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THE SITUATION ROOM
Will Congress Share The Misery?; Biden: Take A Stand On Guns
Aired February 21, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Transportation Security Administration is apologizing to a 3-year-old little girl. CNN's Rene Marsh has the story.
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lucy Forck has spinabifida and is wheelchair bound. Her dad, Nathan, says TSA agents at St. Louis Lambert Airport took away her stuffed animal and pulled aside the 3-year-old saying she needed a pat-down.
The child's mom videotaped part of the incident. It was her first time flying. The family was headed to Disneyworld. Her dad said he didn't know the rules, but patting down a 3-year-old just felt unreasonable.
NATHAN FORCK, FATHER: If it's to the point where it's acceptable to pat down 3-year-old girls in a wheelchair just so everybody feels a little better, I don't personally believe that's worth it.
MARSH: TSA says any child 12 and under should not generally be patted down. They say it's a last resort. The TSA told CNN it regrets inaccurate guidance was provided to this family during screening and offers its apology.
FORCK: I don't want strangers to lay their hands on my child. That's not going to happen unless there's a really good reason.
MARSH: After 30 minutes, Forck says TSA supervisors allowed him to carry his daughter through security without a pat-down. Once they did get on the plane, things got better.
FORCK: We had a great time in Disneyworld. In contrast to the TSA, it seemed like everybody at Disney really went out of their way to make Lucy feel like she was very special.
MARSH (on-camera): All right. Well, Wolf, Forks says that the one thing he'd say to the agent who tried to subject his crying daughter to a pat-down is, know the rules of the TSA -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good idea. All right. Renee, thanks very much.
And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, with the federal government facing massive spending cuts, workers can expect less pay, even some layoffs. But will the lawmakers who voted for these cuts let their own paychecks shrink?
Slower sales at the nation's biggest retailer. What's worrying Wal-Mart shoppers?
And looking at a medical bill is enough to make you sick. We're going to expose some of the shocking secrets behind sky-high health care costs.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
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BLITZER: With no deal in sight, the federal government will be slammed with $85 billion in forced spending cuts this year beginning eight days from now. Workers are getting ready for the worst pay cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and a lot more. But will that misery be shared at all by Congress? Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here working the story for us. What's the answer?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the legislative branch would see a nine percent cut, just like other federal agencies. It includes Congressional staff, capitol police, even capitol physicians, that office. Pretty much everybody except for the people who wrote the law that put this doomsday scenario into effect.
BASH (voice-over): Pain from forced spending cuts is a week away and lawmakers are preparing their aides for the fallout that could hit them like other government workers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've actually budgeted with a 10 percent cut in mind.
REP. DENNIS ROSS, (R) FLORIDA: We reorganized our office last December. We had to let people go then, because we were anticipating at least a 16 percent cut.
BASH: But get this, members of Congress, the very people who voted to put these cuts in place, won't see any change to their own $174,000 a year paychecks. They're exempt. They didn't include their salaries in these spending cuts. So, before lawmaker left town for a week-long recess without doing anything to head off the coming cuts --
(on-camera) Hey, congressman. How are you? Dana Bash with CNN.
(voice-over) We took an informal survey.
(on-camera) Do you think that you should take a pay cut as well as a member of Congress? REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: Well, certainly. I mean, we're all in this together and we're all suffering together.
BASH (voice-over): Most lawmakers in both parties said yes.
Would you take a pay cut?
REP. BEN LUJAN, (D) NEW MEXICO: Absolutely. Let's make sure that we're doing our part as well.
BASH: But cutting lawmakers' pay now is not so easy. The 27th amendment to the constitution prohibits members of Congress from changing their pay until after the next election, though, they can't get creative, write checks to charity or the treasury. Ironically, some Tea Party-backed lawmakers who campaigned on slashing federal spending are reluctant to give up their own pay.
Do you think that members of Congress should take a pay cut?
REP. BILLY LONG, (R) MISSOURI: I don't think so. I mean, I don't think they should raise our pay.
BASH: Republican Billy Long was elected in 2010 to cut Washington spending.
LONG: It's a minuscule part. I don't think it will have an effect.
BASH (on-camera): Will you, personally, as a member of Congress, take a pay cut as well?
(voice-over) Michelle Bachmann answered that question as several times talking only about her staff, not her.
REP. MICHELLE BACHMANN, (R) MINNESOTA: We'd like to keep everybody on the payroll if we can, but they'll have to work fewer hours. So, we're looking at reductions in our staff and that's what we need to do.
