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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview With Chris Van Hollen, John Barrasso; Interview with Stephen Hadley, Jane Harman; Education Panel

Aired May 1, 2011 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Town hall redux over Easter break, but instead of Democrats getting hammered on health care, it's Republicans getting pummeled for a House-passed plan to replace Medicare with subsidized health insurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You did not run on -- you said nothing in the campaign about I'm going to change Medicare. Now you voted for a plan that will destroy Medicare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Convinced the House Republican plan is politically toxic, the Senate Democratic leader intends to force Senate Republicans to vote on it. The Senate's top Republican says, bring it on, as well as a vote on the president's plan, which Republicans think voters will view as unserious about debt reduction. This does not bode well for bipartisanship.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Today, Congress returns to hard choices and hardball politics. We're joined by Republican Senator John Barrasso and Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

And turmoil from Syria to Libya, Afghanistan to Bahrain. Our guest, former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former Congresswoman Jane Harman.

Then, getting schools to work, with senators Lamar Alexander and Michael Bennet, school principal Steve Perry, and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

I'm Candy Crowley. And this is STATE OF THE UNION.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Adding to the political mix, jaw-dropping gas prices and skyrocketing oil company profits. It has renewed sharp debate over whether tax-payers should be underwriting the oil industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I do have a problem with unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that we have been handing out to oil and gas companies to the tune of $4 billion a year.

REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: The president may think he's punishing CEOs of big companies, but his plan will hurt the everyday consumer of energy and imperil the jobs of millions of hard-working people in American-based companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Republican Senator Barrasso of Wyoming, vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference; and Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

First to you, Senator, is it not a pretty tough sell when Americans wake up to $4 and sometimes $5 a gallon gasoline and then find out that the top oil companies in this country have 50 percent increase in profits and more, and yet they are subsidizing these very same companies?

BARRASSO: You know, Candy, I'm a conservative and I believe if you tax something more you get less of it. And we're at a point where we need more American energy. And I think this pain at the pump that we're seeing that's adding $800 per year this year to families in terms of the cost of their gasoline, which takes money away from them if they are trying to deal with bills and with mortgages and with kids, makes it that much harder for families and the quality of their life.

So adding costs by adding taxes is something to me that makes it harder for us to become secure with our own energy. It's going to drive American jobs overseas.

CROWLEY: So their argument, Congressman, is that if you take away these tax breaks for the oil companies, it will make prices go up and not down. So, A, do you believe that and, B, would you at least concede that it probably overall won't have much effect on the price of gasoline?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it certainly isn't going to make prices go up. I mean, oil prices are set on an international market and there's absolutely no justification to ask American tax-payers to provide these big subsidies and windfall profits to these oil companies when they are already making record profits.

So what the president has said is, let's not invest that by giving to it oil companies, let's try and invest it in our nation's future energy supply. I would say with respect to price, we've seen a supply disruption as a result of Libya, which has helped feed a speculative bubble. And the only way to address that in the very short term is to consider releasing some of the oil from Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

CROWLEY: Something which the president has said he is not -- you know, that is supposed to be something that's on -- if the supply diminish, Libya, obviously, gives us very little oil. And it has mostly been a speculative increase, as I understand it.

So would you -- even despite that, you think the president ought to release oil from the strategic oil reserve?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's about 1.5 million of barrels of oil a day from Libya. But that has been fed, this speculative bubble. If you want to pop that bubble, you have to take some action. Unfortunately, our Republican colleagues have fought efforts to reduce rampant speculation in the markets.

I mean, they opposed the Wall Street Reform bill, and then they have been fighting efforts to allow the regulator to establish position limits to prevent manipulation in the oil markets.

But the one thing we can do now and quickly to pop the bubble would be to take - release some of the oil. And you get a good price for the American tax-payer too.

BARRASSO: And I disagree completely. The strategic reserve has oil in it basically for about 66 days of how much we use in this country. It's there for specific emergencies, and this isn't it.

Prices are up now because there is increased global demand for oil. The dollar is terribly weak right now internationally, and it's because of the economic policies of this administration and our incredible debt, and also there is turmoil in the Middle East, which is why we need to become more American energy dependent as opposed to foreign energy dependent.

