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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

"We've Had a Death in Our Family"; Interview With Rep. Jeb Hensarling; Interview With Rep. Marsha Blackburn; Mitt Romney Wins CPAC Straw Poll and Maine Caucuses; Whitney Houston Dies; Whitney Houston's Final Days; Obama's Tax Plan

Aired February 13, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(MUSIC, THE NATIONAL ANTHEM SUNG BY WHITNEY HOUSTON)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: There are some new clues this morning about what could cause Whitney Houston's death. The autopsy is complete, but the results are on hold. They are waiting on toxicology reports that could take up to eight weeks.

Whitney Houston was found in the bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, late afternoon. And there are some reports she may have had water in her lungs. Maybe she drowned.

There's also some evidence that there were prescription drugs in her room. Radar Online is saying that police actually found the drugs Lorazepam, Valium, Xanax in her room. The coroner is not commenting on any of that.

And last night, Whitney Houston was honored at the Grammys. It opened with a prayer from the host, LL Cool J.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LL COOL J, ENTERTAINER: And although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit, and to have her lasting legacy of music to cherish and share forever. Amen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to her idol. She sang "I Will Always Love You."

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

O'BRIEN: Darlene Love is Whitney Houston's godmother. Also joining us this morning is Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of the state of Tennessee. Joe Levy is a contributing editor at "Rolling Stone." And Arianna Huffington is president and editor in chief of "The Huffington Post" media group.

It's nice to have all of you. I know when you were watching Whitney singing "The Star Spangled Banner," the national anthem, oh --

DARLENE LOVE, SINGER & HOUSTON'S GODMOTHER: I have sung the national anthem before, and I never want to sing it again after hearing her do it.

O'BRIEN: You know, as much as I love her voice on that, the voice is amazing. But the joy -- you know, one of the things you realized you sort of missed from her in recent years was that -- like she is just nailing it, and she knows it, and she's so happy in that performance. You know, she's like smiling her way through, killing it, you know, just nailing it.

Did you see over the last years that she just started to lose the joy in her life?

LOVE: Yes, I think so. Unfortunately, she was trying to get it back. When you try to have joy and try to get it back at the same time, they kind of bump heads, you know what I mean? And it's hard. I mean, she was the darling. She still will be the darling, as far as I'm concerned, trying to come back.

And I think when you lose your voice, I lost my voice first for the first time when I was doing "Hairspray," and it shocked me so bad because I couldn't believe it. I had been singing for 50 years, and I grew up in church too. And that's the hardest singing in the world, gospel music.

And I said, I didn't lose my voice. And I went to my doctor and he said that my vocal chords were swollen. And that I had to go totally on vocal rest. That means no talking to nobody.

O'BRIEN: Did she know that she had lost her voice?

LOVE: Oh, I'm sure she did.

JOE LEVY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": I don't think there can be any question. There was a concert tour that was scheduled in 2010. It was after her last album in 2009. And during those dates, fans walked out. They demanded money back. Dates were canceled.

Having seen her sing three years ago, I will say she could still sing, but the top range was gone.

O'BRIEN: If you listened to her last performance, which was with Kelly Price -- let's play that clip, because you can really hear the raspiness of her voice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

KELLY PRICE, SINGER: I totally get that when people are tainted because they know of things that have happened or there's been a struggle in the past, that's the first place their mind will go. But what I can say, I can't speak for anything else. What I can say on Thursday night, Whitney was partying. She was happy. She was sober, maybe a little tipsy because she had some champagne. But we had a good time Thursday night. And I will not let anybody say anything else about my friend because it's not true.

(WHITNEY HOUSTON SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, I'm sorry. You were talking and we didn't have your mic open.

LOVE: It's there, but it's not what it was.

LEVY: It's got to have been very difficult for her. As you were saying, when your instrument isn't there and you have relied on it, and remember one of the best singers in the world, and to step out onstage, on a concert stage in 2010 and not have her instrument be there, not be able to perform in the way that she was, it must have been very, very difficult.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, FOUNDER, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP: I read a biography of Maria Callas, who went through similar issues with her voice later in life. But again it's always connected at some point with what's happening in your life. In her case, it was, she (INAUDIBLE) partying, being in love with Onassis, and making that more important. I mean, that voice required so much care and attention.

LOVE: People don't understand the voice is a muscle. And you have to take care of it like you take care of the rest of your muscles.