BASH: Ironically, one of the biggest opponents of Congress cutting its pay is one of the wealthiest. Nancy Pelosi says she knows others are not so fortunate.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: Most of my colleagues are the bread winners in their families. A pay cut to me doesn't mean as much.
BASH (on-camera): Now, beyond lawmakers' own salaries, some are going out of their way to show that they're saving Uncle Sam money in other ways. Senator Rand Paul, for example, of Kentucky, he announced this week he is returning $600,000 of his office's operating budget to the federal treasury. He did $500,000 last year.
He says he's doing this by cutting cost on everything, Wolf, from paper clips to tape to ink cartridges. That is something, he says, that he wants to do and he says he's following the philosophy of the Tea Party to cut whatever they can. And he said it's possible. That's, of course, a separate issue, from his own pay.
BLITZER: But if he wants to make a contribution out of his own salary, you can get the same salary, but if he wants to make a contribution to the U.S. treasury, nothing is stopping him or any other member of Congress?
BASH: There is nothing stopping him. There's nothing stopping anyone. You're exactly right. The tricky thing is whether or not -- that's what they can do. It's very hard for them at this point because they didn't, as I said -- they're exempt from last year. It's very hard for them to technically change that, but they can make symbolic moves.
BLITZER: Right. They just take out a checkbook, write U.S. treasury, send in the checks --
BASH: Then write a press release.
BLITZER: That's it.
BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.
Meanwhile, there's been a steady drumbeat of dire warnings about the forced spending cuts that are looming. Why do we keep lurching from crisis to crisis? Watch this.
BLITZER: Happening now, a vote of confidence in the president's controversial tax cut deal with Republicans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, yes you're going to run into trouble in the House.
BLITZER: It's been a day of dramatic changes in Washington's debt crisis.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So much silence at lockdown that there is now a conversation going on between this building and Capitol Hill.
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The key thing here to watch, Wolf, is that Nancy Pelosi in the house has got to deliver an awful lot of Democrats. How many Republicans will John Boehner be able to deliver?
BLITZER: We now know the United States will, in fact, go over the fiscal cliff at midnight tonight.
BASH: It's almost like whack a mole. As soon as they get one thing done, another one pops up. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here. Fun to see that --
BORGER: Yes. It's Groundhog Day and you're in it and I'm in it and they're in it. And we're going through it all over again. And so, let's do a little -- we're going to take a little trip down memory lane, OK? December 2010, Wolf, we showed that in that clip. That was one month after Republicans took control of the House.
You remember when the Tea Party was so popular? The congress came back, if you'll recall, for a lame duck session because the government was running out of money and those Bush tax cuts were expiring. So, what did they do? They extended all of those tax cuts, some of which now have been repealed, extended them all, and guess what they did? They kicked the can down the road.
Now, that will be a theme of our discussion, Wolf, kicking the can down the road. So, that brings us to summer --
BLITZER: The summer of 2011 and that debt ceiling crisis.
BORGER: That long, hot summer. Remember that fight? There was a grand bargain, you'll recall, and then, there wasn't a grand bargain. The speaker and the president thought they could agree to something. That fell through, finger pointing on both sides, went down to the wire. The credit rating was downgraded, and finally, there was a deal to set up another deadline and, of course, kick the can down the road, which, again, they did.
BLITZER: New Year's Eve, most recently, New Year's Eve.
BLITZER: We were all waiting for that fiscal cliff. We were working really hard to make sure we didn't go over the fiscal cliff. We went over but just by a day or so.
BORGER: By the way, this was a manmade fiscal cliff.
BORGER: Right? And this was supposed to be the moment when you would finally get the real deal to finally reduce the deficit in a substantial way. What did they do? They did raise taxes on the wealthy, but as the president had promised during the campaign, but they put off the budget cutting again until now where we're facing this March 1 deadline.
So, the American people kind of feel like we've been through this. We're tired of this. We're not sure we believe that this is a real crisis and, by the way, the American public believes that they're going to find another way to kick the can down the road. BLITZER: There is some good news, though, Gloria, and it happened today and I was very pleased to hear that the president of the United States picked up the phone, he called the House speaker, John Boehner, he called the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. They had good conversations, we are told. I don't know if anything was achieved.
But remember, 24 hours ago, when Dan Pfeiffer, the White House senior adviser was here in the SITUATION ROOM, I was pressing and I said, why doesn't the president at least pick up the phone and call these guys, get together the way Tip O'Neil used to do, Ronald Reagan used to do with Tip O'Neal and work out a deal?