We keep spending money and sending it overseas when we should be developing American energy. This administration has blocked our efforts and we should be exploring for energy offshore on federal land and in Alaska. And this administration continues to block efforts to develop American energy resources.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to the debt ceiling because you all come back to budgets, debt ceilings. Just a really simple question off the top and that is, do either one of you see any way that Congress will refuse to increase the debt ceiling, thereby allowing the U.S. to default?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I certainly hope not. It would be disastrous for the American economy. It would put people back out of work. It would make the last recession look like a cake walk. And so I hope wiser heads will prevail as we move forward because you cannot risk the full faith and credit of the United States.

Should we work together to come up with a deficit reduction plan? Yes. And we should do it now. But nobody should take the position that if they don't get 100 percent of what they want in terms of deficit reduction, that they are going to threaten to put people out of work. That's just reckless.

BARRASSO: And I'm not ready to give the president what he wants. And what the president is asking for is a blank check and a new credit card. And that's absolutely irresponsible. We need to quit the spending and cap the spending.

There are a number of things we need to do. No one that I know wants to default on the debt. But that doesn't mean that we have to raise the debt ceiling at this time. What, 84 percent of Americans, I don't know if you're going to put the numbers up on the screen, are against raising the debt ceiling. They want us to get spending under control. And that's what we need to do.

So even The Washington Post has said, if you are going to raise the debt ceiling, you had better tie it to limiting the spending and dealing with this incredible deficit and debt.

CROWLEY: Well, not even just The Washington Post, but your Democratic colleagues, I want to put up on the screen for our viewers, something that Senator Mark Udall, Democrat from Colorado, said: "As catastrophic as it would be to fail to raise our debt ceiling, it's even more irresponsible to not take this opportunity to own up to our unsustainable spending path. If we do not take action to reduce our deficit spending, Congress will be facing this same debt ceiling vote in the near term still with no to end our deficits in sight."

And he joins several other Democrats on the Senate side that have said -- you know, Kent Conrad, Joe Manchin, and Mark Pryor all said, look, we've got to have not just, oh, yes, we have got to deal, we all think debt is terrible, but substantial use that go along with that debt ceiling. Would you go along with something that was attached to the debt ceiling, spending cuts?

VAN HOLLEN: What I think we need to do right away is, yes, come up with a deficit reduction plan. It has to be a balanced approach to the deficit, not the one-sided approach that you saw in the House Republican plan that ends the Medicare guarantee at the same time they give a 30 percent cut in the top rate for millionaires and billionaires.

We're not going to agree to that. But the idea that we should come up with a balanced deficit reduction plan is right. But what's wrong is to say that if one side doesn't get 100 percent of what it wants in terms of coming up with that plan that they will put the entire economy at risk.

And then there's this plan, I hope John doesn't support it, but some of his Republican colleagues do, which says we will pay our foreign creditors, like the Chinese government, before we pay our troops in the field and before we pay Social Security beneficiaries. That is irresponsible as well.

CROWLEY: Well, let me ask...

BARRASSO: The president used the word "balanced approach," but they don't use the word "balanced budget," which is what families in Wyoming have to do, live within their means. Our state has a balanced budget. We have to live within our means in the state of Wyoming. I was in the state senate. This country needs a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

We need to live within our means. Not a balanced approach but a balanced budget.

CROWLEY: Very long term, a balanced budget amendment, because it has got to go through the states and all of that.

BARRASSO: Yes, sure.

CROWLEY: You know, I want to -- since you brought up Medicare, this has been a very huge thing. It's the Paul Ryan plan, basically says we will eliminate Medicare as we know it, and replace it with subsidies so that seniors can buy private insurance.

One of the things -- and you're a doctor, one of the things that I find when I talk to doctors is that they say, you know, Medicare is like the one reliable payment, you know, that we get. They actually like Medicare because they don't go through all of the hoops they do for private insurance.

Are you for that particular part of the Ryan plan?

BARRASSO: I'm going to support the Ryan plan. I'm telling you as a doctor who spent about half of his time in the office taking care of our seniors on Medicare, it is a program that intentional -- intentions to work are much better than the way it's working today in terms of practicality.

