a policy decision and then it's up to the executive branch of government to interpret, to define how it would be implemented. Are we seeing that in the advance of passage?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: We're not seeing it in advance of passage, Wolf. That's why this is so (INAUDIBLE) I think we really need to see the language. As you say, the law of the land is what the Congress passes in the Senate, and the president then signs into legislation. So the Senate language on abortion will be the law of the land. It cannot be changed in the reconciliation process.

All the president can do is interpret that in ways that may please Bart Stupak and his colleagues, but more - it does seem to probably have more symbolic value. It's hard to see how the - the president with an executive order can not override what's in the law. He has to - it has to be consistent with the law. So maybe he can - maybe the White House has figured out some way they can further compartmentalize this, further prevent indirect subsidies. But it's just hard to see how. And that's why I think all of us are curious not only to see how the votes go, but what's actually in this. (INAUDIBLE) interesting question. Is this more symbolic?

BLITZER: Let me go to Dan Lothian, David, our White House correspondent. Because the White House is now telling us what they're planning on doing.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We just heard from White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer putting out a statement on this very executive order that you've been talking about and I'll just read it to you here.

Today the president announced that he will be issuing an executive order after the passage of the health insurance reform law that will reaffirm its consistency with long-standing restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion. While the legislation as written maintains current law the executive order provides additional safeguards to ensure the status quo is upheld and enforced and the health care legislation's restrictions against the public funding of abortions can not be circumvented.

He went on to say that the president has said from the start that this health insurance reform should not be the form to upset long-standing precedent, the health care legislation. And this executive order are consistent with this principle, Wolf. So that's the very latest here from the White House. A lot of speculation about what was going on behind the scenes. These negotiations down to the wire. Now we have it in hand. The president will be signing this executive order today.

BLITZER: And in that long explanation there's a very detailed process of what the president is going to be doing. Let's listen to Bart Stupak right now. He's at the podium. He's the democratic congressman from Michigan who is going to announce, we assume he's going to announce he's now in favor of this legislation because of this executive order the White House has just released, the details of this executive order on abortion funding.

And we assume he and his colleagues there will say they're satisfied and they will now vote in favor of the Democrats' bill, the Senate bill followed by the reconciliation bill. If that is, in fact, what he does do in the next few seconds that will be a very, very significant moment because it will almost certainly give the Democrats 216 votes in the House of Representatives to pass health care reform.

216, the very significant number. It will also give the Democrats a little wiggle room, some nervous Democrats in districts that are largely Republican, may now get a pass and Nancy Pelosi will say, you know what, we want you to be re-elected in November. So go ahead and vote against it because we have more than 216. So here's Bart Stupak. He's waiting for one of his colleagues to come in. That's why he's not yet ready to begin. Once he does walk in he will begin this news conference.

Fascinating moment, Candy Crowley, because this is what the Democrats wanted and if the president of the United States is going to issue this executive order which the White House says it will now do, and if that's enough to convince Congressman Stupak and his colleagues to go ahead and support health care reform then they say it's a deal well worth it because it will almost certainly ensure that health care reform is enacted.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the ball game. I mean, you know, these are the last holdouts. They dealt with the money issue. The CBO report. They dealt with the we don't like these special deals issue. For some of the states that didn't get special deals. But the abortion language in the Senate bill was sort of the last remaining issue that they could be seeing to work out and couldn't put it in the fix-it bill. So they had to find some other way and went to the White House.

BLITZER: All right. Here he is. Here's Bart Stupak.

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: Thanks for joining us here today. The reason why we wanted to wait because it's important because the agreement we've been able to reach standing on our principle of protecting the sanctity of life and health care reform could not have been done without the support of the colleagues with me today and our West Virginia colleagues, Mr. Rahall, Mr. Mollohan.

So I'm pleased to announce that we have an agreement and it's with the help of the president, the speaker, we were able to come with an agreement to protect the sanctity of life in the health care reform. That there will be no public funding for abortion in this legislation. We've all stood on principle. There's a principle we've carried forward since June 25th when we first signed the letter to the speaker saying as we do health care reform we do not want any public funding for abortion.

