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The Democrats Have the Votes

Aired March 21, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. We're here in Washington, and we're covering the health care debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. And 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 oppose abortion, and vote in favor. That almost certainly sets the stage for passage of health care reform today in the coming hours.

John King is joining us here, together with "The Best Political Team on Television." John, I want you to weigh in in a moment.

But Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill right now. Dana, you have a lawmaker there, a Democrat, who's very nervous about getting reelected.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I have with me Congressman Steve Driehaus from Ohio. You saw him in that press conference with Bart Stupak. Congressman Driehaus is one of the Democrats who's now voting yes because of this deal on the executive order over abortion.

Let me ask you, first of all, unlike Bart Stupak, who has a pretty safe district, you do not. You have a target on your back. Voting yes for this -- this could force you to lose your job.

REP. STEVE DRIEHAUS (D), OHIO: Oh, you know, I voted yes on the House version of the bill. And I come from a very competitive district. Every race I run in is competitive. So this is -- it's no surprise that I have a target on my back.

But I staked out a position saying I will not vote for a bill that has public funding for abortion. And this was a great effort on the part of the pro-life Democrats to really secure the support of the president and to ensure that the Hyde language stays in place across the board and that the status quo is preserved. What we were doing here is preserving the status quo.

BASH: Well, let me ask you about that. The Republicans are already sending e-mails around showing the very last part of the executive order on this, specifically saying that this basically affirms what it says is current law. Well, eventually, current law will be, assuming this passes, the language in the Senate bill, and that language is the very language that you have said you don't think goes far enough. They say it's a loophole, it's a hatch, and basically, you've been had.

DRIEHAUS: You know, the Republicans are grasping at straws. The Republicans have engaged in scare tactics the entire time this health care debate has been going on. So it doesn't surprise me at all that the Republicans are now engaging in more scare tactics. Do you think the Republicans are saying, Yes, this is a victory for the pro-life Democrats, that they did achieve a win over us on abortion and making sure that there's no abortion coverage in the health care bill? No, the Republicans aren't going to give us credit for that. They're using abortion as a political football and they're engaged in fear mongering amongst the public and they'll continue to do so.

BASH: They will continue to do so. Maybe not on abortion, but this will, of course, be the political issue. I think you said that you have about a half a million dollars in ads already running against you. Obviously, as we get closer to November, it's going to be even more intense. John Boehner, I think -- what did he call you?

DRIEHAUS: Oh, I don't know. But if Boehner wants to come down...

BASH: A dead man politically?

DRIEHAUS: If Boehner wants to come down to my district and campaign, he's welcome to join me.

BASH: But in all seriousness, how much is this going to play in your reelection campaign? Is this going to be by far the biggest issue, hands down?

DRIEHAUS: No, I think the economy's going to be the biggest issue. I think it's important to move forward on health care. We need to go out and defend this health care bill. We need to help the American people understand what's actually in it, versus what the Republicans misrepresent. But the economy is going to play a critical role as we move toward November. And so I think this will be part of the campaign, no doubt, but I think the economy is actually the biggest part of the campaign.

BASH: See you on the campaign trail.

DRIEHAUS: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you very much.

DRIEHAUS: Appreciate it.

BASH: Thanks for -- thanks for stopping by, Congressman.

So there you have it, Wolf. You have, again, some of the members of Congress who are staunchly anti-abortion who were with Bart Stupak at that press conference -- they were -- I mean, all of them were doing it, obviously, because it was -- it's their principle. But some of them in that room are -- have a lot at stake politically, and Steve Driehaus is one of them. This issue has already caused major political consternation for him back in his district.

BLITZER: I think the Republicans were calling some of these Democrats dead men walking...

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... if you will, because they think they're going to be defeated come November. We'll see what happens them. Dana, stand by.

Something interesting is happening on the House floor right now, a long line of Republicans coming forward and making brief statements. Let's listen in to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in opposition to this flawed health bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman from Newport Beach. Mr. Campbell?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in opposition to this flawed health care bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman from Dallas. Mr. Hensarling?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in opposition to this flawed health care bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman from Arizona. Mr. Flake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in opposition to this flawed health care bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

BLITZER: What we're seeing right now is very interesting. They all want to be able to have some formal remarks. Because of time constraints right now, they can't do so actually on the floor of the House, but they want to be able to insert some statements into the record. So the Republicans are lining up man and woman, man and woman, making these statements.