We need to save and strengthen and fix Medicare. Seniors realize Medicare is broken. The president takes $500 billion away from Medicare, not to save Medicare but to start a whole new government program and he puts a panel to decide what hospitals get paid and what don't. I was at a hospital in Cody, Wyoming this week. I know you've been to Cody, they are worried about things they are not going to be able do as the president's independent payment advisory board turns the screws, ratchets it's down and makes it much harder for patients to get care.

Plus, Candy, you know doctors right now are running away from Medicare. Many, many doctors, I think 57 percent of doctors don't want new Medicare patients because the system we have right now is broken, it's unsustainable. We have to fix it.

Paul Ryan makes one approach. And there are things that we can do to improve Medicare. We need to do those.

CROWLEY: So, but you're not for getting rid of Medicare, which is what the Ryan plan calls for, or are you?

BARRASSO: I'm going to support the Ryan plan. I have to tell you as a doctor, 25 years of practice, not as a politician using talking points, as somebody who has taken care of Medicare patients, we can make it a lot better. People want choices and right now they don't have that with Medicare.

CROWLEY: Seniors are now seen as in play for Democrats, particularly for the president because he's not been all that -- it's a group that he's not been popular with. Are seniors in play because of this Medicare plan?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think so because they are taking a look at this plan and they are understanding exactly what it does, not just seniors, but a whole lot of people are affected. Let's be clear about what the Republican plan does with respect to Medicare. It ends the Medicare guarantee. It requires seniors to go into the private health insurance market, where they are going to get a double whammy according to the independent Congressional Budget Office. Number one, prices are going to go up. The whole reason we have Medicare for seniors is the private insurance market couldn't provide affordable care in the first place. So prices go up and the government support goes down. And so seniors are going to be required to eat the whole cost.

With respect to the $500 million that John mentioned -- yes, that was part of the Medicare reform. You know what we did? We ended the overpayments to the Medicare Advantage plans, the private Medicare Advantage plans that were being subsidized at 114 percent, and we used some of that money to close the prescription drug doughnut hole. Now the Republican plan in the House, it takes the $500 billion that they said was terrible, but at the same time they don't use some of the savings to close the doughnut hole. They reopen it.

So what we're saying is let's look at things where we don't put the big hit on seniors.

CROWLEY: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Senator John Barrasso thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, Candy.

BARRASSO: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next, former congressman Jane Harmon and former national security adviser Stephen Hadley assess that tinderbox known as the Middle East and what President Obama's new looking -- new look -- new looking national security team should do about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The Libyan government announced today that a NATO air strike killed the son of Moammar Gadhafi and three of his grandchildren. Colonel Gadhafi and his wife were said to have been in the son's house but survived. CNN cannot independently confirm the report.

Joining me now here in Washington, former California congressman Jane Harman who is now President and CEO at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Thank you both for joining us.

Here's what we know. Well, first of all, let's say we can't confirm whether this is true. Master manipulator, as you pointed out, Moammar Gadhafi. But let's at least take what we know to be true and that's for the second time in a week, NATO has launched air strikes in quarters where Moammar Gadhafi, his inner circle and his family could be expected to be.

Are we targeting Gadhafi? And if not, where is that fine line between trying to force him out of office and trying to kill him?

HARMAN: We say we're not targeting Gadhafi. And we is NATO. The U.S. is playing a supporting the role to NATO. We're also providing $25 million of nonlethal aid to the folks who are trying to change the government in Libya.

But I regrettably think this mission was not carefully enough thought out on the front end. This is a zero sum game, and what we're putting into Libya we're not putting into very dangerous strategic threats to us like Syria and Yemen, where Saleh, the head of Yemen, has just backed out of the deal that they thought they had made.

So, I don't know exactly what NATO's end game is here. Clearly the air strikes have been ratcheted up, but they say that Gadhafi is not a target and Gadhafi is surviving. And our ambassador estimates 10,000 to 30,000 people have died in Libya. So this is an unfolding calamity that is unfortunately I think not necessarily going to end up in a good place.

CROWLEY: And that's the fear, isn't it? That it wasn't thought out kind of at the front end what if he survives. So, first of all, do you think we're targeting -- I know no one can say we're targeting but it seems silly to me that we're not trying, that it wouldn't be helpful to us to get that done.