We expect the current Hyde language to apply throughout this health care bill. We've always said most of us, at least, that we were for health care reform. We wanted to see health care reform, but there was a principle that meant more to us than anything and that was the sanctity of life. That you have to continue with that moral principle of protecting those unborn children. So I've always supported health care reform. We demanded the current law be there. That the sacred promise be kept. And I'm pleased to say we have. Today the president has announced he will be signing an executive order. That executive order will be signed after the health care legislation, as it refers back to the health care legislation, to reinforce that principle belief that we all stood on. No public funding for abortion.

There has been some question raised by different groups that in this health care reform package that somehow, someway, the abortions could be performed at the community health centers. The president's executive order makes it very clear that will not happen. There's some question that underneath in this bill that somehow you could pay for abortions with the new funds being appropriated - being appropriated for the community health centers.

That is not possible with this executive order. There was concern in this legislation that the conscious (ph) laws that those who might have religious or moral objections or a facility run by say the Catholic Health Association would somehow be co-opted or their values be lessened underneath this healthcare legislation, the president makes it very clear the conscious (ph) clause will always be available and it will be a force of law.

But all of that, the real victory here or the real winner is really the American people. 31 million more Americans will have health insurance. We will no longer be able to rescind insurance policies on the whim of the insurance companies. Pre-existing injuries will no longer disqualify you for coverage. Your college kids, your kids in college will be able to stay on your policies longer. There will be no lifetime caps. There will be no need for Americans to go into bankruptcy because of health care.

All of the accomplishments we have in this health care bill and in this executive order, an extensive executive order, could not have happened without the help of my colleagues. I'd also like to thank Mr. Waxman, Mr. Dingell, Mrs. Speaker, Leader Hoyer, mostly importantly, the president, my D.C. staff and my Michigan staff who have really taken a pounding these last few weeks with telephone calls. And an a personal privilege I'd like to thank my family and friends who have stood with me, especially my wife, Laurie, who has really been helping us out with her love and support and she was the one who was accepting, or not accepting, but receiving those calls at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning at my house while I'm out here in D.C..

So hopefully that will all end, we can get back to some normal lifestyle in our family. But I want to thank my colleagues. It would not have happened without these folks right here and they stood strong. They stood on a principle and a belief. I'm so proud to be with them. Let me next turn to Marcy Kaptur for a few words and we'll have others and then we'll take a few questions. Marcy?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO: It's really a great privilege to join with all of my colleagues today and to thank Congressman Bart Stupak for being a great captain of our team and reaching an agreement of significance to every family in our country. The health bill that will move forward today is actually a bill about life. Life for all of America's families, including women and children.

No longer will any woman have to wonder whether she can bring a child to term because she can't afford it. The provisions in this bill that have to do with maternal health care, with child health care, with preventive care, the adoption credits that were included in the bill, take us to a new day in america. And it is just so profound to be a part of a moment when we truly move America into the 21st century.

In those communities that have provided maternal care and health care for children, for all children, we find that the abortion rate goes down significantly. Wouldn't it be wonderful if in our country no woman ever had to face the fateful decision of abortion? I think that what we have done through this bill and through this executive order is to establish a platform under all of America's families.

To give them the peace and security of a future where they don't have to make gruesome choices and I just want to say to all of my colleagues, it was a joy to work with them because we know what we are doing is we are being a voice, as the March of dimes tells us, for over a half million children in this country who are born every year, low birth weight, many with deformities because the mothers have never received sufficient care during that childbearing period. That's going to change with this bill.

I know in speaking with President Obama, as all my colleagues have, he's a very good father. He's a very good husband. And he would wish that for all of America's families. We want to thank him for his leadership on this issue and I want to thank, again, Congressman Stupak, Congresswoman Dahlkemper of Erie, Pennsylvania, my sister in this effort, and also my dear colleague from the state of Ohio, Steve Driehaus from Cincinnati, who has stood tall as a father, himself, a good father.

For all of America's children and families and to Congressman Rahall, Congressman Mollohan, Congressman Carney, all of the equal suit, all fathers and I think some are grandfathers at this point. And so we stand up for all of America's families. Thank you so very much for this great day.