John King, it's fascinating what's going on right now because, you know, it happens all the time on the House floor, but we're seeing this up close on such an important piece of legislation.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": And what we're seeing now, Wolf, is the pivot, now that it is clear the Democratic leadership has the votes. This is a policy debate, a huge policy issue. There will be back and forth about the specifics. But the maneuvering by the politicians now is about the election year. And all those Republicans lining up want to get a speech on the record so they can send it to supporters back home, they can send it to their fund-raising community, they can send it to the interest groups, saying, Here's what I said, even though it's -- they didn't deliver the speech -- to fight this bill.

It is remarkable now everybody is pivoting. The Democrats are making the case, We need to sell this because there's split public opinion right now. They're trying to say, Look, Washington is doing something and doing something big. Never mind health care for a minute. A lot of disgust out in the country is that Washington seems paralyzed. The Democrats are banking, by doing something, a big issue, they can start to change the mood. And they're also hoping, as Congressman Driehaus just said, that the economy gets better between now and November and that this is less of an issue.

The Republicans are playing on another big dynamic in the political environment, which is mistrust of just about anything big. And they're saying, Washington essentially couldn't pour you a glass of water right now. You wouldn't trust the government to do anything. How could you possibly trust the government to do something like this? So this is now quickly becoming a polarizing fight on the House floor that will become a very polarizing election battle.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the key -- you know, the key question here is, is this going to harm the Democrats and Barack Obama, or is this going to be the beginning of a turnaround for the Democrats and Barack Obama? And they believe that if they show an accomplishment, which is something they need and on something they've been working on for a year, that they can at least take that home to the voters, who they're saying are going to see the difference within six months or so and that the Republicans will be wrong.

The Republicans are going to say this is going to be like sort of Civil Rights in the '60s, where we essentially -- Republicans -- there was a realignment in the South, an anti-Democratic thing, a Republican realignment in the South because the public was so mad at the Democratic Party.

KING: And I'm interested in these guys right here, who do campaigns for a living. And it'll be different district by district. I think that's one of the hard things in a mid-term election here, 435 House races across the country, all these Senate races. You know, in New York state, the dynamic will be very different than in Cincinnati, where Steve Driehaus is from. It'll be very different from Colorado and California. That's what makes it so complicated. We could have these broad national statements about the political environment, but when you travel the country, it's very different sometimes just miles apart.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sometimes. But in swing districts, it's fairly homogeneous. Swing districts are not nearly as liberal as the leader -- the districts of the leadership of the House the Democrats are in. And those districts much more sensitive to a message that the Republicans are going to put out there that's going to say this. A nation that's nearly bankrupt, just put another trillion dollars on the credit card. We can't afford it. Unsustainable entitlement spending is going to wreck the economy. This is now an economic issue, not a health care issue. And that's what I think Republicans are looking at to take control of the House, and they well may. BLITZER: It's interesting also, the White House has just announced, Donna Brazile, that following the final vote on the House floor later tonight, the president of the United States will make a statement to the American people from the East Room of the White House. So he won't be wasting any time at all, making it clear, presumably, that he's going to sign this Senate bill into -- the Senate version of health care reform into law. I don't know if he's going to sign it from the East Room tonight or wait until tomorrow, but he's going to go into the East Room and make a statement.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a very historic day. And I know the politics, as I said earlier, is quite -- is sexy and we all want to talk about the politics. We want to talk about what happens 218 days from today.

But what's important right now, Wolf, is that the American people understand what's in the bill, they understand how this will impact their own personal finances, they understand how this will impact the finances of the country. If we do nothing, we're on an unsustainable path.

Alex keep talking about independents. Independents are worried about the budget deficit. So are Democrats. So are Republicans. And what they understand today is that the House will move to try to lower health care costs for the vast majority of Americans. They will move to cover 46 million uninsured Americans.

And you know, we don't talk a lot about the uninsured Americans because we want to talk about those who have health insurance, but there are millions of our fellow citizens who will lose their health care tomorrow simply if they get pink slip.

BLITZER: The Congressional Budget Office, Sanjay, as you know, says if this health care reform is passed, 32 million Americans who don't have health insurance now will get it. But there still will be what, another 10 million who won't be eligible, who won't get that health insurance.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the 32 million, to be clear -- that's not going to happen right away and it won't happen for several years, 2014 before these exchanges that's going to incorporate the vast majority of these people. You know, so that's four years away.