HADLEY: In a military operation, the command and control elements are a legitimate target. And in Libya, the command and control goes right up to Gadhafi. But I think we have to focus on the narrative we want to come out of this. The narrative we want to come out this is that the Libyan people overthrew a dictator not that we came in and toppled a despot. And that's the problem with going after command and control if it results in the death of Gadhafi, because what we really want him to do is for him to leave or to die at a Libyan hand not an American hand.

CROWLEY: So we're trying to soften it up as it were? I mean, our best case scenario is somehow the people around him go, holy cow, he's losing, I'm defecting, and leave him kind of isolated.

HARMAN: Well, everywhere -- I agree with Steve, we need a strategic narrative for the entire greater Middle East. And one size doesn't fit all. But there needs to be frame to consider these things. There are moral considerations. Libya is high on the moral scale, but then there are U.S. strategic considerations. What are the strategic threats to us? Libya is not one of those.

We want people in their own countries to choose their own leaders. And if it doesn't happen that way, I think U.S. strategic interests are hurt because the...

CROWLEY: It's going to look like we personally came over and decided who was...

HARMAN: That's right.

CROWLEY: ... going to run that.

HARMAN: It's a new recruiting tool for bad guys.

CROWLEY: Right. Let me move you to Egypt, because it sort of is -- we're talking about the overall area, and this was from a spokeswoman for the Egyptian foreign ministry, who told The New York Times Friday: "All the world has diplomatic relations with Iran, with the exception of the United States and Israel. We look at Iran as a neighbor in the region that we should have normal relations with. Iran is not perceived as an enemy as it was under the previous regime," the Mubarak regime, "and it is not perceived as a friend."

You add that to overtures to a renewed friendship with Hamas, it seems to me that we are already seeing the strategic balance in the Middle East has changed completely.

HADLEY: Let's let them have a little time to sort things out. Let's remember that the revolution in Tahrir Square was not anti- American, it was not anti-Israeli, it was for democracy and freedom. That's a good thing.

Now the Egyptian government is -- and the Egyptian people are going to go through an evolution here. And there are going to be -- it's going to be more difficult from us from a foreign policy standpoint, you're going to see the kinds of things that you have seen.

But let the Egyptian people have a little bit of a time to sort this out. I think if there's one thing I would ask from them is to take some time. Let this political system that was really abused by President Mubarak, let it heal. Give it time for democratic groups to get organized, to be able to participate in this election.

I think when -- if that happens, and the Egyptian people have some real choices, you'll see a reasonable government come out of this process.

HARMAN: I think that is a great aspiration and in theory I'm for that. In practice, however, if elections are held soon, the opposition parties are not strong enough other than the Muslim Brotherhood. And I'm also very concerned about this new Egypt brokering the deal between Hamas and Fatah, the meeting is next week.

Let's understand this is a very short time frame, and allowing open borders now between Gaza and Egypt, that's an opportunity for Iran, which is playing in all of these transitions in the Middle East to move a lot more arms into Hamas. And the big cities of Israel are easy targets now for these longer range rockets coming out of Hamas.

So, I think, again, here, Steve is right that the transition should occur and we want an opening up of these societies and we want public participation. That's the way to get stability. We want the people to have a say in their own governments.

On the other hand, I think these moves by this Egyptian transition are very concerning in the short term.

HADLEY: And I agree with that. And that's why I say they need more time. They ought to slow this process down. I know it's difficult. This is a revolutionary situation. But they need time. The Tunisians are doing, I think, a better job in a way of a more measured approach. And in the interim, we're going to have to deal with these things about an outreach to Iran, outreach Hamas. There will be problems for us, and we need to engage with Egyptians on them.

CROWLEY: In the minute or so we have left, I want to talk about Syria, because so many people say, this is dangerous, this has all the potential for a proxy war between Iran and the Saudis. And yet -- and that at once explains why so little has been done there.

The contrast between Syria and Libya is so sharp in terms of what the world is willing to do to back up protesters. Where does the U.S. go with this or are we just locked in?

HARMAN: Well, this is why I've been calling for a frame that has moral issues on one side and strategic issues on the other. Syria is much more strategically important to us. It is Iran's back door into Lebanon and Israel. And it is the way that arms have been shipped in to Hamas and to Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, which is in southern Lebanon, again, targeting Israel.