O'BRIEN: And she wasn't. Did you see her falling apart? Did you see her deteriorating?

LOVE: We did.

O'BRIEN: I know Cissy did a very well-documented intervention where she basically came in with a sheriff and said, you know, I'm taking you to rehab.

LOVE: Right. We did see it, but it was like hope beyond hope, you know, that she's going to come back, she's going to make it, you know? But it's up to the person.

HUFFINGTON: And then you hear the denial of friends, you know. The friend was interviewed in the clip saying --

O'BRIEN: Kelly Price.

LEVY: She was sober except for the champagne.

HUFFINGTON: Except for the champagne, she was just tipsy. And, you know, I think we all want to believe that there's no problem. And I think that denial can often accelerate all of the real problems.

O'BRIEN: Well, consistently in interviews she had maintained where she had issues with cocaine and marijuana and even pills, that she always said that drinking was never her -- in an interview, I think it was on Oprah interview, she said that Bobby Brown was a mean alcoholic, but that she never had an issue with alcohol.

LEVY: Sure. But when you're dealing with addiction, and I'm not an addiction specialist, but one thing often leads to another. One triggers another. And that's why when you try to clean up and be sober, you try to be sober, period. Not a little champagne is OK.

LOVE: And the other thing is Whitney, she never smoked cigarettes. And me and Cissy were so upset when we found out she had started smoking. She was a grown adult when she started smoking cigarettes.

And I tell people all the time, when I was cigarette, on the package, it said 100 percent tobacco. I can't believe I remember that, you know what I'm saying? Now, it's not there, because you don't know what's in cigarettes, you know what I'm saying?

But to start smoking at an age when you're in your 20s or 30s, that's really bad on your throat. Maybe if you have been doing it all your life or whatever, you know, I stopped 25 years ago. But I smoked, too.

O'BRIEN: Do you think they'll bring the body back here?

LOVE: Pretty sure. I don't see no reason why they wouldn't, because this is where she's from.

O'BRIEN: OK. We've got to get to some other stories this morning.

Let's get back to Atlanta where Christine Romans has our other headlines.

Hey.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

President Obama today unveils his 2013 budget. He is asking Congress to approve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years by cutting spending and raising taxes on the rich. He also wants spending increases for transportation and education. In seven minutes, we'll talk about the plan's chances of success with Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Arab League nations coming up with a new plan to stop the slaughter in Syria. They are asking the U.N. to assemble a peacekeeping force in Syria, and they are urging all Arab nations to cut ties with President Bashar al Assad's regime. Syria's ambassador to the Arab League already rejecting this plan, accusing Saudi Arabia and Qatar of, quote, "living in a state of hysteria".

Volunteers in Washington state sifting through tons of paper at a recycling center this weekend, hoping to find evidence in the Josh Powell case. Powell killed himself and his two sons by setting his home on fire earlier this month. Authorities confirming they received a tip that Powell may have dumped some papers at the recycling center in the days before he died.

Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky requesting more freedom to visit his grandchildren. We should get a ruling on that request today. Prosecutors are asking the judge to keep Sandusky indoors after getting complaints from neighbors that he's been watching schoolchildren in a playground behind his house.

And British singing sensation Adele, the big winner at the Grammys last night. She's rolling deep in hardware this morning, going six for six, winning everything she was dominated for. It was her first public performance since undergoing vocal chord surgery, and she gave her surgeons their due.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADELE, WINNER OF SIX GRAMMY AWARDS LAST NIGHT: Seeing as it's a vocal performance, I need to thank my doctors, I suppose, who brought my voice back. So (INAUDIBLE), thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: In another buzz-worthy moment from last night actually happened in the commercial break during the Grammys. Chipotle's first national TV commercial.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

ROMANS: That's right. That's Willie Nelson performing the Coldplay hit "Back to the Start," and is touting the company's initiative to go back to the start of sustainable farming. Some critics this morning saying it's better than any of the ads that appeared in the Super Bowl, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I don't know about that. But I thought that was a terrific ad. You know, and partly because you don't really know what they're talking about, you know? You're not really sure. It's not sort of like Chipotle and all the trees say Chipotle and, you know, someone mowing a Chipotle --

ROMANS: And it's cool to hear Willie singing Coldplay, you know? It's counterintuitive and cool.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I liked the whole thing. I support that idea.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a budget battle really probably an election preview. The president is unveiling his final spending plan before the 2012 election today. And already, it is being picked apart. Some are saying it's proof that the president failed. We're going to talk to Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas to get his reaction.