What's interesting, over the next several months, if you look at these high-risk pools, which is going to be implemented within 90 days, you know, there's estimates on how many people more will be added to the insured, about one to two million maybe. And then the children will be able to get insurance without discrimination based on preexisting conditions. There's about eight million children in this country without health care insurance.

But because we're in an employer-based system, people will still continue to lose their health care insurance over the next several months because we're losing jobs. So when people look in November, the numbers may actually look worse than they do now because a lot of these measures haven't yet gone into effect.

BLITZER: All right, and we now know -- just to recap the news that we just got, the president will make a statement from the East Room of the White House immediately after the final vote today in the House of Representatives presumably passing health care reform and sending a reconciliation package, a package of changes, to the Senate version back to the Senate for consideration in the coming days.

Our coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: We're back. We're watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives. They're getting ready for a roll call vote on a rule that will allow the debate to go forward. They will then have two hours of debate, an hour for the Democrats, an hour for the Republicans, on the Senate health care reform bill. And then they will vote on that. Following that, they'll have another vote on the fixes, as they are called, the changes from the Senate bill, the reconciliation package. Presumably, that will pass, as well. That will, though, have to go to the Senate, where it will be considered over the coming days.

David Gergen, if you take a look at that process, it's not clear at all what the Senate is going to do as far as that reconciliation package is concerned, even though 50-plus senators have told the House, in effect, according to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, they will support this. The Republicans have some maneuvers, parliamentary maneuvers, amendments ready to go that will delay.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's certainly not perfectly clear what will happen, but it's reasonably clear that the Republicans will introduce a variety of blocking measures, but that the Democrats have the votes. You know, they have to -- after all, they only need to get to 50 to get there. That gives them a margin of nine. They have 59 votes altogether in the Senate. They need 50 to get -- to pass things through reconciliation. They seem to have thought about all the parliamentary issues that would block this.

So I -- you know, it's -- I think it's -- I think that the Senate action is likely to be an anti-climax -- important to watch, could be some stumbles along the way, but I think that the House vote is -- is -- in the eyes of history is going to loom as the biggest hurdle to cross.

BLITZER: Let me bring John King into this conversation. I had spoken late last week, before it was abundantly clear, as it is right now, that the House is going to pass the Senate version, that they were saying, You know what? We have some -- we have some amendments, an unlimited number of amendments we might be able to do to try to change this or tweak it. I think, in part, what they were trying to do was scare some reluctant House Democrats into thinking it was by no means a done deal that the Senate version would be changed.

KING: A dramatic shift, an incredibly dramatic shift in the politics of this issue in the last several days. But one thing that has not evaporated is the House does not trust the Senate, the Senate does not trust the House. That is not a new dynamic. That is not just among the Democrats. It's the way the two very different bodies work.

And yes, you're exactly right. Senate Republicans are trying to say to those guys on the fence, the guys like Bart Stupak we saw earlier today, You know, don't think so. We could still try to wrench (ph) up the game. But it looks like now Senator Reid, everyone else you talk to in the Senate -- I talked to several senators last night, even some Republicans who say that they have it. This is going to get dragged out (INAUDIBLE)

And another one quick point. What is also remarkable -- remember a few weeks and definitely a few months back, all these Democrats grumbling, Where's the president? The president has to get more involved. The president has to get his hands dirty. The president has to help this to the finish line. In the last week, he's been meeting one on one with liberals like Dennis Kucinich, a Cleveland congressman, a single-payer, public option guy, tells him, Look, I know this isn't anywhere near perfect, but all of our agenda will be undermined if you don't come over. He comes over.

Then he gets these pro-life, more conservative Democrats by agreeing to issue the executive order. He's going to come out and speak tonight. He is essentially sending this message. This is risky, but if we -- he believes if you don't do it, it'll be a lot worse because Republicans aren't going to vote for you back home, ladies and gentlemen, if you vote against this. And so let's do this together, and I'll be out on the campaign trail for you. I'll be giving you political cover. The question will be going forward, how welcome is he, and where is he unwelcome?

BLITZER: Gloria, I guess it was wise for the president to postpone his trip to Indonesia and Australia...

BORGER: I think Nancy Pelosi...

BLITZER: ... because right about now...


BLITZER: ... he originally was supposed to be -- he was supposed to be taking off from Washington for that trip.

BORGER: Right. And it's kind of interesting, too, to follow-up on what John is saying about the dynamic between the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the president of the United States because she was the one saying to him, Mr. President, you need to be out there helping me with this. She did not want to scale back health care reform at all. She was the one who wanted to continue gangbusters.