So I agree with what you just said, Candy, that this could be the scene for a proxy war. The Israelis don't want to change government in Syria because they are afraid that could it even be worse than Bashar al-Assad. But I think we may just -- we may be seeing in the next 24 hours a mass massacre in Daraa where Syrian troops are rolling in as we speak, and I think that is totally unacceptable in moral and strategic terms for us.

CROWLEY: Stephen, I have to ask you to come back to talk about this because I've flat run out of time. But I appreciate both of you being here. Stephen Hadley, Jane Harman, thank you so much.

HADLEY: Nice to be with you.

CROWLEY: Up next, we'll shift gears and look at the growing education crisis in the U.S. Why are American students falling behind the rest of the world?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Indiana Republican Governor and potential presidential candidate Mitch Daniels has been busy pushing educational change through his legislature, molding his state into what he considers a model for reform.

Yesterday Daniels signed into law a part of his plan that ties teacher salaries to annual evaluations. This week he will sign the nation's broadest school voucher program. The overall Daniels plans allows middle- and low-income families to use tax-payer funds to help send their children to private schools, including parochial schools, restricts collective bargaining for public school teachers, and puts in place a system to significantly expand the number of charter schools.

Daniels and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been at the forefront in making education a priority. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MITCH DANIELS (R), INDIANA: We've all got to get better everywhere.

ARNE DUNCAN, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: Folks have accepted a status quo that just simply isn't good enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: But when it comes to vouchers and collective bargaining, Duncan says: "We must make every public school a great school, not a school good enough for someone else's children, but for our own children. I worry that Indiana may overlook the opportunity to drive change through tough-minded collaboration rather than confrontation."

When we come back, a conversation we taped earlier with a panel of experts devoted to improving the U.S. educational system, divided on how to do that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Democratic senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He was the superintendent of Denver's public schools, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, he is the former education secretary and former president of the University of Tennessee, Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers and CNN education contributor Steve Perry is the founder and principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. Thank you all for being here.

Let me throw out to you just the overarching question, I think that I personally was sort of appalled when I saw how the U.S. stacked up against other education systems around the world of 38 countries, we're about 14th, very middling. What are other countries doing that we're not doing? Just jump ball.

WEINGARTEN: So, we actually had an international summit sponsored by the secretary of education just this past month to think about just that, with many of the countries that out compete us at that summit. And what they are doing they focus on preparing teachers like we prepare doctors in this country. They focus on the support in classrooms. They look at teachers as the president has often said as nation builders and with a lot of stature.

We do things where, you know, we think a charter school here will work. Let's focus on testing one day. Let's focus on charter schools one day. We do the silver bullet theory. They do the theory of really growing knowledge.

BENNET: We have not recognized how the world has changed around us both in terms of our delivery of education and the international delivery. So when the last president became president George Bush, the second George Bush, we led the world in the production of college graduates. Today, ten years later, we're 12th or 15th in the world. That's how fast it's changed. And we're running a system right now that's producing from children in poverty only nine college graduates out of 100 kids.

So my view is that, you know, if we were given a blank sheet of paper to redesign the system, we wouldn't design the system we have today. One of the things we do is figure out how to much better support people that want to teach in our country.

CROWLEY: Either one of you, it seems to me that we don't really have time here to -- an entire generation is being lost in an educational system that's not just serving them badly, it's serving the nation badly.

PERRY: Well, what we've done is we've designed schools to support the needs of adults, not the expectations that the country puts on its children. So we've created working conditions that are most conducive to the adults. We have 6 1/2 hour school days. We have an eight month school year, all of which is counter to what children need.

So one things that we're not doing that other countries are doing, and successful schools in this country -- because we need not leave this country, we have very successful schools in this country -- we haven't put children first.

CROWLEY: Let me just -- I just want to give these figures to our audience. 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, 25th in math. We must be doing something -- what is glaring here?

ALEXANDER: Well, let's think about what we're doing right. What we're doing right is by any standard we have almost all the best colleges and universities in the world, almost any standard. We should change our elementary and secondary system and make it more like our colleges which is to say create independent schools, we call them charter schools, and let the money follow the children to any school that fits the needs of those children. If they need to be there from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 at night and on Saturday they can select that school. That would help.

WEINGARTEN: So, let me just jump in here, Senator. Because the senator has had tremendous amount of experience in terms of education. But that's -- but what the other countries are doing right is that they are actually focusing on making sure that all kids have a decent shot at education. They are not doing the kind of silver bullet theories we do in the United States.