BORGER: Yes. And the answer to that is everybody is still jockeying, but I think at some point, the president and folks I've talked to at the White House are very concerned about the potential impact this could have on the economy. If you go over this deadline and these furloughs really start taking effect, don't forget, it's not as if on March 1 everything kicks in. It's going to be gradual.
But at some point, somebody is going to lose this fight and it could well be the American people. So, the president did pick up the phone. The question is whether it's going to have any real impact --
BLITZER: I hope it does.
BORGER: -- or whether -- you know, the Republicans are saying --
BLITZER: I hope we see these Republican and Democratic leaders in the Hill go over to the White House and get involved in real negotiations.
BORGER: But here's the problem. Republicans are saying, we have already done the tax increases. We're not going back to that even if you call it closing loop holes. This is the time to do the cutting. The president says no way. We need a 50/50 deal.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens.
BLITZER: Eight days to go. Gloria, thank you.
Not far from the scene of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre, the Vice President Joe Biden today made another strong pitch for action on gun violence. He told public officials they need to worry more about the survival of children and not their own political careers. Let's bring in our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns. What else happened, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the vice president said today there is a moral price to be paid for inaction on the issue of gun control. And he tried to put pressure on politicians who might think twice about voting for new measures to stop firearm violence.
JOHNS (voice-over): Back to the state where it started, Vice President Biden appearing in Connecticut Thursday, not far from the scene of the Newtown school shooting, which many see as a political turning point in the national debate over guns.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An assumption in American politics today that this is kind of a third rail of politics, that if you take this on, somehow, there will be a severe political price to pay for doing it. People say and you read and people right about the political risk and why they're unacceptable take on. I say it's unacceptable not to take these on.
JOHNS: Though the December 14th massacre is still fresh in the memory, how Congress will respond to Newtown is an open question. The best guess is that expanded background checks for gun purchases has a chance of passage. But NRA president, David Keene in an interview with CNNs John King at Harvard University issued a warning to members of Congress.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Will the NRA target punish, seek to punish members of Congress who decide to change their position or decide to vote yes on these issues?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It depends on where this follow (ph) comes out finally, but the answer is yes.
JOHNS: The vice president and his supporters like the Bloomberg group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, say opinion poll show the public is now on the side of gun control and that the NRA doesn't have the power to pull strings on Capitol Hill like it used to.
MARK GLAZE, DIRECTOR, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: If they're afraid of the gun lobby, they shouldn't be. And if they're afraid of what people back home think, they don't have to be afraid of that either.
JOHNS: To counter the administration's gun control push, the NRA ran newspaper ads in five key states where Democratic senators are expected to face tough re-election fights. Congressional expert, Stuart Rothenberg, says it's too early to say the NRA has lost its clout on Capitol Hill.
STUART ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Gun owners who support the NRA had been steeled in their resolve because of the administration's proposals. Now, look, the bottom line is the president will get some of what he wants but not all of what he wants. And at the end of the day, the NRA is going to have to live with that.
JOHNS (on-camera): The gun control lobby is flexing its muscles, too. The president's political action committee organizing for America says it's launching a new push to rally Hill support with 100 gun control events in 80 different Congressional districts. And they're promising to show up in ads on the web as well. So, Wolf, the battle is being joined.
BLITZER: It is a battle, indeed. Joe, thank you.
Up next, as Wal-Mart goes, so goes America. A major worries about slowing sales at Wal-Mart. What caused them? Standby.
And the death of a three-year-old Russian boy in the United States may have serious implications for more than 100,000 orphans.
BLITZER: Wal-Mart announced that it's taking a hit in sales in recent weeks and that's enough to make economists worried about the rest of America. And Ali Velshi is joining us from New York. Ali, why are Wal-Mart's numbers right now declining? They're not so good.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wal-Mart is bigger than these government numbers that you get in, because of the number of people who shop at Wal-Mart, so we get a real read on what people are doing. Obviously, Wal-Mart is a value operation. So, you're dealing with a lot of people who are looking to stretch their dollar a little further, and they're getting hit by three things.
One is, at the end of the year, at the end of last year when we had the fiscal cliff, one of the things that happen is that payroll taxes went up. There had been a discount on payroll taxes for a couple of years. So, everybody who earns a wage gets a little bit less money. Number two, a number of refunds. Tax refunds are delayed because the tax department couldn't get things worked out in time.