STUPAK: Chris?

REP. CHRIS CARNEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I want to thank Bart and the effort of the entire group here assembled and a few others who aren't here. And as Marcie said, I am a father. I have five children back at home. One child is in college and it's nice to know after he graduates he won't have to immediately go on somebody else's health care, he can stay on the family's for a while as he gets established which is great.

But this bill is about life. This truly is about preserving the sanctity and assuring the sanctity of what we're all about here. And I couldn't be prouder to stand with these folks. I know a lot more comments want to be said, but what we've accomplished today or going to accomplish today in this bill is obviously historic. It's enormous, but what we've accomplished with this piece of it and with the executive order is something that will resonate across the nation. That we Democrats profoundly value life. Thank you.

REP. KATHY DAHLKEMPER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I just want to reiterate what has been said. First of all, I do want to thank Congressman Stupak who really was our leader in this effort and all of my other colleagues behind me and even those who couldn't be with us right at this moment. I also want to thank the president of the United States who listened to us, who heard our concerns, and helped us to find a way through this executive order to make sure that this legislation is a whole life piece of legislation.

When I ran for congress just a couple years ago I called myself a whole-life candidate. I believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, and that also includes health care and education and having a good job opportunity for people.

So this legislation is, I consider, a whole life piece of legislation, because we're not only worried about abortion and making sure that there's no federal funds for abortion but we're also extremely concerned about young women who may find themselves in situations. College students, young teenagers, women from abusive families, will actually be included in a $250 million piece of this legislation that's going to go out to support them as they struggle through this very difficult time in their lives.

And I say this as a person who was there. I was 20 years old in college when I found myself pregnant with my oldest son. And he's now 30 and actually made me a grandmother just a year ago. My granddaughter will be one at the end of this month. So I say this as a person who's been there, who understands the issues. And I'm just very, very proud today to be here and to support this whole life piece of legislation that's going to do wonderful things for the people of this country. Thank you.

REP. NICK RAHALL (D), WEST VIRGINIA: You know, health care is a very personal issue for each of us in this country. Abortion is a very emotional issue.

BLITZER: All right. So let's take a quick break. We're hearing all these members. These are all Democrats. They now say they will support, they will support the health care reform legislation. Congressman Nick Rahall is speaking right now, of West Virginia. We heard Bart Stupak, he's the leader of this group. These are anti- abortion Democrats who said they would vote against the Democrats' bill if the Senate language as it is stood.

The Senate language can't be changed in the separate reconciliation bill. That can only deal with money, and funding, appropriations. But the president of the United States today did something extraordinary. As Bart Stupak was getting ready to have this news conference the White House announced that President Obama would issue an executive order immediately after the Senate bill. He signs the Senate bill into law. That would clarify that the so-called Hyde amendment, which bars federal money from being used to pay for abortions, would remain in effect, irrespective of some of the loopholes that may or may not exist in the Senate language on abortion. I know Candy Crowley, this is a little confusing for our viewers. But let's get to the chase right now. What we have just heard from these anti-abortion Democrats sets the stage for passage over the next few hours of the Senate health care reform bill which will be signed into law by the president.

CROWLEY: Yes, this was it. These were the last - this was the last group with real reservations about the Senate bill that now has something outside the Senate bill but something they think they can take back home, they can take to their constituents and that they're satisfied with. That they believe will continue with the Hyde amendment barring the use of federal funds to in any way fund an abortion, pay for an abortion.

So this pretty much is it. Because even before these guys came on board, we had - I mean, this morning we had Congressman Larson who heads up the Democratic caucus saying we got the 216. I think this is icing on the cake and does, again, give the speaker some leeway if she has some members that are really having problems with making this vote. She can give them a pass.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say, Gloria, that this is game, set, match for health care reform in the United States congress?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think - well, in the House, yes, and then we'll - then the bill is considered passed. And then we'll see what happens with the so-called fixes. But yes, I think this is it. This is the game. This - what the president has done with this executive order is essentially say that the HHS secretary and the OMB director have to get together and set guidelines to ensure that money is not co-mingled, if you will, that people's private money is people's private money, public money is public money and no public money at all goes for the funding of abortions.