And a relationship that had been frayed at certain points because, again, the House Democrats felt that they had walked out on that limb and that the Senate Democrats were not there behind them. She wanted to protect her members. She said to the president, I really need you to step this up, and that's exactly what he did. Now, on the Senate, I think they still have a few shenanigans up their sleeves, the Senate Republicans calling, perhaps, points of order to a certain degree on this bill, this so-called "fix it" bill that they say contains some changes in it that should not be allowed. And they may try and get the bill pulled. I mean, in the end, do I believe that it's going to pass? I do. But Republicans are going to have some fun with it, I think.


BLITZER: All right, hold on thoughts for a moment, guys. I just want to take a quick break, continue our coverage after this because it is not done yet. They still have to actually vote.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our coverage of health care reform. It's been 13 months in the making, as far as President Obama and the Democrats are concerned. They seem to be on the verge of getting it passed, that magic number of 216 clearly in sight now that Bart Stupak and other Democrats in the House of Representatives who oppose abortion say they will vote for the Senate bill and the subsequent reconciliation bill that's designed to change some of that Senate language.

Let's bring in Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. She's a very, very outspoken opponent of the Democrats' health care bill. It looks like the Democrats, Congresswoman, have the votes to get it past the House today. Do you still have any hope that you can stop it?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Well, I tell you, until those votes go up on the board, I can tell you we're going to be working to do our best to defeat this bill. I think that you can look at what has transpired through this process. You just laid out the number of months that they have been working on a piece of legislation that they felt like they could get passed. And indeed, look at all the horse trading and the deal making and the backroom deals, and the list goes on and on, the machinations they've gone through in order to try to get to this bill.

And Wolf, I think that you can see it's not a good bill, and they are determined to just ram this thing through. And it looks like they're going to call for their vote about 10:00 o'clock tonight.

BLITZER: How disappointed are you that these Bart Stupak Democrats, and the others, are now going to vote for it? Because it looked until at least a couple hours or so ago that they were going to vote against it, and that presumably would have made it so much more difficult for the Democrats to get to that 216 number?

BLACKBURN: You're right. And they were trying to get up to about 220 so that nobody was blamed for being the 216th vote. That's the politics of the situation.

But I'm very disappointed that they have given in to an executive order and a colloquy and feel as if that is going to be something that will protect the unborn. Being someone who is pro-life, I was very disappointed to see that. I think it took a lot of courage for them to stand up against their leadership.

And you know, here is the thing to look at. Yesterday, Congressman Skelton brought forward a bill that would protect our Tri-Care, our men and women in uniform, about 9.4 million of them. That had to be passed in front of action on the Senate bill in order for them not to be taxed. Now, if you wanted to make certain that there was something ironclad and read into the law, that type action would have been necessary. I don't think that an executive order and a colloquy is going to stand up and protect the unborn and prohibit federal funding of abortions.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, John king is here. He has a question for you, as well.


KING: Two very different issues. But if you go back in time to all the Democrats coming to the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate late in the Bush administration, saying the surge in Iraq would be a disaster, it was a reckless policy, it would be horrible, some of them publicly and most of them privately now say, You know what? I was wrong and it worked out.

If this passes and becomes law, will Republicans immediately try to repeal things, or would you wait a year or two and say, Let's give it a chance, even though I think it's not going to work, let's give it a test?

BLACKBURN: John, I think when you look at history and look at the test cases for public option health care, you don't see anybody from Tennessee, where we have Tenncare, from Massachusetts, where they have the Commonwealth Care, from Maine or from New Jersey, where they passed guaranteed issue, going to the floor and saying, Let me tell you how well this worked in my state. So history has shown that it does not work. Look at the National Health Service in Europe, in England, 60 years later. This has never worked like it was supposed to work.

So our concern is that you don't have a model that you can point to and say, This has worked. It increases access. It gets down costs. It allows more competition. People have better quality of care. There is not a track record that you can point to and say this is a good move.

KING: So if there is a Speaker Boehner next January, do Republicans try to repeal the whole thing, or do you leave in place the new policies that would prohibit dumping somebody for a preexisting condition or denying them insurance or kicking somebody off an insurance rolls if they develop a chronic disease and start costing the insurance company money? Would you try to ditch it all or just pieces you don't like?

BLACKBURN: What you do is you implement patient-centered market force reforms that will deal with some of those components. And John, as you remember, some of those we have passed in the House with bipartisan support. We did it in '06. The Senate never got -- Senator Frist was never able to get 60 votes for cloture.