So, fewer people are getting their refunds early. And number three, Wolf, everybody in the country knows this. Gasoline prices have been going up steadily for the last couple of months. So, the combination of those three things is cutting into disposable income. So, even if you're getting better value because you're shopping at Wal-Mart, you still are making decisions to cut back a little bit.
BLITZER: Why is Wal-Mart such an important barometer for consumer spending in America?
VELSHI: Because it's more accurate numbers than, as I said, than we often get from many government agencies. You know, when we get employment numbers and things like that, it's an extrapolation. With Wal-Mart, when we find out what's going on there, you are talking about a 200 million purchasers, 200 million customers worldwide a week. About 64 percent of their sales worldwide come from the United States.
So, more people go through a Wal-Mart than do pretty much anything else in America on a weekly or monthly basis. So, we get a real sense for it. Also, Wal-Mart has Sam's Club, like Costco, a wholesaler where you buy things in bigger lots. About 47 million members and about half of them are either small businesses or entrepreneurs who are buying from Sam's Club instead of buying from wholesalers.
So, get you get a sense of small business sentiment as well. Everybody is pairing back a little bit. If Wal-Mart shows that, then that means it's probably what's happening in the country, Wolf.
BLITZER: What is Wal-Mart's condition right now? Tell us about small businesses, let's say, across the United States and about the broader U.S. economy.
VELSHI: Well, the people are a little uncertain. So, in the case of the broader U.S. economy, what you're finding is that these things I was telling you about, higher gas prices, delays on tax returns, and the increase in the payroll tax cut means that if you got a little less money in your pocket, you're spending it a little bit differently.
Your discretionary spending is being pulled back. You obviously can't pulled back so much on the food that you eat, but those extra things you're pulling back on and what it tells us about those businesses who shop at Sam s Club or Wal-Mart is that they are keeping less inventory on hand. They're, perhaps, buying smaller amounts of things because they're uncertain what is going to happen.
Is the economy slowing down? Are the forced budgets cuts that we'll be discussing next week, are they going to have an effect on people's spending? So, it tells you a story of a little bit of uncertainty. That's what we're in right now. It's almost the new normal, Wolf, but small businesses are uncertain. Individuals who earn a little bit less than average are uncertain and that's what Wal- Mart is telling us.
BLITZER: Excellent explanation. Ali, thanks very much for joining us.
VELSHI: Always a pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, who needs a smartphone. Google introduces smart glasses so you can search the internet without even looking down. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: One of the world's most recognizable streets is shut down after a deadly shooting early this morning. Kate Bolduan is here monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can you believe it? Right on the Vegas strip, Wolf. Three people were killed in a violent scene on Las Vegas strip. Someone in an SUV stopped at a red light and shot and killed the driver of a Maserati that it also stopped at the light. The sports car went into the intersection, hitting a tax and causing other vehicle to crash. I want you to take a looka t this iReport.
You can see the taxi bursts into flames, trapping and killing both the driver and a passenger. Police are searching for a black Range Rover sport with large, black rims.
And a massive winter storm is dropping snow, sleet, and ice across the Midwest. Missouri's governor has declared a state of emergency and Kansas authorities were telling people to quote, "just stay home". Pretty good advice. Sixty million people under winter weather warnings, watches, or advisories. The storm is also dumping inches of rain across the south where tornadoes are possible.
And making the decision to retire can be tough for anyone, but the man believed to be the world's oldest marathoner says it is finally time. After all, he says he's 101 years old. He's run nine marathons and after one last race this weekend in Hong Kong, he'll stop racing competitively. He started running marathons when he was, if you can believe it, 89 years old and says he'll run for fun, but that age has finally started to catch up with him. He had the honor of --
BLITZER: I don't believe that either.
BOLDUAN: You don't believe that either?
BLITZER: Eighty-nine, he's running a marathon? Hundred years old, he's running a marathon?
BOLDUAN: I tell you what I know.
BLITZER: He's amazing.
BOLDUAN: I know. He's 101 now.
BLITZER: 101. God bless him.
BOLDUAN: I know. I think it's time --
BLITZER: Maybe half a marathon.
BOLDUAN: He's going to dial it back. You know, he'll run four days a week, you know?
BLITZER: Little bit.
BOLDUAN: Yes. He's putting me to shame. Yes.
BLITZER: Up next, when just looking at a medical bill can be enough to make you sick, you're going to see how one family is almost destroyed by the astronomical cost of getting well.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought, what am I going to do? I've worked my whole life. This is how my life is going to end?
