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CBO Under Fire as White House, GOP Dig in for Health Fight; U.S. Marines in Syria to Help Retake Raqqa; The Bleacher Report; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:00:00] JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: -- tactic, to your point, that they've used, calling for internal and external investigations to distract from the issue at hand, whether that's Obamacare or ties to Russia.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. All right. Jen Psaki, David Drucker, Senator Santorum, stick around for us.

Coming up next, the White House prepares for a hard sell on the health care bill. And the Congressional Budget Office is caught in the crosshairs. Why the nonpartisan agency is under fire from the Trump administration itself? They're saying, don't believe these numbers that are about to come. Why?


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us.

As the White House goes to sell mode for Obamacare, one big thing we don't have yet, a price tag for this House plan. How much is it going to cost? We're going to get one, it's expected to come on Monday and it's going to come from the Congressional Budget Office or the CBO.

[10:35:03] This is not generally an agency that is a lightning rod for attacks. But now it is.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), MAJORITY WHIP: This is the same CBO that when Obamacare did come to the floor, they made all those great promises about how it was going to lower premiums. We've asked CBO, by the way, for a score.

Anybody who thinks we're going to just wait and let some unelected bureaucrats in Washington stop us from following through on our promise to the American people that we're going to repeal this failed law and finally rescue them --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Of course cost matters. But look at how off they were last time? If you're looking to CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place. I mean, they were way, way off last time in every aspect of how they scored and projected Obamacare.


BERMAN: All right. Let's bring in someone who used to run the place. Douglas Holtz-Eakin joins us now. He's the former director of the Congressional Budget Office under President George W. Bush. He served as the economic policy director for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. And currently he's the president of the American Action Forum.

So, Doug, unelected bureaucrats, and if you're looking for accuracy, don't look to the CBO.

HARLOW: Don't look there.

BERMAN: Those aren't nice things to say about the place you ran.

DOUGLAS HOLTZ EAKIN, FORMER CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE DIRECTOR: But sadly they are like the sun coming up. If you work at CBO, you're subject to criticism all the time. And this is just par for the course. It's their job to make the tough calls on what legislation costs. And that sometimes disappoints the authors of that legislation.

And I will say, the credibility of the CBO has never risen or fallen based on whether the White House press secretary matters to them or not. What matters to them is the committees that they work for in the Congress and delivering them the information they need to make the decisions that are on the table. And they're going to do that.

The budget reconciliation bill that ultimately matters is the one that the Budget Committee is going to vote out next week. There's going to be a CBO score about how much it costs and business will go on.

HARLOW: Do you think that -- Doug, and thank you for joining us. Do you think that the White House or Steve Scalise has an argument here? Because in 2010 you said, after running this organization, "It doesn't always get it right the first time." And then you wrote an opinion column in "The New York Times" about this and you said, "The Budget Office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second guess the plausibility of what it is handed, so fantasy in, fantasy out." Does the White House have a point here?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think that they -- it will depend on how they score the legislation. They are literally bound by law to take at face value claims like in 10 years we're going to cut the deficit by $500 billion. OK. That's what's in the law. You and I may not think it's going to happen but the CBO has to score it that way. You don't criticize the CBO that way. That's the underlying legislation. So we'll take a look at what comes out.

The second piece I'd say is, the CBO is most important when Congress is doing something that we haven't seen before. If we're doing a defense appropriations bill, we've seen those before, literally hundreds of years. That's not hard to score. If you're doing something new and innovative as the Republicans are this time, and as the Democrats did in the Affordable Care Act, that's when it's the hardest to know exactly what's going to happen, that's when you're most likely to be uncertain about the bottom and that's where they're mostly likely to be wrong.

BERMAN: So it seems to me that, you know, Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, and Sean Spicer were foreshadowing. I mean, it seems to me they were sowing the seeds for the possibility that people might not like what the CBO says.

HARLOW: The number.

BERMAN: Yes. They may not like the number that comes up. That might be a problem for those supporting this bill. Did you read it that way? And, you know, what's the nature of the number that would make them think that?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think the reality of this kind of legislation -- you know, this is the biggest entitlement reform ever undertaken. It's got to get 218 votes in the House where there is a wide difference of opinion on health care policy. It has -- the same bill has to get 51 votes in the Senate where there's big differences in views on health care policy.

The CBO score is going to cheer some, disappoint others, and in the end, be the same as the bill itself. When and if this bill passes, it is going to disappoint some of the people who vote for it at least in some respects. It's not going to be a slam dunk.

I think the CBO score is going to point that out. And that's a moment of realization for the Republicans, that this is a big lift. It's hard to be making major legislation, it's hard to have to get it through both Houses of Congress.

HARLOW: All right. Let's just remember that it was the Republicans who appointed the guy who now runs the CBO in 2015.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Helping them in a big way doing that is now a member of this president's Cabinet, Tom Price. And here is a quote of what he said about Keith Hall who runs this place, and helps to come out with these numbers. "He has an impressive level of economic expertise and experience." Does that weaken their argument?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think it's important to recognize that the CBO director ultimately disappoints the party that appoints them the most.

[10:40:03] I was appointed by Republicans when I became the CBO director. The job by law is to be nonpartisan and not to take into account any party considerations. You just give the best answer you can based on the economic and budgetary science. When you do that -- in their hearts, the Republicans are always hoping that he'll give them a break and sort of, you know, put his finger on the scale when he doesn't think it's disappointing. That's just part and parcel of being the CBO director.

BERMAN: You've dabbled in politics from time to time. Is this bill going to pass?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Sorry, say that again?