Plus, relaxing No Child Left Behind. We got Dr. Steve Perry all fired up. He says that President Obama is caving to special interests on this.

And Athens is burning and banks are in flames over deep budget cuts.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: What I loved best about Whitney Houston, you really could sing along with her. She's kind of, sort of in your range, you know? So, if you really were belted out, it kind, sort of found --

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN, (R) TENNESSEE: If you have a three octave-range.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I was really thinking in the shower alone. In the shower alone. You can really sound like you could sort of sound kind of like sort of Whitney Houston.

Welcome back, everybody. We're talking about the president's budget this morning. He's submitting his 2013 budget proposal to Congress. The plan includes tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and targeted investments including these, $476 billion for infrastructure upgrades over the next six years, $350 billion for job creation, $30 billion to hire teachers, and police, and firefighters, $30 billion to modernize schools, $2.2 billion on R&D for advanced manufacturing.

We're joined now by Republican congressman, Jeb Hensarling, of the great state of Texas. Nice to see you, sir. He's also the chairman of the House Republican Conference and co-chair of the debt Super Committee. It's nice to have you. So, in a nutshell, what do you think of this budget? It's been out now for 16 minutes.

REP. JEB HENSARLING, (R) TEXAS: Well, it's long enough to be bitterly disappointed. I mean, I'm bitterly disappointed in two respects. Number one, the president told us that at the end of his first term, he would cut the deficit in half. And instead, we have our nation's first, second, third, and fourth trillion dollar deficits.

Second of all, I mean, there's a debt crisis, and the president's budget doesn't deal with it. And what we have again are the largest debt we've had as a percentage of our economy since World War II. I mean, I was listening to your program earlier. You're reporting on what's happening in Greece. I mean, I don't think America could turn into Greece, but I don't know.

I mean, they have rioting in the streets. They have homelessness that are up. Suicides are up. The debt is serious, and the president doesn't deal with the drivers of the debt. And even if you gave the president every single job killing tax increase, he's requested, that's about 16 percent, maybe 17 percent of the new additional debt that he's putting on the backs of the American people. It's a huge drag on our economy. It's preventing job creation.

O'BRIEN: So, there's not one thing in there that you like? HENSARLING: Well, I must admit, in 16 minutes, I haven't read the entirety of it, but --

O'BRIEN: But enough to be bitterly disappointed. We heard you. We heard you. But I give you a couple -- in all seriousness.

(CROSSTALK)

HENSARLING: -- as far as the eye can see.

O'BRIEN: I hear you. Let me stop you for a second, because we came into your segment listing some of the very small handful of things that are in this budget. Again, $30 billion to hire teachers, police officers, firefighters, $30 billion to modernize schools, $350 billion for job creation. Infrastructure upgrades at $476 billion. You're against all those things?

HENSARLING: What I'm against is saddling this economy and future generations with debt that they can't handle. I mean, we've got to quit spending money we don't have. And we are borrowing almost three cents on the dollar.

O'BRIEN: So, are you against all of those things? So, those things that I've just listed --

HENSARLING: I'm against trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. You will see a Republican budget, a Republican budget that puts the nation on a path to fiscal sustainability without raising taxes on small business people and job creators. So, you know, I -- I'd like to see the line items.

There may be individual programs that we could work with the president on, but in this totality, raising taxes on small businesses and job creators and saddling future generations with more debt is not the answer.

O'BRIEN: Congressman, stand by for one second. Hold on one second.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Soledad, it's not surprising that a Republican like Jeb Hensarling doesn't like this offer, but it's clear this is not the last offer of the president, but the first.

I mean, last summer, the president and John Boehner did reach an agreement that went well beyond this in terms of restraining spending on entitlement programs, and John Boehner could not sell it to his Republican caucus, including members like those here today.

O'BRIEN: He just glanced over at you, ma'am.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: So, the question is, I think the issue is, is there any more appetite in 2012 than there was in 2011 for a deal that would inevitably include some tax increases but would also have the president going much further than it's going today in terms of controlling spending on Medicare and Medicaid?