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(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: If you've ever had a bill from a hospital, you know what it's like. High prices, confusing codes. Together with our corporate sibling, "Time" magazine, we're going to shed some light on the secret world of health care costs. This week's "Time" magazine's special report, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us" is based on a seven-month investigation into these costs and it shows how understanding them is key to fixing our health care system.
Drew Griffin of CNN's special investigation's unit is covering the story on this end.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Weinkauf is finally healthy enough to make the short walk from his front door to his mailbox, but it's a walk he dreads, because he knows what's waiting, medical bills. You might think you've heard this story before but not this one, because the health care industry has managed to keep this largely a secret.
This story is about what's actually in Bob Weinkauf's (ph) bills and how he and maybe you are getting completely ripped off.
BOB WEINKAUF, RECOVERING PATIENT: This full drawer here and this drawer here are nothing but medical bills.
GRIFFIN: Last March, a sudden hacking cough put him in a hospital in an intensive care unit. He was having trouble breathing.
BOB WEINKAUF: I did at some point, you know, made some kind of reference to them that I wanted to breathe and so they put me on a ventilator and that's where it all started, but I don't remember it.
GRIFFIN: It was the bill that could eventually bankrupt Bob and Becky Weinkauf.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, beautiful.
GRIFFIN: At 60 years old, struggling to keep a small business going, Bob had just switched to a discount insurance company. After just four days of treatment, the hospital was telling Becky her husband's insurance would not even come close to covering the costs.
BECKY WEINKAUF: She said, the bill is up to $80,000 already and she said, Mrs. Weinkauf, I hope you're realized that you're responsible for this bill. And I got in the car, my mother-in-law was with me and I think she was scared to ride with me. I was just hysterical. I thought, what am I going to do? I have worked my whole life. This is how my life is going to end?
GRIFFIN: $80,000, it turns out, was only the very beginning.
BECKY WEINKAUF: All together, I did total them up, about $400,000.
GRIFFIN: Well over. In fact, $474,016.60. This is the summary of those charges. Broad categories with few details. Becky and Bob Weinkauf decided to ask a few questions and began to see just why health care in America is so expensive.
Everything Bob touched, used, or was given came with a whopping charge. Nurses pricked his finger to check his glucose levels 190 times, $39 a piece. The total bill, $7,410 just for that. Asking for that ventilator because he was having trouble breathing? Thirty-two separate billings. Total cost, $65,600.
If he had been five years older and qualified for Medicare, all of these items would have been a tiny fraction of what he was billed. As it turns out, even asking for a urine bottle cost him extra.
(On camera): Aren't you surprised they even charged you for that? Isn't there a charge for the room itself?
BOB WEINKAUF: Oh, yes. There's a flat rate charge. And I don't know what's included. I guess it's just the room and the bed and everything else is -- because everything they brought in, whether it be Kleenexes, the urinal bottle, you know, some kind of tubing I needed for the IV or whatever, all of that was an extra charge every time they did it or changed it.
GRIFFIN: Think that's outrageous? Take a look at this little white cup. You probably last used one of these getting ketchup for French fries. Well, if you've been hospitalized, you probably recognize it, too. It's that little white cup the nurse carries on a tray to bring your aspirin. Well, I want you to remember this little white cup, because in a minute I'm going to tell you a little hospital billing secret about these little cups that you will never forget.
Does anything surprise you anymore as to what particularly a hospital will bill?
PAT PALMER, MEDICAL BILLING ADVOCATES: No, absolutely not.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Pat Palmer has made a career battling hospitals over outrageous invoices. She's now battling for the Weinkaufs. She and her two daughters run Medical Billing Advocates from her basement outside Roanoke, Virginia. And each time the phone rings, it's most likely a newly discharged hospital patient suffering sticker shock.
PALMER: Just flabbergasted of the costs that's involved in the treatment that they had. They never dreamed it would be that high.
GRIFFIN: So where in the world do the hospitals come up with these prices? That, too, is shrouded in mystery. Hospitals determine their own pricing off a master list called the charge master. Journalist Steven Brill, reporting for "TIME" magazine, says the charge master is basically a way any hospital can charge any amount for anything.
STEVEN BRILL, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: It's a price list and nobody can really explain how this price list happened and more importantly nobody wants to try to explain what the costs are behind it because it's totally irrational. It varies from hospital to hospital.
GRIFFIN: A box of tissues becomes a mucus recovery system. A teddy bear to cuddle that's billed as a cough suppression device.