So what you do is go back and revisit, making certain that those with preexisting and chronic conditions have access, that you have some lower-cost provisions, expanded HSAs or health savings accounts or association health plans, some of those items that have a proven track record, that you know they're going to be able to address the issues the American people want addressed, which is the cost, the coverage, the access and the competition, and also, I will add, liability reform. And we passed that in the House in '06, sent it to the Senate. I think I've voted for it three different times since I've been here. It was done with bipartisan support each time.

We have bipartisan support on these issues. Right now, there is only bipartisan opposition to the bill in front of us.

BLITZER: All right, Marsha Blackburn is a Republican from Tennessee. Congresswoman, thanks for much for coming in. We'll continue this conversation.

BLACKBURN: Always good be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you. And we'll continue our coverage of this historic day here in Washington, the House of Representatives getting ready to pass health care reform in the next few hours.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. We're watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives.

They're getting ready to vote on this rule that will allow the debate -- two hours of debate -- to go forward on the actual health care reform bill that was passed by the Senate Christmas Eve and presumably is about to be passed by the House of Representatives. Then will be sent to the president of the United States for his signature.

We're told, by the way, that once the House finishes all of its voting tonight the president will go into the East Room of the White House and make a statement addressing the American people.

I don't know -- I don't think any of us knows right now whether or not the president will actually sign the Senate bill into law at that moment. He could if he wants to. On the other hand he might wait a day or two to do it with a lot less fanfare than that.

He'll clearly make it clear that he will sign that into law. It will become the law of the land.

I think Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, you're there, right?


BLITZER: All right. Explain to our viewers in easy-to-understand House rules for dummies, if you will, what passage of this rule means.

BASH: OK. Well, here's generally what it means. First of all, let's start with the Senate.

In the United States Senate there's no such thing. It's a very free- flowing debate when something is brought to the Senate floor. It is not so in the House. Every time you see a piece of legislation debated on the House floor, before that happens the legislation goes through the House Rules Committee.

And the House Rules Committee passes effectively what it is blueprint for debate. So what they're going to vote on is approving that blueprint. The blueprint that we have been talking about. So the vote on the rule will put into place, in this particular case, two hours of debate and then following two hours of debate the vote on the Senate bill, and the vote on the Republicans' chance to do something.

That is called the motion to recommit. And then finally on that package of changes, the fix-it package, through reconciliation.

So the rule will set all of that in stone and set it in motion. And that vote will make that happen.

BLITZER: And that's going to take the next few hours. And we'll watch all of that unfold. And then later tonight the president will address the American people from the east room of the White House.

Sanjay Gupta is our chief medical correspondent.

Sanjay, I know you've been hearing from a lot of confused viewers who want to know, what does this mean for me?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Right. And they're asking some very specific questions. It's -- a lot of them are coming in on Twitter, Wolf, as you know. Let me just read a couple of them.

This comes from Aganahuko who writes, "What if you made $47,000 a year but you were laid off after six months? Would you still get fined if you could no longer afford health insurance?"

Couple of things to point out. First of all, I think what he's referring to is what happens in 2014 when mandates are going to be kicked in. This is obviously something that has been controversial but is part of the Senate bill.

You have to have health care insurance if you can afford it. You know there's going to be different amounts of subsidies depending on your income and depending on the size of your family.

But ultimately if you can't afford you are going to have higher subsidies. And if he's unemployed essentially at that sense he may be able to get the health care insurance essentially for free. Another question, this is an interesting one. I've looked into this quite a bit. This comes from JDCM74. "Isn't defensive medicine a big factor leading to over treatment both at the beginning and end of life?"

You know it's interesting, a lot of people have been talking about tort reform. And Wolf, you remember, this came up a lot at the summit that President Obama had, you know, would there be some sort of tort reform? President Obama has said --

BLITZER: Medical malpractice reform, if you will.

GUPTA: Correct.

BLITZER: For those who don't know what tort means.

GUPTA: Yes. Liability, you know, protection for doctors and health care professionals. And he said publicly that there wouldn't be this medical malpractice insurance protection in previous speeches.

But at the summit he sort of was open to it. You know, should there be some programs looking into it. If you look at all the lawsuits, there's about a million people who claim some sort of harm in any given year. But only about 11,000 lawsuits that are actually paid out.

There are a lot that are settled but only about 11,000. Point being that if you look at medical malpractice it's really only about 2 percent of the health care budget. What's a problem, though, is people acting differently. Doctors behaving differently because of the concern about lawsuits. Defensive medicine.