So he's going to ensure, as this executive order says, that no federal funds are used. And he's going to codify that just to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt so these folks we're hearing from right now, can vote for this measure and can go back to their districts and say we are sure there will be no federal money used for abortion.

BLITZER: And Congressman Bart Stupak said what his colleagues are finished with his their statements, he will take some questions from reporters. We'll go back there in a moment. But David Gergen, this is a moment - this is one of those dramatic moments where the Democrats say, you know, for 13 months they've been trying to get health care reform passed. There's a Senate version of health care reform. It passed the Senate Christmas eve. And within the next two or three hours, it almost certainly now will pass the Senate. It will go to the White House, President Obama will sign it into law.

GERGEN: This is it, Wolf. This is the breakthrough that Democrats have been hoping for. They finally got it. It took some creativity on the part of the White House. Presidential intervention. Nancy Pelosi all along has been an extraordinary leader in getting this -

BLITZER: All right. Hold on, David. Here's Bart Stupak. I want to listen to him and his Q&A.

STUPAK: ... of abortion restrictions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. So we are very pleased with this order. Glad to be part of it. How about questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Stupak, your conversations with the White House and speaker, does this put you guys over the top? Are you now past 216?

STUPAK: We're well past 216. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Stupak, what kind of assurances can you give pro life leaders that this particular executive order will not be rescinded after the fact?

STUPAK: Well, the president didn't sign it to rip it up tomorrow. He plans on keeping it in enforcement. We even have dates in here when you talk about such as the act specifically prohibits the use of tax credits and cost sharing reduction payments to pay for abortions services and health insurance exchange. That will be operational - we're talking 2014. We have assurances from the president and from others that he will not rip this up tomorrow.

He said, himself, the president said when he addressed the American people there will be no federal dollars for abortion. The president has put his commitment in writing. He has also made further commitments on community health centers to clarify any ambiguity - easy for you to say - that may be in there and also the conscious (ph) clause that got left out in a way in the Senate language. This is very extensive order. He does not plan on rescinding it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Stupak, you had a lot of concerns over many months about how these subsidies were going to work.

STUPAK: Correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... these exchanges.

STUPAK: Correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your bottom line was that somebody buying one of these insurance plans should not have abortion coverage. I mean, does this executive order prevent somebody from buying insurance plan that covers abortion if they get a subsidy?

STUPAK: It says the act specifically prohibits the use of tax credits and cost sharing reduction payments within the health exchange that will be operational 2014. So yes, that's what it says.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Stupak, can you talk a little bit about the process of what made you decide that an executive order will (INAUDIBLE)

STUPAK: As you know, this group, not just me, this group, we met constantly and this group we laid out proposals to address our concerns. We laid out legislative processes to address our concern. The problem we keep running into is the Senate and the Senate rules. There is no doubt if we try to put policy, abortion policy, in the reconciliation package that's going through today the emphasis is the policy, not a budgetary concern, therefore, we'd be Byrd out because of the Byrd rule. That won't work.

To win the Senate, attempted to put basically the Stupak amendment in the health care bill when it was going through. We could get 45 votes. Our difficulty in statute, we would all love to have a statute that would be stronger, OK? We can't get 60 votes in the Senate. The reality is we can't do it. This bill is going to go through. I do believe, Luke, they had the votes even before we decided to vote for this legislation.

So, therefore, to protect the sanctity of life what was our best enforceable - remember, executive order has the same force of law, and, therefore, it was the executive order that the president extended to us. There will also be a colloquy on the floor today that I will engage in with the Chairman. Probably the only colloquy we'll have on the floor today on health care. Again, we'll re-emphasize what all of these folks fought for, the sanctity of life. So that's another step in the process. So there's no ambiguity, as the Hyde restrictions will apply to this bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So are you saying you think they had the votes before they did this bill?

STUPAK: I think they were pretty darn close to having 216. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who came up with the idea of the executive order? How did that transpire?