PALMER: Certainly as a patient you would think that's a nice gesture or a great gift, not knowing that you could be charged $128 to $200 for that teddy bear.
GRIFFIN: Remember the little white cup? It's billed as oral administration fees.
PALMER: I've had a patient that had $5,000 worth of charges just for the little white cup to hand you your medication three or four times a day.
GRIFFIN: How do they get away from it? Mostly they don't. In very stark terms, only the uneducated, unrepresented, or under or uninsured get charged full price. Big insurance companies negotiate discount rates. Medicare goes even further determining preset prices, maximums a hospital can charge. But for people like Bob and Becky Weinkauf, hospitals can charge whatever they want.
(On camera): Can they ruin you?
BECKY WEINKAUF: Well, of course they could.
Bob WEINKAUF: Absolutely. There's no way in the world -- if we sold our house and everything we owned, it'd be a quarter of the bill. I -- there's just no way. I mean, it would kill us, literally.
GRIFFIN: Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And Rick Stengel, the managing editor of "TIME" magazine, is joining us now.
This was really amazing journalism that you and Steve Brill had done. What was the most eye-popping revelation that came out at you?
RICK STENGEL, TIME MANAGING EDITOR: Well, Wolf, on the cover we have a generic acetaminophen tablet and we say that hospitals often mark that up on your bill by 10,000 percent. But the one detail in Steve's story that just got me was how hospitals -- you know how if you're getting surgery in a place they -- the surgeon makes an X with a -- with a pen, they actually charge $6 to $7 for the ink that was used to make that X where they're going to operate. That was the most eye-popping detail for me.
BLITZER: It's amazing that they can get away with these kinds of things. How is that possible?
STENGEL: Well, it's because the system isn't really being monitored ultimately. That it's a seller's market on the part of hospitals and health care providers but buyers don't have any opportunity to negotiate. We don't have any knowledge. People generally don't look at their bills. So it's kind of an unregulated process. Even though we think it's an industry that is too regulated.
BLITZER: What do you think Washington needs to do to fix this?
STENGEL: Well, one of the things that Steve does in the story, Wolf, as you know, is -- you know, Medicare is a kind of hero there because the federal government says Medicare has to monitor costs and can't pay more than a few percentage points more than what it actually costs the hospital, but even in Obamacare and traditional federal legislation, Medicare can't actually evaluate the costs of drugs, evaluate the efficacy of drugs, things like will make a difference, would start to bend the cost curve.
So there are different things that Washington can do and, again, you know, it's a non-ideological piece. Both Republicans and Democrats, I think, are at fault in not monitoring this process and allowing the pharmaceutical companies, the health insurance providers, the hospitals to really be too much on their own.
BLITZER: And correct me if I'm wrong, this is the first time "TIME" magazine has ever devoted, what, this entire section to one writer, one story, 20,000 words to a single subject. Is that right?
STENGEL: Yes, that is right. And -- but I thought the story was so important and that Steve did such a fine job. And that this can actually change the conversation about a vital subject that I wanted to devote the whole issue to it.
BLITZER: It's an amazing, amazing article. Great reporting. Thanks so much for doing it, Rick Stengel of our sister publication "TIME" magazine.
STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And wait until you see what top hospital administrations are paid millions and millions of dollars while health care costs crippling a lot of American families. Don't miss part two of the AC 360/"TIME" magazine investigation. That will air tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
Russian's ban on American adoptions has left hundreds of children in limbo right now. And just ahead, we're going to visit one orphanage in Moscow. We're going to meet some of the thousands of kids waiting for a family.
BLITZER: A 3-year-old boy adopted from Russia is dead and Texas authorities are calling his death suspicious. Russian officials are not holding back judgment. But caught in the crossfire, American parents desperate to adopt and Russia's orphans, more than 100,000 of them, waiting to be part of a family.
Here is CNN's Phil Black.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sonia is only 8 years old but she already knows a lot about love and rejection. She was given up at birth, adopted not long after but then returned to the orphanage when she was 5 because her adoptive parents realized that she had learning difficulties.
"I'd like to go back to my family," she says. "I love them and they just left me."
Steof (ph) spends most of his day in a wheelchair. He has spina bifida. He's dream is for his condition to be cured so a family will want to adopt him.
Six-year-old Calla (ph) doesn't know why he was given up at birth. He says, "My parents kicked me out of the family. I want to go to a new family because then you have parents."
These children all live in a Moscow orphanage. Three to 18-year- olds, some live with disabilities, most don't.