O'BRIEN: Congressman Cleaver says this is a nervous breakdown -- hold on one second, sir. Let me get to your colleague, your Republican colleague, Marsha Blackburn is with us this morning, and then, I'll get right back to you. Congressman Cleaver says this is a nervous breakdown on paper.

BLACKBURN: Because it is into avoidance. The federal government has an addiction since we've talked about that to the taxpayers' money. And the point is this, Soledad. The debt is higher than it has ever been. We have had nearly $5 trillion worth of debt come on the books in the last few years.

Ron and I, being budget nerds, who look through all of those historical tables, you know, when you go back, and I will do that this week, I'll get those historical tables, I'll look at where we have gone over the last 50 years, we cannot support this. When you look at --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: OK. So, wooh!

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Congressman, excuse me, sir, I've got a little brawling here at my panelists. You wanted to jump in and add something.

HENSARLING: Well, let me just agree with Marsha Blackburn, who I often do. Again, this is the highest debt as a ratio of our economy since World War II. World War II was a temporary phenomenon. This one is presenting red ink as far as the eye can see at a time where we desperately need to create jobs in this economy.

We're almost 13 million of our fellow countrymen are still out of work. We can't handle this level of debt. And you know what, it's not even a matter of cutting the budget. It's just making sure that the federal budget doesn't grow beyond the ability of the family budget to pay for it. And in that respect, the president's policies have failed and failed yet again.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Hensarling, thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate your time. Arianna, you wanted to add something?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, PRESIDENT & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP: Just very quickly. The problem is that if we don't grow the economy, we will not be able to get out of the debt crisis. I think there's complete agreement that we have a debt crisis. The same issue in Greece. The problem, and that is why people are protesting is that there is actually no path to growth in Greece.

The agreement that was passed by the parliament sees Greece growing by 2013. No way. The same with America. If we don't grow, it doesn't matter how much we cut. We cannot cut enough to fix the debt crisis. O'BRIEN: All right. That will be our final word on this as we head to commercial break.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, Mitt Romney wins a big conservative straw poll. Rick Santorum says it was rigged, suggests that Mitt Romney paid for those folks. The Romney campaign press secretary is going to join us this morning to talk about that.

Plus, Dr. Steve Perry is fired up over dismantling of "No Child Left Behind." Does the president need to do his homework on it? We're going to talk about that straight ahead on STARTING POINT. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I'm watching Steve Perry in our monitor. He's nodding his hands as he listens to Whitney Houston. "It's Not Right, But Its OK." Steve Perry is up next. The "No Child Left Behind" program is what we're talking about. It's slowly being dismantled.

President Obama announced last week that these 10 states, that you see here in yellow, have qualified for waivers, and another 28 states say they're going to apply as well. Here's the president explaining why he's done this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We said, if you're willing to set higher, more honest standards than the ones that were set by "No Child Left Behind," then we're going to give you the flexibility to meet those standards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: "No Child Left Behind" was signed into law back in 2002 by president George w. Bush, and it enjoyed broad bipartisan support briefly. Now, it's hard to find fans. Our next guest, though, is a fan of "No Child Left Behind." Steve Perry is a CNN education contributor, founder of Capital Prep Magnet School.

I think I did a documentary on you once. 100 percent of the kids who graduate from his school, 100 percent, go on to a four-year college. So, let's talk about the waiver. Why don't you like the waivers?

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: Because what it does is it dismantles "No Child Left Behind," which was the first real honest attempt to make sure that every single child in America was treated fairly. No longer could a school be good because the rich white kids were doing well within it while the Black, and Latino, and poor children of whatever race did poorly.

But over time, what has happened has been the special interest groups, the unions and some of the other group have said that "No Child Left Behind" create the teaching to the test (ph), narrowed the curriculum, but all it did was hold us, me, a public school educator, accountable for educating all children.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but if everybody is not going to do well on the test, at some point, don't you have to go back and say we need to rethink this? If you look at some of the statistics, 48 percent of you --

PERRY: But that's not so true.

O'BRIEN: Let me finish my question, Dr. Perry. Forty-eight percent of all U.S. schools failing to meet federal standards, 81 percent of Massachusetts schools, 27 percent of Georgia schools, 11 percent of Wisconsin schools. Massachusetts has a reputation as having excellent schools, Wisconsin not so much. What's going on in these numbers?

PERRY: Well, the reason why the schools are failing is because an achievement gap remains, meaning that there are certainly students who are not performing well. The tests were created by the states themselves, not by the federal government. The federal government said hey, I'm giving you through title one (ph) money to service to children (INAUDIBLE) populations.