And I have a poll that I found that said nine in 10 doctors, according to this one Gallup poll, admit to having practiced defensive medicine at some time during their career. And they're trying to put a price on it and they say could be hundreds of billions of dollars in a year.

BLITZER: Basically a doctor saying, you know what, we'll do this other tests even though I don't think it's needed.

GUPTA: Right.

BLITZER: In case I'm ever sued I'll be able to show I did this test.

GUPTA: That's right. They're covering themselves, ordering more tests than may be necessary, prescribing more medications. And in the worst case scenario, as you might imagine, even performing operations that they weren't 100 percent sure on whether they patient actually need it.

Final question, this comes from the organized, "Will this bill allow people who are HIV positive to get health insurance?" And again, talking about this idea that in 2014 that there would be no discrimination based on pre-existing conditions any longer.

So you could not be denied based on an infection or some sort of pre- existing illness. So this person should be able to get health care insurance at that time. Four years away, though.

BLITZER: Yes, I want to come back to you, Sanjay, and get more practical information on what all of this would mean for our viewers out there because they're watching and they're interested. In many respects this is -- these are life or death questions for a lot of individuals out there. Stand by.

Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos are going to stand by as well. We're going to talk about the politics of this as well, as our coverage continues.

The House of Representatives getting ready to vote on health care reform.


BLITZER: First roll call on this rule will -- is about to start on the floor of the House of Representatives. That presumably will pass -- the rule will pass largely along party lines allowing the Democrats to go forward with the next and much more important vote on the Senate health care reform bill.

And they need 216 to pass it. It looks like they have 216. That will pass, will go to the president and become the law of the land. They will then have a third vote on the fix-it bill, as it's called. The reconciliation bill.

That presumably will pass as well, but that has to go to the Senate where it will then be considered over the next several days.

Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos are here to assess that.

Talk a little bit, Alex, about the Republican strategy. First tonight, in the House of Representatives, the Democrats by all accounts have the 216 votes now that Bart Stupak and these other antiabortion Democrats say they will vote in favor of it.

What should the Republicans do now?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: What I'm hearing from the hill is that the Democrats have the votes, that Stupak has put them over the top, that there's going to be a vote and the Democrats are probably going to pass this thing. That the only Republican hope now really is to tie this up in the Senate.

The reconciliation bill. The fix. But the fix won't work, why? Because it changes the Social Security revenues. And that's something that's just not allowed in the reconciliation bill.

What does that mean? That the Democrats are being told right now that if they vote for this bill, for the Senate bill, they're voting for the Louisiana purchase, they're voting for all those unseemly things and that there's not going to be a fix to them.

That's kind of the last Republican hope at the moment. I'm not sure it's going to be enough. The House, I think -- Pelosi and the leaders I think have enough discipline amongst their troops to ram this thing through and try to deal with the fix later.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I disagree with the notion that the Democrats are ramming it through. It's been a year of intense debates. We've had five committees mark these bills up, listen to just about every Republican who wanted to offer constructive amendment.

We've incorporated several of their key proposals. They were for them before they were against them. They went to the floor. The Republicans offered amendments. The Democrats once again took time and considered most of those amendments.

So when this bill is passed tonight in the House it will go to Senate on Tuesday. They will take up the bill. Right now they're projected to try to do it in 20 hours. And we know that that means maybe 20 days from now, given the fact that the Republicans want to delay, delay, delay.

The truth is, Wolf, is that every day that we delay thousands of fellow citizens are losing their health care. Of course, the Democrats are more worried about those Americans and Americans who are now filing bankruptcy or cannot afford to stay well.

That's our focus. Our focus is not just on 2010. Our focus is on those thousands of Americans who are losing their health care each and every day.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And let me ask you a question, Alex. If -- what's the political calculation here? If Republicans delay, delay in the Senate, for example, at a certain point why don't they just want to sort of pass it and get it over with, and then go out and campaign against it?

What's the purpose of delaying?

CASTELLANOS: Because this is such a -- well, that's a good question. I think this is such a huge transformation of American culture and of the country and the way it works. You know, this is big government coming in and saying, we're going to write your insurance policies in about five years.

Everybody in America. You're going to -- you can order anything you want as long as it's what we tell you. So it's that kind of effect that Republicans are fighting against and they don't want to -- Republicans don't want to go back to their voters and say, we left the field in the fourth quarter before the game was over. We fought until the last second.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hyperbole is something practiced every day, almost every second of every day by everybody in politics. No party has a monopoly on hyperbole.