BERMAN: I said you've dabbled in politics from time to time. Do you think this bill will pass?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I do think they'll pass, if not exactly this bill, they'll get the score. They may have to modify it in the Budget Committee, that's part of the process. They're staying in touch with the Senate. And obviously the president himself is weighing in. Those are the elements that you need to have success. So I expect the bill to get through.

HARLOW: Douglas Holtz-Eakin, thank you.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. U.S. Marines join local forces on the ground in Syria. This is this push, this effort to retake the city of Raqqa. The self-proclaimed capital of ISIS. What does that deployment mean overall for the fight against ISIS? That's next.


[10:45:33] BERMAN: All right. A major development in the U.S. battle against is, U.S. Marines just arrived in northern Syria. Boots on the ground to help in this fight. They're there to support U.S. backed fighters and local forces as they try to retake the city of Raqqa. Raqqa of course is the self-declared capital of the self-declared caliphate.

HARLOW: Our Ben Wedeman, our senior international correspondent, is following all of this. He joins us now.

Give us a sense, Ben, of how significant this move is. That you now have, you know, not just a few but a significant number of U.S. Marines now on the ground in northern Syria.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, it's important to keep in mind that the Pentagon isn't saying how many Marines are there. But we know what they're going to do. They are going in with 155-millimeter howitzers, long range artillery. They have a range of about 20 miles. And they will be participating in the offensive to drive ISIS out of Raqqa.

Now their role is important because I've been to that part of Syria with the forces -- the U.S.-backed forces that are in that area. They don't have much in the way of heavy firepower. So this artillery is going to make a huge difference in the fight. Now American officials are talking about this offensive beginning in a matter of weeks. Now, precisely how long that is is not all together clear.

Now the Marines are supplementing around 100 rangers and U.S. special forces who are in the town called (INAUDIBLE) which is about 85 miles to the northwest of Raqqa, their job there is to keep separated Turkish-backed Syrian fighters, rebels, from U.S.-backed Kurdish and other Syrian rebels who are mutually hostile.

The United States wants both those forces to focus on the war against ISIS rather than on fighting one another -- Poppy, John.

HARLOW: Ben Wedeman live for us tonight in Irbil, Iraq, thank you very much.

Also this. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, he doesn't think the U.S. is going to pay for the wall.

BERMAN: Doesn't think Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

HARLOW: I'm sorry, thank you for correcting me. Just take a moment and just listen to what he said when he was pressed on that.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There are some places along the border where that's probably not the best way to secure the border. But I think General Kelly knows what he's doing. I think the president picked an outstanding person to be in charge of Homeland Security. And my suspicion is we'll take his advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that Mexico will pay for it?




HARLOW: Pretty clear there. "Uh, no." Meantime, a really important number to tell you about. The president's tough talk on illegal immigration, it may be having quite an effect. Brand new numbers out from the Department of Homeland Security showed that illegal southwest border crossings have declined 40 percent just in January and February.

Officials say this is an unprecedented drop. They do note some of this may be premature in terms of crediting the president wholly for this. Things like weather and the economy can also impact those border crossing.

BERMAN: The rhetorical environment may weigh in if you're making the decision to try to come to the United States.

All right. Still to come for us, the Tony Romo era. It may be over in Dallas. And what really was the Tony Romo era? Where will the Cowboys' all-time passing leader wind up?

Andy Scholes will tell us next.


[10:53:21] BERMAN: All right. Light a candle. It is the end of an era in Dallas. The Cowboys are officially -- HARLOW: You're so sad.

BERMAN: Officially expected to release quarterback Tony Romo later today.

HARLOW: All he cares about is Brady. Andy Scholes has more on today's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John and Poppy. Romo-watch now officially on. The favorites to land him once the Cowboys released him are the Broncos or the Houston Texas.

Romo, you know, being kept by the Cowboys would have been unimaginable before last season but due to the rise of Rookie of the Year, Dax Prescott, Romo became expendable. He leaves the Cowboys as the team's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

Michigan men's basketball team got a big scare on the way to the Big Ten Tournament yesterday, as their plane skidded off the runway. The team released a statement saying that high winds forced the plane to abort takeoff and then strong braking slid them off-course.

The plane was badly damaged. And Michigan's coach, though, says a few people were banged up but thankfully no one was seriously injured. The team flew to D.C. this morning and headed straight over to the arena for their game.

Team Israel continues to shine in the World Baseball Classic. Ranked just 41st in the world, Israel beat the Netherlands earlier this morning to win their pool. They have no major, Israel has zero major leaguers on the roster. Their odds to win this tournament at the start, 200-1. But they're now headed to the quarterfinals.

The team has kind of been drawing inspiration from what they call their team mascot, the Mensch on the Bench. Check him out. One of the players brought him with him to the game, now he's a regular in the dugout and out on the field.

Tim Tebow making his Mets spring training debut. But probably one to forget for the former Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow going 0 for 3 from the play with two strikeouts, also grounded into a double play.

[10:55:03] But fun fact, Tebow's first strikeout came against reigning Cy Young Award winner, Rick Porcello. And last time a Cy Young Award winner faced off against a former Heisman Trophy winner is back in 1994 when Bo Jackson faced Frank Viola and Roger Clemens.

And finally, guys, according to several publications we now have a new power couple, A-Rod and J-Lo. Check out their front page of the "Daily News" they have this morning. And as you can see, they've already been labeled J-Rod.

HARLOW: Those will be some pretty kids. Right?

BERMAN: This is a major development.

SCHOLES: That's far.

BERMAN: Andy Scholes bringing us all the important stories.

Andy, great to see you. Good luck with Tony Romo in Houston.

SCHOLES: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up for us, we know there is Republican -- growing Republican opposition to the new Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. What is the Democratic strategy? Nancy Pelosi due to speak any moment. We'll bring that to you live, coming up.