And then, low and behold, they looked and said, oh my goodness, they're not being serviced. So, if you're not going to service those kids, we're going to take our money back and we're going to allow these children to go to schools are going to service them, because it's not afraid to complete (ph) because somebody is poor, Black, or Latino that they're not going to do well.

In fact, we have many schools throughout the country who seem to find a way to put these children in the same position to be successful.

O'BRIEN: Arianna, you wanted to ask a question?

HUFFINGTON: Yes. The problem is that the law gave schools the ability to test children, but not the ability to improve their results. I mean, this is really the problem we are facing. This is about testing, not about improving education.

O'BRIEN: He is disagreeing with you. Why?

PERRY: It's absolutely not true, Arianna. It's absolutely not true. In fact, the money that was given -- the money that is given to us through Title One specifically dictates that we're supposed to use it to improve student performance. All it's saying is that since I gave you the money for that purpose, you actually have to do it.

This notion of teaching to the test is overblown. The test itself does not determine what the children learn. We determine what the children learn. The test says, at its core, these are basic skills that children must know and be able to do. When our kids can't do it, we can't throw the scale out because the kids are gaining weight and blame the scale. We have to own the fact that we're simply not doing what we need to do to make sure they lose the weight.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Steve Perry, always nice to see you, even though you interrupted me this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Maybe one of these days, we'll get you in person, instead of on a big old screen here in our studio.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Mitt Romney wins a key conservative straw poll, and an opponent hints that maybe it was rigged. We're going to talk to Mitt Romney's campaign press secretary about that this morning.

And then, Kelly Price, she was the last person to perform with Whitney Houston onstage. This is a videotape of their performance (INAUDIBLE) Thursday. They're close friends. Kelly Price is going to join us live straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Let's get right to a look at the morning's headlines. Christine Romans has those in Atlanta, Georgia, for us this morning. Hey.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Let's go to Athens this morning. Athens burning, banks torched, violence breaking out in Greece, 65 people hurt as police throw stun grenades and tear gas into crowds. Demonstrators are angry over new cutbacks approved by parliament. This austerity plan would pave the way for a $172 billion bailout deal for debt-stricken Greece.

A high profile terrorism trial is now underway in Indonesia. Umar Patek is accused of assembling bombs used in the 2002 attacks in Bali. Bombs rocked a tourist center, killing 202 people there. Patek spent almost a decade on the run and was captured in Pakistan last year. Three of those masterminds behind the bombings were convicted and executed in 2008.

Moammar Gadhafi's son on house arrest in Niger. He was detained after giving a television interview. In it he declared an uprising was imminent in Libya where his father was once dictator. Gadhafi won't be sent back to Libya, though. Niger said in September they would not extradite him over fears he would be killed if he returned.

In this country gas prices on the rise. A new survey says gas prices have climbed 12 cents a gallon since late January. The nationwide average is now $3.51 a gallon, and a report from AAA says they will be going up right through the summer.

And big problems with icy conditions this morning in Wichita, Kansas. There's a thick coat of ice on top of an inch or two of snow, and that makes driving treacherous. And 16 counties under a severe weather advisory until 6:00 tonight, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Christine, appreciate the update.

The race for the GOP presidential nomination is still up in the air after a pretty busy weekend for the candidates. The totally delegate count as it stands right now is Mitt Romney 124, Newt Gingrich 38, Rick Santorum 37, Ron Paul 27. Mitt Romney had two victories on Saturday. He won the Romney straw poll with 38 percent of the vote. Rick Santorum came in second with 31 percent.

Mitt Romney also appeared to narrowly defeat Ron Paul to kind of sort of win the Maine caucuses, 39 percent to 36 percent. There should really be an asterisk next to that because there's some details there. Joining us is Andrea Saul, press secretary for the Romney campaign. Nice to see you. And of course you know what I'm talking about. The difference in Maine was 194 votes. Ron Paul will not concede because he says Washington County is going to caucus on Saturday, so he says it's not over yet. Do you still feel confident that your candidate can keep the lead in that race, as 194 votes is a squeaker?

ANDREA SAUL, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the state party declared that Governor Romney won Maine on Saturday. That they didn't think that the caucus that was still outstanding had enough votes that could turn it to anyone else.