(CROSSTALK) ALEXANDER: The silver bullet theory is not giving -- if you give a poor kid a ticket to a good school, that's not a silver bullet, that's an opportunity.

WEINGARTEN: But what I'm saying is when we look at the evidence, look at the evidence, we have some incredibly great schools in the United States of America and we have some really terrible schools. But if you look at the evidence of what works, what works is having a strong group of teachers and principals working together collaboratively.

Having a real good curriculum that -- where we're engaging kids in a real way and trumping poverty, not making excuses for it. But these other countries in the world don't have independent charter schools.

(CROSSTALK)

ALEXADNER: Why don't you let a poor kid have a ticket to a good school, at Hartford for example.

PERRY: Why is it -- if you believe what you said, then why is it that the teachers unions are the first in line to stop children from leaving failed schools? Why is it on a regular basis your organization stands in support of the teachers in failed schools. If we put children first, if we put children first, than what we don't care where they go to school, we just care they go to a good school.

We need your organization and others to stand with the education reforms and say children are first, every day, and regardless of what we think the school is or how hard the teachers are working if they are not producing shut the school down period.

WEINGARTEN: Actually, we've done a lot of those shut the schools down for the last 20 years and it hasn't worked. But on the ground right now as we're talking in Washington, there are cuts in school budgets throughout the country. So kids are losing out in terms of music. They are losing out in terms of sports. They are losing out in terms of arts. They are losing the kind of activities that they need to engage them.

The issue is...

ALEXANDER: Why don't you let them then go to a school that has music and arts.

PERRY: One of the reasons that we have that...

(CROSSTALK)

WEINGARTEN: We need to have the finances in schools so we can help all kids, not some kids. The bottom line is...

PERRY: That's not the issue. One of the issues, as a principal who is... WEINGARTEN: Steve, one more -- can I just finish one more point, which is that the point that you're raising about these kind of alternatives, there are studies now that say that 80 percent of these alternative schools, the charter schools are not performing as well as public schools.

PERRY: But that's not the only alternative. And as somebody who is on the front line and who does have the responsibility of maintaining a local budget, I think that one of the best things to happen in education has been the budget crisis because it requires us to hook into ourselves and make decisions and realize that what's driving the cost of education is not football practice, it's not band practice it's the personnel. And if you have people who get guaranteed increases regardless of whether or not they do anything well, then that's what drives the cost.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I'll come back and start with you, Senator. We're going to take a quick break here because I want to get down to some of the specifics because we're talking teacher pay here. You started out about talking about respect for teachers. I think I've heard that for 30 years in Washington about how we have to have more respect for teachers, we have to elevate that career choice. And I want to talk a little bit about how you all want to go about doing that. We'll be right back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We're back and talking education reform with senators Michael Bennet and Lamar Alexander, as well as Randi Weingarten and Steve Perry.

Thank you all again. Let me start with you, Senator, because you did start out -- I promise you, since "Nation at Risk," and I remember doing a story about "Nation at Risk," and said, you know, if a foreign country had done to our schools what we're doing to our schools, we would have declared war, essentially. Here we are, we are still talking about we have to find a way to make this an elevated career path. How do we do it?

BENNET: Well, I would argue -- I said the other day on the Senate Floor that if the hundred senators in the Senate faced the same odds for their kids that kids in poverty face, I guarantee you, we wouldn't be hanging around the Senate Floor for very long, we would be going home to figure out how to get our kids into the finest schools with faculties that are doing the work that we were talking about earlier.

One of the things that I think we need to do is under and, and this is a positive thing about our country, we need to understand that finding people that are willing to do the same job for 30 years of their life is going to be really hard to do in the 21st Century. We used to do that. We take the best British literature student in her class and we'd make her a teacher for 30 years, because we wouldn't let her do anything else.

That's no longer the case. I'm very interested, as a result, and I've been thinking about how you think about compensation over a seven- or nine-year period of time, you know, in the classroom. Today we've got a system designed with a very low current wage. But we say, if you hang around for 30 -- or if you're there for 30 years, we'll give you a pension for your retirement.

Well that incentive structure may have made sense at one time. It probably makes less sense today for new people that are coming to the profession.

CROWLEY: Do you think that the system, as it currently is, protects bad teachers? Would you admit that?