They are among Russia's 130,000 orphans. 2011 only around 7,400 were adopted by Russian families. Despite the obvious need for more people who are willing to love these children, Russia has banned Americans from adopting here and some officials are now pushing for a total ban on all international adoptions.
The orphanage director, (INAUDIBLE), supports international adoption because she says there aren't yet enough Russian families willing to do it. She says she hopes the government will now encourage more Russians to adopt. Some Russian officials fought for the ban on American adoptions because they claim Russian children are often mistreated in the United States. It was also a response to an American law targeting Russian human rights abusers.
Critics of the ban, like the tens and thousands of Russians who marched against it, say the country's orphans are suffering because of a political effort to steer Russia away from the West. The debate has split Russian society. But few here have ever spoken to its orphans.
Vicar (ph) has been cared for by the state since she was 7. She's now 16 and no longer hopes to be adopted but she says when she was younger she wanted it desperately. Because, she says, it's always better for a child to be part of a family.
Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.
BLITZER: Hundreds of Russian children had been matched with U.S. families when the ban went into effect. The State Department here in Washington is hoping to complete them all but Russian courts have only approved about 50 that were in their final stages.
Coming up, the former First Lady Laura Bush has a strong message for a group featuring her in their brand-new ad. Take me out of it. The issue dividing conservatives, up next in our "Strategy Session." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Republican critics are now making a new stronger push to have President Obama withdraw his nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Defense secretary.
Let's discuss at our "Strategy Session" with two CNN contributors. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Ari Fleischer, the former Bush White House press secretary.
These 15 Republican senators, among other things, they wrote, "Senator Hagel's performance in his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, concerning leading to serious doubts about his basic confidence to meet the substantial demands of the office."
So, Donna, how toxic is this battle over Chuck Hagel? Can he really be an effective Defense secretary given how poisonous this political debate has been? Defense secretary needs bipartisan cooperation.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Look, I'm sure that once the vote is held on Tuesday, Mr. Hagel will go on to do a great job at the Defense Department.
Look, he's a great public servant, a decorated Vietnam veteran. There's no question that his performance during his nomination hearing will not garner him an Oscar nod. But the fact is that he has strong support from the Democrats, all 55 of them, and he will receive the necessary votes to break the filibuster.
Senator Shelby indicated yesterday that he will support Mr. Hagel. And as you well know, two Republicans -- at least I assume that Mr. Graham had talked to Mr. McCain, Miss Ayotte in New Hampshire, but they're not on the letter. So perhaps we'll get even more support on Tuesday.
BLITZER: Do you have any reason to believe the president will withdraw this nomination, Ari? Or that Hagel himself will ask that his name be withdrawn?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I think that would be the best thing for our nation, if that were to happen. You know, Donna's right. He won't get an Oscar, but I wish he did. I wish that was an act. But I'm afraid that this was the real Chuck Hagel. He didn't even know the president's Iran policy. And Iran is probably going to be the biggest issue that the secretary of Defense has to deal with.
Wolf, I'm just worried from a substantive point of view that at a time like this, America is going to have a very bumbly, stumbly secretary of defense. He says his job is not even to make policy. You know, we can do so much better and this could have been a bipartisan process. The president probably picked the only person that could have created this result and Barack Obama wants him. And it's not unprecedented, by the way. You know, in 1989, of course, the Democratic Senate voted down, absolutely rejected former Senator John Howard to be George H.W. Bush's secretary of defense. So all this talk about it's without precedent doesn't make sense.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens between now and Tuesday and then what happens on Tuesday, assuming that name is still up there for confirmation.
Let's move on to another sensitive issue. A Republican group that put out a new ad promoting same-sex marriage. They used the clip of Laura Bush and Dick Cheney, for that matter, as well as Colin Powell, saying everyone have the right -- should have the right to get married.
Today the group pulled the ad, changed it, because they said Laura Bush complained about her clip in there. The people who put out the ad said, "We used public comments for this ad from American leaders who have expressed support for civil marriage. We appreciate Mrs. Bush's previous comments, but are sorry she didn't want to be included in the ad."
Ari, this is a very dicey issue for a lot of Republicans and a bunch of Democrats, I should say, as well.
FLEISCHER: Yes, and I have not talked to Mrs. Bush about it, but knowing her, I don't think her view is any different. I think what she said she meant, it came from her heart. I do think this is in keeping with the Bush's desire to just have -- really retire from active duty, combat, and politics. And so she didn't want to be in it.