O'BRIEN: They said that about Iowa too, if you'll remember.

SAUL: Well, we're excited about the victories we had this past weekend. Governor Romney got a great reception on Friday at Romney with his speech. It was interrupted numerous times with applause. And then we went on to win the CPAC straw poll not only at the event but also the nationwide poll conducted. And we topped it off with a win in Maine on Saturday. We were really happy with the results this weekend.

O'BRIEN: Here's what he said on Friday in his CPAC speech. Let's play a little chunk of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fought against long odds in a deep blue state, but I was a severely conservative Republican governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: What's that mean? What does "severely conservative" mean?

SAUL: He was a strict conservative. If you look at what he did in Massachusetts, he came down on the side of life. He vetoed --

O'BRIEN: But he said severely conservative. He said severely development, which is not the same.

SAUL: If you look in the thesaurus, "strictly" is a synonym for "severely." He was a strict conservative in a deep blue state. He not only balanced the budget, he did so without raising taxes. He left a rainy day fund after having a budget deficit. He came down on the side of life. So all of the things he did as governor of Massachusetts came down on a conservative side, which is really hard because the legislature was 85 percent Democrat. So for Governor Romney to have been able to accomplish the things he did in Massachusetts was quite a feat.

O'BRIEN: So there are two people who know a little bit about strictly conservative, and that's Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. And both of them say I have never heard anybody I'm severely conservative. And Sarah Palin said I wasn't quite sure what the word "severely" meant, just to your point about the source.

Let me ask you about the straw poll. As you pointed out Mitt Romney was a winner in the straw poll, but here's what Rick Santorum said when he appeared on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is standard procedure at all of these straw polls that, campaigns who want to win go out and recruit people and provide, you know, free tickets for them to come and vote. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's absolutely a strategy. We just don't think that's a good use of our resources. But Governor Romney obviously, you know, may have a different idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So he was basically saying that Governor Romney bussed students in from the eastern seaboard so that he could win the straw poll. Is that true?

SAUL: That's absolutely false. Senator Santorum has a history of making false statements. We're not going to let him continue to do so. He has done so about Governor Romney's record. That's absurd.

O'BRIEN: There was no bussing by the campaign?

SAUL: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.

O'BRIEN: They didn't buy tickets for the campaign?

SAUL: Well, if you look again at everything that happened this weekend, Governor Romney didn't just win the straw poll at the CPAC event. He also won the nationwide poll of conservatives across the United States. So again, we feel good about what happened this weekend. I understand that Senator Santorum is disappointed in his showing, but we're going to keep fighting. We are focused now on Arizona and Michigan and the upcoming states, and actually getting the delegates that it takes to win the nomination.

O'BRIEN: All right, Andrea Saul is press secretary with the Romney campaign. Sounds like she is saying sour grapes.

SAUL: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, singer Kelly Price, a very good friend of Whitney Houston, was also the last person to perform with Whitney Houston onstage. She'll join us straight ahead.

Plus, we'll take a look at celebrities and addiction.

And President Obama's budget is now in the hands of Congress. Christine Romans will join us to break it all down. Those stories and much more straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Are you taking pictures?

BRAD LAMM, BOARD-REGISTERED INTERVENTIONIST: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Because I'm singing along. This is what was such a great thing about Whitney Houston. It's the grabbing your hair brush, singing out loud, in the shower alone so no one can hear you, because you really can't sing as well as she did certainly. We have Brad Lamm joining us now, a bad board registered interventionist and the author of "How to Hep the One u Love." What does an interventionist do?

LAMM: Well, you trap them and try and help them. When you're addicted, especially, it's hard to have a clear train of thought about what you want to do.

O'BRIEN: Cissy Houston did this very thing to her daughter, Whitney.

LAMM: But here's my conundrum. I was sitting backstage. I heard Darlene Love and others talking about her being tipsy a couple of nights ago, but she was sober. Sober by definition means you're clearheaded and don't have any drugs or alcohol in your body. If you're an addict in recovery you don't drink.

O'BRIEN: So you're saying.

LAMM: It's bigger than what folks talk about. Even understanding addiction is confusing for families because somebody tells them, hey, I can drink now, and then they are off to the races again.

O'BRIEN: Hold on a second. We have Kelly Price joining us by phone. And I think we can show some of this video of Whitney Houston performing on Thursday with Kelly Price. Kelly, I appreciate you joining us and our condolences to you. I know you were very good friends with Whitney.