I want to just challenge, playing devil's advocate, and I want to bring the doctor into the conversation. The Republicans say in their talking points, job killing, government takeover of health care. Focus on the government takeover part. Obviously people are skeptical of government. That's something so personal they don't want the government to have too much power. There's no question it's a broad expansion of government power here. Government regulation of the insurance industry. Government regulation of exchanges.

There's no question, I think even the Democrats wouldn't dispute there's a lot more government influence and government power in health care.

Is it a takeover? If you're a doctor -- the patients might have a different perspective, but from a doctor's perspective, do you look at this bill and say, why, they're taking me out of health care?

GUPTA: No, I don't. I mean, you know, first of all, there's a fair amount of government health care already in the system. So there's a lot of employer-based health care obviously. But you know, Medicare, Medicaid, the Veteran's Administration, those already exist.

And essentially, you know, the V.A.'s a single-payer system fundamentally. That's how it operates.

With regard to this, these national health exchanges aren't going to be overseen by the government. This is, again, 2014. So not immediately. And I think de facto it's going to regulate some of the prices for premiums and things like that and you're going to see the impact of that, I think.

I don't know how long it will take after --

KING: What words would you used? They say -- and again, patients may have different perspective. I'm not taking side. I'm just playing devil's advocate here in the sense that these are the words we're going to here in the political campaign through November.

It's obviously a greater government role. But how would you, as someone on the other receiving end of this, describe it?

GUPTA: Well, first of all, you know, the government takeover sort of argument, I think, rang faults I think almost from the start. First of all, if you really look at who qualifies for the exchange, these are people who cannot get health care insurance through their employer. And their spouse cannot get health care insurance through their employers.

They can't get coverage some how and they're not making enough money or don't have enough money in some ways to get, you know, some sort of health care insurance right now in the individual marketplace. They're going to qualify for the exchange.

You can do the estimates. But I think the numbers, you know, may be 11 to 19 million people depending on how you sort of analyze that. Is that a takeover of health care? You know, I think it would be hard to --

CASTELLANOS: No. What Republicans would argue, though, is that this is a huge first step on a -- or maybe even fourth, fifth or sixth step on a slippery slope. Look at what happened in Massachusetts where they -- with the best of intentions were going to control health care cost, insure more people and guess what happened there?

They now have the highest health care cost in the country. Now what does that lead to? The next step is, government has to step back in again, regulate prices, regulate more. In other words, this doesn't get better. This doesn't -- it's hard to bring this back. And that's what I think Republicans are afraid of.

GUPTA: If you talk to the people in Massachusetts they'll say their goal was to increase access in Massachusetts. And they will admit that they did not put controlling costs on the agenda at the beginning. And there should be more done to control cost.

CASTELLANOS: Who's going to make that decision now in Massachusetts? Government is going to control cost.


BLITZER: Well, you know, I spoke to Scott Brown, the new senator, Republican of Massachusetts.

BRAZILE: He voted for it then.

BLITZER: He not only voted for it, he told me just this past week he thinks it's working. Yes, there are problems and it's costing more but he wouldn't change it. He thinks it's been good. Ninety-nine percent of the people of Massachusetts now have health insurance.

Hold on for a moment. Dana Bash is up on the Hill with a special guest.

Dana, a special guest who has a lot of history.

BASH: A lot of history. They don't call him the Dean of the House for nothing. And we're talking about John Dingell. He is here with me and he has something very special.

Mr. Dingell, thank you very much for joining us here. Tell us about this gavel. This is a lot of history here.

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Well, the gavel was used when I presided over the House when we passed Medicare. And it was --

BASH: Put it up there so our viewers can --

DINGELL: And it was used when I presided over the House when we passed the House version of the health care reform bill. And it's going to be used when Speaker Pelosi gavels the bill into law tonight.

And this bill is a great piece of legislation. It ranks with Medicare. It ranks with the first Civil Rights bill. And it ranks with Social Security. Of which it was intended to be a part when Roosevelt started that out in 1935. BASH: Now the president talks a lot about the history of this moment. He talked a lot about it when he came to speak to you in the caucus yesterday. But you've lived the history. You started introducing health care legislation --

DINGELL: 1957.

BASH: 1957.

DINGELL: Dad introduced the first bill in 1943. For Harry Truman. It was the Dingell-Murray-Wagner bill which he introduced with his two friends in the Senate. And it has -- believe it or not, much of it has been enacted into law.