STUPAK: I don't know. We had so many proposals going around. Yes, certainty versus uncertainty. But statutory language, we love to have it. We can't get it through the Senate. And we're not giving up. OK. If there's something we missed here, and I don't think we missed anything, if there's something we missed we're coming back with legislative fixes. These (INAUDIBLE) are Democrats who really carried the right to life ball in this whole debate through the last few months. We'll continue to do that. We'll work with our colleagues to get the job done. Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the republicans offer motion to recommit, will you guys vote against it?

STUPAK: Well, what else is in it?

BLITZER: All right. So there you have it. Bart Stupak, the democratic congressman from Michigan saying he's going to vote in favor of health care reform. You saw about half a dozen of his colleagues, other Democrats who are deeply worried about the Senate language version on a funding for abortion. The White House reassuring them, the president has no intention of changing the so- called Hyde amendment which prevents federal money from being used to pay for abortions.

And as a result the president will issue an executive order making this clear. The president announcing this through his communications director Dan Pfeiffer just a little while ago. That is enough to convince Bart Stupak and these other democrats to vote in favor. And this almost certainly will give the Democrats enough votes to pass the Senate version of health care reform and then in a separate vote later tonight, go on and pass the so-called fixes in the reconciliation bill.

That separate bill will go back to the Senate for consideration and that will then be a lengthy process in the Senate. But what is clear is the Senate version that passed on Christmas eve will now pass the House. The president will sign it into law either later tonight or tomorrow. That will become immediately the law of the land. Health care reform as the Democrats want it will be enacted.

Although there will be some changes in that Senate version as a result of what the Senate eventually does do on this reconciliation bill.

We'll continue our special coverage on this, a very dramatic and important day here in Washington, right after this.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent. Dana, Bart Stupak, these other Democrats who oppose abortion, they are going to vote in favor of health care reform. It looks like this Senate version, over the next few hours, will become the law of the land.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure does. And, you know, one thing that struck me as interesting, and worth talking about is the fact that Bart Stupak said in that press conference he thought that the leadership had the votes to pass this without that group of Democrats who are so staunchly anti antiabortion. So the question is why did they do it, why did they cut this deal?

Well I can tell you that part of the concern that is going on behind the scenes here, Wolf, is this, as we watch the floor throughout the day we will see there will be one chance that Republicans will have, the minority always gets it, what is called a motion to recommit. They can put something on the floor that has to do with anything, really anything at all. There was concern among Democrats that since they know this abortion issue splits Democrats that Republicans would put an abortion-related issue on the floor and if that passed, which would be possible, that could really gum up the work.

So as one senior Democratic said to me just the other day, why not do this on our terms, not their terms? So that might be part of the calculus in making this deal with Bart Stupak even though they might not have had to.

BLITZER: Just walk us through that. It gets a little complicated, this motion to recommit. That would happen after the House passes the Senate version, after the House passes the separate reconciliation bill as it's called. At that point they would do the motion to recommit? Is that the process you're saying, Dana? BASH: My understanding is that the motion to recommit would come before those votes, the motion to recommit. But regardless of the order, it is simply the opportunity that the minority party has for them to put this on the floor. It is something that always happens. It is the tradition and really the order of the House. Nobody knows at this point what the Republicans are going to do, we are still not sure. I was talking to one of the Republican leader a little while ago and they said they had a lot of different options that they were debating. But that was one of the concerns.

BLITZER: But it's clear they don't have the votes to pass that motion to recommit, right? They would just do it to try to embarrass the Democrats?

BASH: That's right. Most of the issues, it is very unlikely that they would get enough votes to pass anything. Abortion was the one issue, Wolf, because it splits Democrats, that the Democratic leadership was concerned that Republicans might actually win on. That's one of the reasons why they wanted to craft a deal with the antiabortion Democrats in their caucus to try to avoid that.

BLITZER: All right. Dana, stand by. Brianna Keilar, our other congressional correspondent, is outside the chambers. There are demonstrators there. I assume some are for, some are against. Are they just all against, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well most of them are against. There's probably a couple thousand protesters who are against health care reform. We're thinking 10-1 in terms of how many there are who are for health care reform. A lot fewer folks. They've been saying the same thing to us, which is they feel that lawmakers are not listening to them and so they thought they would come here and make their voices heard.