KELLY PRICE, SINGER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Tell me about that performance. Her voice sounds so raspy and not good. Did you -- tell me a little bit about how she seemed to you on Thursday.

PRICE: She seemed like she was fine. Her voice is naturally raspy, kind of like mine sounds right now. But she was in good spirits. She sounded good on Thursday night. She was celebrating. It was a pre-Grammy party. We were celebrating my nominations. She wasn't scheduled to perform. She was there as a guest of mine. I was on stage talking about her. She chose to take the stage and perform. She came up the stairs and after we briefly spoke and we had a hug, she asked for the microphone, and I gave it to her.

O'BRIEN: Of course you did. Because that's Whitney Houston.

PRICE: She asked for the mic, so you give Whitney Houston the mic.

O'BRIEN: You know -- you know people -- after this performance we're talking about how she seemed disheveled and she seemed sort of out of sorts. And I know you had mentioned in an interview, a clip we saw earlier that she had actually been -- been drinking as well. And Brad Lamb who is here was saying that, you know, that obviously could potentially be a path for someone who's struggling with addiction.

Did she seem like something was awry? Or was she just having a good time and it spiraled?

PRICE: No. And I believe there was champagne -- champagne flowing. She did have champagne. Everyone was in celebration mode. We were toasting my Grammy nominations.

And she did not seem disheveled. She was dancing. She was laughing. We all danced. We all laughed. We were singing. We were having a good time. There didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary with her. It actually made me very glad to see her that way, that she agreed to come out and then to see her and to see her looking so upbeat and so joyful and jovial.

It was a really, really good time. Bobbi Kris was there with her. My two teen kids were there with me. And it literally was a moment of celebration. It was a genuine moment of celebration. And I was happy to see her that way.

I think we all know that she's had challenges in the past. So to be able to see her that way was really good for me, as well as everybody else that knows her and loves her. It was good. She was in good spirits leaving the club.

Yes, she was a little messy as I was, as every other person was at 2:00, 3:00, 3:30 when I left in the morning after having fun half the night. Dancing half the night, it was that. It was nothing more than that.

I am shocked and alarmed. I would have never expected to get the call that I got on Saturday because it doesn't resonate to anything that happened on Thursday.

O'BRIEN: All right. So hold right there Kelly, if you don't mind, I'm going to go back to Brad.

So she is saying everybody was drinking champagne. And if -- if you listen to some of the interviews that Whitney Houston has done over the years, she had some very low points.

BRAD LAMM, BOARD REGISTERED INTERVENTIONIST: Yes.

O'BRIEN: So Kelly is saying to see her happy and enjoying herself and celebrating her friend's success was a good thing.

LAMM: You know what, but these are the lies and minimizations that people around a person who is addicted say. I.e., she had a naturally raspy voice. Sorry, when you smoke crack, when you smoke cigarettes it takes a toll on your body, she did not have that kind of voice.

If we look back, she had an angelic voice, she had a pure voice; she had that voice that would hit the beautiful high notes.

So the disease of addiction is the only disease that brings up the idea that you don't have a disease. And the people around the person who are -- who is addicted back it up. So Kelly is telling this story of somebody that clearly the eyewitness accounts, the pictures, the stories --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Well, she does look like a girl who's rolled out of a club after dancing for hours, right you sway.

LAMM: Yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: I mean, you know, I've got some photos of that too but --

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, "HUFFINGTON POST": (INAUDIBLE) But the problem is that as you said, alcohol is part of life. So sometimes it's hard to tell whether somebody is just having fun.

O'BRIEN: Hold on one second. Kelly is trying to talk.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So Kelly I'm sorry --

PRICE: You're asking me what happened Thursday night? What happened Thursday night is that we were celebrating my three Grammy nominations. Whitney did speak with a naturally raspy voice. Or are you asking me of her speaking voice or her singing voice?

O'BRIEN: No, I think what Brad is -- I think what Brad is saying, and first of all I think he is talking about the singing voice, which as you know was not naturally raspy and it sounds very, very raspy in her performance. But I think what he is also saying is that you know that even just drinking for someone who has struggled with addiction is sort of the path to hell.

PRICE: Ok. Well, if he is a professional, then he would be the one to know. And in that respect, if that's your professional opinion, I would have to go along with it, you would know better than I know.