And I reduced the bill when I introduced it because all the legislation that had been enacted as parts of this bill. So it's going to go through. It's going to do some wonderful good.

It's going to change the situation where the United States ranks with the developing nations in terms of the health of our people.

BASH: Now let me ask you a question. We actually saw the speaker earlier. She was carrying the current gavel. Her gavel. The one that she uses. If you can hold this up again, sir.

Hers is a lot bigger now. I don't know if it's just gotten bigger in size as time as gone on or -- give us a little more about the history of this gavel. Was this your father's gavel?

DINGELL: No. John, that wonderful Irish poet, Speaker John McCormick, gave it to me when I had -- when I finished presiding. Just as a joke this morning before the caucus, I gave the speaker a gavel that was given me by my friends in Monroe County. It's about three feet long and it weighs about five pounds.

And I said, Madame Speaker, if they get out of order, this will bring them back.


BASH: So this is -- this is one that you're going to hand her -- to be clear, this is the one you're going to hand her tonight to gavel this vote close.

DINGELL: Well, and it's --

BASH: And open.

DINGELL: And it's got a lot of history. But, more importantly, the history is really important. We're going to eliminate all of the abuses that the insurance companies have -- preexisting conditions, canceling your policy while you're on the gurney going in the operating room. Lifetime limits.

It's going to see to it that small businesses are not longer discriminated against on price. And they're going to get a subsidy. It's going to eliminate a $1600 disadvantage to the American Automobile Manufacturer having a car.

It's going to see to it that the citizen has a free choice of insurance and you'll get insurance as good as we get here in the Congress.

BASH: Thank you. I think you have to go vote. I see your staff pulling you over to make sure you can do it. I appreciate you coming over here and showing us this historic gavel and giving us a little bit of history lesson as well. I appreciate it.

DINGELL: You're a great, good sport. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you very much.

And more of our coverage of this health care debate right after the break.


BLITZER: Let's go right to Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent.

Dan, the president's clearly been on the phone trying to get some reluctant Democrats on board, meeting with some success.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And you know this is the photo the White House wants to get out there, a picture that they just recently released of the president working the phones, hitting hard those House Democrats in his chief of staff's office along with other aides.

And, you know, this is something that the president had been criticized for months ago where the president -- some critics said -- was not actively engaged in the process. Questions were asked of the press secretary, when is the president going to get more involved?

And we've seen in recent weeks as John was talking about recently that the president has rolled up his sleeves. We saw him take Dennis Kucinich on Air Force One, worked him over. He was someone who had voted no in the earlier House vote, was on the fence.

After then after coming back from that trip to Ohio, changed his vote and then most recently this work with these anti-abortion House members who really were holding out and were critical to getting the votes that Democrats needed. The president was able to win over Mr. Stupak and his company today.

The White House obviously feeling good about their position now. While Republicans may not like what the president has been doing, the White House feeling good that they've been able to cross over this critical step because the president has been pushing so hard, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they've been working really hard on this. And as we mentioned, at this hour the president was originally supposed to be getting ready to fly off to Indonesia and Australia. That whole trip has been postponed until June so the president could be here in order to try to get those votes.

And he will be speaking, addressing the American public later tonight after the House votes. He'll be in the east room.

Our coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: We're back watching what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives. They're getting ready for a roll call on a rule that will allow the debate to go forward on health care reform.

They will then have two hours to actually debate the health care reform, the Senate bill, as it's known. There will be an intense debate.

I want to make sure that all of you appreciate -- we will allow you to watch that debate unfold on the floor of the Senate. Republicans opposed, Democrats, by and large, in favor.

David Gergen, our senior political analyst, is watching all of this together with us.

We just saw that photo of the president in the White House chief of staff's office, Rahm Emanuel. He was sitting at that table there without a tie. The president on the phone, trying to get some reluctant Democrats on board.

What does all this mean for the president of the United States, David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's interesting, Wolf. And I've been wondering about this. Clearly this is now going to be a major signature achievement for the president, an important part of his historical legacy.

But I've wondered whether we might speculate a bit just how much it may change him as president and his leadership style. You know, until you get a major accomplishment like this, you're not -- especially as a new president, you're not quite self-confident.

I think he's been unsteady sometimes in his leadership. He's held back, he's been cautious. This time he threw himself into it at the end. He persevered. He's now one -- I wonder if that's going to make him a more aggressive leader and a more effective leader.