WEINGARTEN: I think that the system -- I think that right now whereas there's no epidemic of bad teachers, we've got to do a lot better job at the preparation, the support, the nurturing, and then if somebody can't teach, ushering them out. And we have...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: If we're 14th around the world and our...

WEINGARTEN: Wait, wait, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: It is teachers. We can't just say that we live in a country where we have bad parents.

WEINGARTEN: Let me finish.

CROWLEY: Let me have her just finish.

WEINGARTEN: It's not -- we don't have bad parents. And we don't have an epidemic of bad teachers. What these other countries do is that they do what our new teachers have just told us they want. They support and nurture.

Teaching is not like speed-dating. You can't just plop somebody in and say, do it, and then if they don't get the test scores that one wants, to usher them out of the profession. We have to nurture and prepare.

Having said that, we have to evaluate and we have focus on performance. Steve is right about that. And the AFT has been focusing on how we do evaluations in a way that doesn't shield incompetence, but also doesn't allow management to have an excuse not to manage.

PERRY: The problem with many of us, principals in particular, like I am, is that we spend a year or two sword-fighting with the organizations that protect them to make sure that we have dotted our I's and crossed our T's to get rid of this teacher.

That teacher is responsible on the low end for 120 students. So that teacher is the Algebra I teacher, and she's not very good. Then all of the children who had her for Algebra I do not know what they need to know. We can't get that year back.

So what we need you to do...

WEINGARTEN: Steve, we are doing in Connecticut -- in Connecticut, we are doing the kind of innovation in terms of legislation that actually will help us identify, people are doing a good job, and if they are not, to help them, and if they are still not, to usher them out of the profession.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Let me interrupt both of you at this point only because, you know, if you're the mother of the child, and the teacher that you want to help, your don't want your child with that teacher that needs help, you want it with a teacher that knows what they are doing.

WEINGARTEN: Right. But, Candy, the issue becomes what's happening right now is that there in the countries that outcompete us, in the schools that do well, it is a joint venture where what I'm suggesting here is that, as a former classroom teacher, you cannot just say to somebody, OK, just do everything we're asking you to do with every single child without help.

And what we're talking about and what Singapore has done so well is that they focus on evaluation and they focus on continuous improvement. That's the kind of stuff that they did, that Michael did in Denver. That's the kind of stuff that we need to do throughout the country and we can do it.

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: Just real quickly, if I could say practically, when I have a teacher, for instance, who falls asleep in class and I try to fire this individual, and it takes me four to six months to fire them, and I have to counsel them and deprive them of the support, that's what we're talking about. We're talking about people not doing their job, and us trying to get rid of them.

WEINGARTEN: But, Steve, we are changing that.

CROWLEY: Let me call a time on this.

WEINGARTEN: We are changing that. And you know that and I know that.

CROWLEY: As you can see, there's always a conflict with the unions versus, you know, what people want to do to get better teachers in. So let's put it on the table, what's out there? I know you all have been working up on Capitol Hill in terms of federal legislation, federal reforms. What's the single best reform you all think is doable at the federal level right now?

ALEXANDER: Well, if you hadn't said federal level, I could have answered that.

(LAUGHTER)

ALEXANDER: Because the whole...

CROWLEY: Well, $71 billion, you ought to be doing something with that.

ALEXANDER: Federal spending on elementary and secondary education is about 10 percent of the whole package. And action is in the classroom and in the community. The holy grail of elementary and secondary education is teacher evaluation and principal evaluation.

How do you -- how do you evaluate a good teacher? And especially how do you relate student achievement to teacher performance? We're in the Model T phase of that. We don't know how to do it very well. Michael did it in Denver. BENNET: Not very well but it's getting better.

ALEXANDER: Well, but we tried it in Tennessee, lots of people are trying it. But we need to focus. The Gates Foundation is funding that. Tennessee is moving ahead on it even today as it was 20 years ago. But that's what we need to do to attract and keep the best teachers in the classroom.

I'm not talking about kicking people out. I think it's more important to keep good people in, and to find out who they are and reward them, pay them well, and you have to have differentiated pay and pay some more than others to do that.