But people are asking me about what I saw on Thursday night. And what I saw on Thursday night was not erratic behavior. I didn't see someone who was high. She was in good spirits. She got to the party before I did. She waited for me. And we had a good time. I can only speak to what I saw and speak of what I know.

O'BRIEN: Kelly Price joining us by phone. Again, our condolences, I know you were good friends with Whitney Houston. And I love the way she said when Whitney wants the mike, you hand Whitney Houston the mike. It's such a sad story. Because I think it's what it think friends say gosh she was finally happy. Finally happy and in the same time it's just --

HUFFINGTON: But I think what Kelly said very responsible. That if a professional says something, it's perhaps a moment for all of us to take in to account. (INAUDIBLE) the people we have somebody whom we love, who has had an addiction problem and they are drinking, this is a problem. It's not that they are happy and jovial and celebrating. There is a problem.

O'BRIEN: All right.

HUFFINGTON: And that's something that will be perhaps good for all of us to learn.

O'BRIEN: Oh it's a sad story. Thank you for being with us Brad we appreciate it.

LAMM: You bet.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the President unveils a new budget plan. Christine Romans is going to join us to break down all of the details to figure out how it's going to affect us.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

President Obama's budget has been delivered to Congress. Happened just about 53 minutes ago, it includes tax increases to help bring down the deficit. So how does it affect us individually?

Christine Romans has a breakdown in today's "Smart is the New Rich." Also happens to be the name of her book. Welcome.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

Well, you know, any president's budget as you know is aspirational and in an election year it's hypothetical, right? I'm sure your panel will agree.

But let's talk a little bit about the provisions in here that the President and his team are hoping will appeal to the middle class, that people who are trying to put a kid through school, people who are trying to save money and make ends meet, right?

To college students, there would be tax breaks for college students and their families on tuition. This would be an expanded college tax credit, making it permanent. For universities, there would be more money for work study programs and also keeping the Pell grants right up there now at $5,635 through the year 2014-15 school year.

For middle class workers, there would be this payroll tax cut, making it permanent. That's that $40 a paycheck or whatever that people have been getting in their paycheck, the President wanting to make that permanent.

So you can see very clearly, Soledad that this is an attempt to -- to go right to where we feel it, the pocketbooks of the middle class, to try to sell them on some of these measures. Because all of these are the kinds of things that the middle class have been complaining about, right?

O'BRIEN: Right.

ROMANS: The cost of tuition, paychecks that don't go as far and the like.

O'BRIEN: But as you pointed out, it's hypothetical and probably won't even get through Congress. All right, thanks Christine, I appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a short break. "End Point" is up next with our panel. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Whitney Houston with "I'm Every Woman". All right. Time for "End Point" with our panelists.

The Congresswoman will begin first. Congresswoman Blackburn, what have you got?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: The president's budget is too big. It spends money that we don't have for programs the American people don't want, and I think it's going to be a point of conversation all the way from now to November.

O'BRIEN: You have been on the set at the time that budget was delivered. All you know is the bullet points that I have said and talked to with your congressman on commercial.

BLACKBURN: I know what the historical tables hold, and I'll be looking at it. Ron and I will come back and we'll go through those.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, we're going to spend a lot of time talking about taxes all year.

But this morning with Whitney Houston I think is a reminder that tragedy can find you in every tax bracket.

O'BRIEN: That is so true. That is so true.

HUFFINGTON: The budget is really a campaign document, not a budget. It's not going to go anywhere. I actually like what's in the budget. I like the extra infrastructure spending. I like the Pell grants, the money for teachers and policemen.

But why didn't he do that in 2012? Or the 2011 budget? When he bought into the whole idea of austerity as the way to go.

O'BRIEN: That is it for "End Point" this morning. My "End Point" is going to be Whitney Houston because I agree and I hope that if there is any lesson to be taken out of tragedy, it is for people who addicts. She struggled with addiction her whole -- really her whole adult life, after her tremendous success in "The Bodyguard". She said she started doing a lot of drugs. And friends and family tried to help her and they were never really were able to because ultimately it comes down to the individual trying to really break the habit.

So we remember Whitney Houston today because she had a seriously amazing voice.

We'll see you back here tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. For STARTING POINT. Now it's time for "CNN NEWSROOM". Kyra Phillips has that. Hey Kyra good morning.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning Soledad. Thanks so much.