They are only about 100 feet from the capitol and really close to where the House floor is. We've been seeing actually Republican lawmakers coming out on the balcony right off the House floor and they have actually been kind of gesturing to say, hey, be louder, be louder. Michele Bachmann, a darling of the Tea Party movement has said she sort of led them in a chant of saying "kill the bill."

And for that what is really interesting is we've also seen some Democrats, including Congressman Barney Frank who came out as well. He was a target of a slur yesterday from at least one protester. We went amongst the crowd, a very peaceful demonstration. We asked them why they were here. Take a listen.


KEILAR: If it does pass what do all these folks do out here?

(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): Well, rally up and wait until November. Keep the grassroots movement going.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Talked to a lot of people who had driven here from states away from Washington, D.C., and really, Wolf, they were all echoing what I heard from one man inside of the capitol. It was actually a man who had been arrested after an outburst there in the gallery right above the House floor. I asked him why, why are you doing this and risking being arrested? With his hands behind his back in handcuffs he said, you know, I just came from Wisconsin and these people are not listening to me. My lawmakers are not listening to me and this is the only way that I can be heard.

BLITZER: Brianna, this is a day that normally a lot of demonstrators would be out there given the passions involved. What you're saying is approximate ballpark, how many demonstrators do you think are out there outside the Congress?

KEILAR: We think there's a couple of thousand, that's a ballpark. We've seen bigger protests before. I would say that actually yesterday's protest was significantly larger. But they have been very loud and they have been, you know; obviously now seeming that Democrats have momentum here, they have been yelling, "we will remember in November" over and over. So they are promising to make this an issue certainly past this vote, Wolf.

BLITZER: But so far based on what you know, there's no repetition of the ugliness that occurred yesterday when the "n" word was used against African-American members of Congress or there was an anti-gay slur against Barney Frank who's openly gay, a member of Congress. We haven't seen any of that repeated today, have we?

KEILAR: No, in fact, there's someone holding a gigantic sign, that says if you hear anyone say a slur, take a photo of them and we'll put their photo on the web. Clearly a lot of folks here are mad that there were some people who said some things yesterday that obviously got so much negative attention. They're sad it is overshadowing their point, which they say is a government takeover of health care that they don't like and they don't want to have anything to do with.

BLITZER: All right. Brianna, thanks very much. Brianna Keilar is watching the demonstrations up on Capitol Hill. Sanjay Gupta is getting some information for us on what all this back and forth on abortion actually means for women out there. We'll check in with Sanjay. Our coverage will continue right after this.


UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I am pleased to yield three minutes to the gentleman from California, member of the Rules Committee.

BLITZER: They're debating the rule; they are going to vote on this rule to set the stage for the much more important vote on the Senate version of health care reform. This is going to take another hour or so for the rule to get through and then they'll have two hours of debate on the Senate health care reform legislation. Then it will need 216 votes to pass.

The president presumably will sign that into law relatively quickly, if in fact that happens. Let's bring in Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina; he is the number three Democrat in the House of Representatives. Is it all over but the voting, Congressman?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I'm cautiously optimistic that when we start voting later on this evening we'll get to the magic number of 216. Maybe a little bit beyond.

BLITZER: Is it the result of what Bart Stupak, the arrangement that he worked out with his colleagues, the antiabortion Democrats; did they put you over the top? Or would you have been over the top even if they had voted no?

CLYBURN: Well, a lot of sequence here. While most of the country seems to be focused on the abortion group, there's another group that we were working very hard with. They were more concerned about reasonable disparities. I come from a part of the country where reimbursement for services, these rates are just arbitrary. We had to work very hard with various members trying to get rate -- reimbursement rates at a point that people will accept them. So we were working that group as well, and it was a like number. So everything's just sort of converged at the same time. Those people working on reasonable disparities, the people working on abortion, together they have gotten us to where we are.

BLITZER: Congressman, Candy Crowley, Gloria Borger, Sanjay Gupta they want to ask some questions as well.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Congressman, its Candy Crowley. I'm wondering how much you trust the Senate to pass the bill of fixes that you all are going to pass after you pass the Senate bill. Do you have any assurances at all that that will be left in tact and passed?