It's very gracious of the group to pull the ad. They could have continued to run it. It was gracious of them to do so. But at the end of the day, Wolf, I suspect all this publicity helps their cause.
BLITZER: Do you think the president, Donna, will ask the Justice Department to weigh in on the Defense of Marriage Act, which Bill Clinton signed into law, saying marriage should only be between a man and a woman? It's going to be coming up. Oral arguments at the end of March, a final Supreme Court decision by the end of June.
Should the president actively tell the Justice Department, go ahead and say this DOMA or Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional?
BRAZILE: Well, he's been a lead on this issue and I think it's important that the president continue his consistent support for marriage equality. And I'm glad that the group issued an apology to Mrs. Bush, and of course, in deference to her, because they have extremely -- of course, they respect her and they respect her views, but this is an issue, as you well know, the American people are well ahead of the politicians.
And they believe that it's time that we are now only go full speed ahead with marriage equality, but end discrimination against gays and lesbians in our society. So I would hope the president would push forward.
BLITZER: And ask the Justice Department to formally express its own position against DOMA?
BRAZILE: Absolutely. And I've fought against DOMA at the time and I will continue to raise my voice and urge the president to do the same with the Justice Department.
BLITZER: Donna, Ari, guys, thanks very much.
At the top of the hour, employees behaving badly with company phones. We have disturbing findings in an exclusive report. You don't expect employees of the FBI to need this kind of reminder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you're given an FBI BlackBerry, it's for official use. It's not to text, you know, the woman in another office who you found attractive or to send a picture of yourself in a state of undress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Bangladesh, a woman decorates a memorial to pay homage to the martyrs of the 1952 protest between police and protesters over the Bengali language. In Hungary, a week-old elephant and his mother make their first presentation to members of the media. The newborn will be revealed to the public on Monday.
In New Zealand, rowers warm up for a rowing championship. And in South Carolina, look at this, children play with light sticks to celebrate the first full moon day on the Lunar -- Lunar Year Calendar.
"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.
There's a lot of buzz surrounding Google's latest creation, Google Glass. Forget the smartphone, these are smart glasses, bringing all Google has to offer to your face. No more looking down at your phone.
CNN business correspondent, Zain Asher, is joining us now.
Zain, people are already trying to get their hands on these, aren't they?
ZAIN ASHER, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, they are. And I can tell you, it's not going to be easy. Google is really keeping this device under really tight wraps for now. But there is a contest open for a few people to wear this Google Glass. You basically have to tweet to Google in 50 words or less what you would do if you had Google Glasses, but for now there's still no word on when it will be available to the general public.
TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: OK. What's coming?
ASHER (voice-over): In the movie, "Minority Report," Tom Cruise's character uses cameras on his fingertips to help see crimes before they happen. Google Glass doesn't quite let you see the future, but the company said it does allow you to record the present.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, Glass, take a picture.
ASHER: With simple vocal commands, the specks are being touted as allowing wearers to take photos, send text messages, and record video, all hands free.
SHAWN VAN EVERY, NYU'S INTERACTIVE TELECOMMUNICATION PROGRAM: This is sort of taking a smartphone, like an iPhone or an Android smartphone, and putting it on your body.
ASHER: The glasses don't have any real lenses. They're essentially a headband with a display screen hooked up to Wi-Fi, allowing wearers to search the Internet, see driving directions, and view language translations on the go.
VAN EVERY: Will people want to have this type of technology on their body at all times? If they do, it's a game changer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always take pictures, and -- so it's really convenient. It's right on my face. So that's awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's too much technology. I mean, it doesn't really let you enjoy the moment.
ASHER: As Google refines their product, it's making the Glass available to select beta testers. The testers will be winners chosen from a competition based on creative tweets, but winners will have to spend $1500 to buy the device. That's more than the average laptop.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's expensive.
ASHER: Expensive aside, Google, a company known for Internet search domination, is moving even further into the product market. Its Android operating system now dominates the smartphone market, it's introduced the driverless car, and now it's pushing into artificial intelligence.
Google Glass, coming soon to a face near you.
ASHER: Another hurdle for Google is to really make this device fashionable. They've reportedly teamed up with eyewear designer Warby Parker to help redesign them. So there really is a push to make these glasses hip to wear -- Wolf. BLITZER: Zain Asher, thanks very much.
Happening now, a CNN exclusive. Shocking misbehavior by FBI employees. A deadly shooting and a fiery crash on the Las Vegas strip.