CROWLEY: Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Lamar Alexander, Randi Weingarten, thank you, and so much, Steve Perry as well. I have to have you back because I'm not sure we have solutions but we do know what the problems are.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Yes, we started the conversation anyway. Thank you all so much for joining us.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now from Los Angeles, the former host of CNN's "Larry King Live," Larry King. In a new place now, Larry, doing specials for CNN. And your first one, airing tonight at 8:00 Eastern, is on Alzheimer's. Why was that your first pick?

KING: Well, I've been puzzled about it for a long time, Candy. And when we made the arrangement to do four specials here, I wanted the first one to center on something that we're all learning about, that is the fastest-growing disease in America. Of the top 10, it's number six, and it's the only one of the top 10 rising.

So we've interviewed doctors. We interview some patients and relatives of patients, celebrities, people who have been affected by it. It's a horrible disease. It deserves attention. It deserves a lot more attention, especially when you consider 6 million have it, and they estimate that, by the year 2050, 100 million Americans will have Alzheimer's disease.

CROWLEY: And one of the things I found fascinating was your interview with Maria Shriver, whose father, the late Sargent Shriver, had Alzheimer's. She, of course, is the nexus of both politics and this disease.

And the fact of the matter is, there is always politics about the funding of cures or preventatives for disease. And I wanted to play a quick clip for our audience of your interview with Maria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIA SHRIVER, AUTHOR AND PRODUCER: Is the president committed to this?

SHRIVER: Not as committed as perhaps those of us in the field would like him to be. I think he just passed the National Alzheimer's Project Act, but there's a lot more that could be done and can be done and I hope, in an election year, will get done.

I think the electorate, the national -- everybody who votes in an upcoming presidential election or even midterms can ask those running for office, do you have a policy on -- a caretaker policy? Do you have an Alzheimer's policy?

KING: Who would be against that?

SHRIVER: Well, there's a lot of people who -- it's not that they're so much against it, but they're not for it. It's not a priority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And you know, Larry, I know that one of the things that also puts a subject on the front burner is that they are close to something that might be a breakthrough. You were at the Ruvo Center talking about how they do cutting-edge medicine there. How close are we -- can you tell -- to some sort of cure or preventative for Alzheimer's?

KING: Not close, Candy. This is a puzzling disease. We take you inside the brain. Dr. Gupta helps us to show you how it formulates, how our memory bank is formed. What we have developed is there are medications that forestall it.

In other words, if they tell you that we think you're going to get it in a year, this medication might make it two years. But it's not preventable, and it is not curable, and it does kill. People think you die of something else. You do die of Alzheimer's. It's terrible.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Larry. We want to remind our viewers, Larry's special, "Unthinkable: The Alzheimer's Epidemic," airs tonight here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. And a correction to last Sunday's broadcast. When Senator Lindsey Graham accused the National Labor Relations Board of unfairly trying to limit operations at this new Boeing plant in South Carolina on the grounds it was built to retaliate against a Boeing worker strike in Washington state, the NLRB (sic) says, "I was wrong in saying the board wants the plant closed. A spokeswoman says the complaint is solely against a second production line of 787s at the South Carolina facility, and Boeing is free to make anything else there it wants."

Senator Graham and Boeing say the plant was set up specifically to build 787s. A hearing by an administration judge is scheduled for June.

Up next, a check of today's top headlines followed by "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories.

A mandatory evacuation has been ordered for the southwestern Illinois town of Cairo. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering blowing a hole in a levee holding back the rain-swollen Mississippi River, which would flood rural farm communities.

Meanwhile, top Obama administration officials today are visiting parts of Alabama and Mississippi that were decimated by tornadoes that killed at least 339 people across the southeastern United States.

The Taliban has launched a spring offensive against foreign troops and Afghan forces. The militant group says it will target military bases, convoys, heads of foreign and local companies and members of the local government.

Meanwhile, the bodies of eight U.S. airmen killed by an Afghan pilot earlier this week at an airport in Kabul arrived at Dover Air Force Base early yesterday.

And this just in, NASA scrubbed a Monday launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The launch was delayed Friday because of concerns about the spaceship's heating system.

And Pope John Paul II is a step closer to sainthood. The late pontiff was beatified, or declared blessed, today in a ceremony in St. Peter's Square. John Paul is already credited with one miracle. He would need to be credited with a second to become a saint.

Those are your top stories. Thanks for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.