CLYBURN: Well, Senator Reid who is the leader over there, met with the House Democrats on yesterday, spoke in front of the president. He assured us that he has the commitments for more than 50 Senators to, in fact, pass those fixes. Now, let me say a couple things to you. I do believe it will be very problematic for our party, as well as Senators running for re-election, if they do not do these fixes. Because what we're doing here is getting all those objectionable things out of the Senate plan that the American people, even Senator Nelson, himself, says needs to be fixed.

And people who were focused on Louisiana as it relates to that issue, but we have fixed that in such a way that in the state that finds itself in the same predicament that Louisiana is after Katrina and Rita, will also be eligible for assistance under Medicaid through that plan. And so if you look at Florida, there are -- Tennessee, I'm sorry. There were five other states in that fix. So we fixed it so those other states would be eligible for the same treatment. So no one state will be treated differently. Now, if the Senate there were to stand and the fixes did not get put in place, none of that will be done and that will be catastrophic for our party if we were to do that. BLITZER: Congressman Clyburn, we have to move on, unfortunately, but it looks like you've got the situation from your perspective pretty much under control right now. I see a big smile. I remember when I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, almost two years or so ago for that Democratic presidential debate and you were so keen on getting health care reform through. You couldn't endorse either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama at that time, but I sensed you were excited about the possibility that Barack Obama would be president and health care reform would be enacted. You're very, very close right now and that's why I assume you're smiling as you are. We'll continue this conversation.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Congressman James Clyburn is the number three Democrat in the House of Representatives. Bart Stupak is not the number three Democrat in the House of Representatives, but he's very important and you're joining us right now, Congressman Stupak. Thanks very much for coming in.

We just took your news conference live. We saw the announcement from the White House on this executive order that the president will sign into law. This is a very important and this was not an easy decision for you to go ahead and make a commitment to vote for the Senate version of health care reform with the abortion language in there as it is. Based on this promise from the president was it?

REP. BART STUPAK, (D) MICHIGAN: It was not. That's why we wanted an executive order, with the full force of law once it's signed by the president and it clarifies the president's intent and the legislation that the current law, no public funding of abortion, the Hyde language as we call it, remains in full force and even with the passage of this health care bill and the Senate language.

BLITZER: So you're satisfied now that there are no loopholes out there that could sort of make this a little bit more murky? You're convinced that there's a hard and fast commitment from the president, himself, that there will be no funding, no indirect funding for abortion?

STUPAK: I'm convinced. In reading the executive order and having help negotiated along with my colleagues, I'm convinced that we have a hard, fast rule that the Hyde language and restrictions will apply to health care, yes.

BLITZER: Congressman Stupak, our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here. He has a question for you.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello from a fellow Michigander. Right now the way the system works, the employer- based system, employers get subsidies or credits anyway to provide insurance for their employees. That's federal tax credits, right? And a lot of those plans cover abortions, 87 percent is what I've read. How was this different? So federal money is being used to cover abortions through the employer-based system? STUPAK: Well not really, if you look at it and if you look at the Senate bill, if I'm a corporation and I want to buy health insurance for my employees I get a deduction. That money never comes to the federal government. I take a deduction at the end of the year. In the Senate bill you have refundable tax credits. Those refundable tax credits starting on page 237 go from the federal government to the insurance carrier. So the difference is the money comes from the federal government to the insurance carrier, where if I'm an employer I just write a deduction, off my income tax. The money never leaves me, so it never went to the federal government.

GUPTA: You're making a distinction between deduction and subsidies.

STUPAK: Yes. The other thing, if I may, in the budget you have to have an outlay. You have to make a provision, a line under showing the money going there. It is actually an outlay going from the federal government to the insurance company. Where a deduction never comes in the federal government.

GUPTA: Some people who look at this as a moral argument may think that's semantics, primarily, Congressman. But do you worry that the way this is outlined it's going to be punishing women who cannot get insurance through their employer-based system and are relying on subsidies so they can get health care?

STUPAK: No, I don't think it is. Look, the federal law has always been the same here. No public funding for abortion, whether it's Medicaid, Medicare, federal employees health benefit package. That's been the law for 30 some years. All the polling indicates, 60 some percent of the American people agree with that. Most members of the Congress agree with it, most members of the House agree with it. I think we're keeping current law which the American people accept.

BLITZER: So you're on board. You will vote in the next couple hours, Congressman Stupak, for that Senate bill is that correct?

STUPAK: Yes. I will vote for the health care, I will vote for the fix it package, the reconciliation package, the fix it, yes.

BLITZER: If the Republicans come up with a motion to recommit, and it specifically focuses in to try to embarrass some of the Democrats on abortion, you understand that's been one of the possible scenarios out there. Make a difficult vote for you. What are you going to do?

STUPAK: I'm sure the motion to recommit will probably contain some abortion language and I'm sure other things like maybe immigration and maybe the Republican plan would only covers 7 million Americans as opposed to 31 million Americans like the Senate bill does and the bill we're voting on today. I'll stick with the leadership and not vote for that motion to recommit.

BLITZER: We have some excellent news for you Congressman Stupak. Wile you've been here on CNN speaking to us, Michigan State has won. They beat Maryland 85-83. I know you were anxious to see the end of that game. You know what; you'll have to watch the videotape.

STUPAK: Thanks for the update.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan. Man of the hour. Right now based on his agreement with the president on this executive order that he will sign, he will now support this health care reform legislation and it almost certainly will become the law of the land. Bart Stupak thanks very much for coming in. Our coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go right to David Gergen, our senior political analyst. David, give us some perspective right now. Because it's been a dramatic afternoon so far. We're about an hour or so away from the start of the formal debate on the Senate health care reform legislation. They're about to pass a rule allowing that debate to go forward, but it looks like pretty much done.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It sure does, Wolf. I remember so well about 16 years ago late one evening in the White House sitting with the Clintons talking about health reform and writing down in my note book, 10:30 p.m., health reform just died. Today around 4:20, we can write in our notebooks, health reform just won. This is a moment that Democrats have been dreaming of for some 60 years. It took a long time to get here, but I think we're now assured, yes, there's some more hurdles to cross, but they're very small hurdles compared to the big one here today in the House of Representatives.

Has enormous consequences, policy consequences, and enormous consequences for American people, also has political consequences. It will fire up President Obama's base and it will -- he now has a legacy as president. He soon will enter the books as the first president to achieve near universal coverage. At the same time it's going to set off these huge debates in November. We're going to have a contentious political season.

A rock them, sock them congressional election season now. Because people on the other side are obviously fired up as well. We're off to the races on this, but I do think that this is a memorable day in American social history and we will all look back upon this as this being the turning point. This being the day when the Congress acted in such a way that we're reasonably assured now it's going to go through. Over the objections of a whole lot of other Americans, but a memorable day nonetheless.

BLITZER: If you were an adviser to the president, you advised four presidents over your life. David, what advice would you give the president in terms of signing into law the Senate version once it passes the House? Before the fixes, the separate reconciliation bill is even considered by the Senate. Should he make it -- a lot of fanfare, a modest amount of fanfare, no fanfare?

GERGEN: I think it's important to remember Churchhill who said in defeat, defiance, in victory magnanimity. Here I think that yes he wants to have a day of celebration, but I think it's one in which he honors a lot of people as well as look he understood the philosophical differences on the other side and he hopes the country can now come back together. I think that's a more becoming place for him to be. Just as he says, look, it's also important that we finish the job in the Senate, get the reconciliation job done. I think he wants to be the person that sort of looks for healing.

BLITZER: David, stand by. We're going it take a look at all of this, a lot more to cover. We're getting ready for an important roll call vote on the actual rule that will allow the debate to go forward then the Senate version comes up on the House floor. Our coverage will continue after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here in Washington. We're covering the health care debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. For the Democrats it's looking very, very good right now. Now that several Democrats who oppose abortion have come out in favor of the health care reform legislation. The Senate version, which will be followed by a separate so-called reconciliation bill that will try to change some of the more egregious parts of the Senate version. They will go forward, now, these Democrats who will oppose abortion and vote in favor. Almost certainly sets the stage for passage of health care reform today in the coming hours.