updated 9/23/2009 11:19:30 AM ET 2009-09-23T15:19:30

Guests: Jay Rockefeller, Ron Wyden, Joe Sestak, John Harwood, Karen Hanretty, Todd Webster, Steven A. Smith, Lanny Davis

ED SCHULTZ, HOST:  Good evening, Americans.  Welcome to THE ED SHOW right here on MSNBC.

Tonight, doggone it.  There was a spotting in Washington, D.C., today. 

Somebody saw Harry Reid talking health care.  I love it. 

Reconciliation is on the table.  A health care bill written specifically for reconciliation actually exists.  Now we‘re getting somewhere.  Some movement today. 

The Democratic majority leader, after being missing in action on the health care debate, I think, went to the Senate floor with a warning for the stupid. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  If we can‘t work this out to do something within the committee structure, then we‘ll be forced to do the reconciliation.  The reconciliation bill is there for us.  It was put in by the Budget Committee.  If we can‘t come up with a bipartisan bill with the help of a few Republicans, then we will have to do the—go the route of reconciliation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  All right.  I was a player, not a cheerleader, but go Harry, go. 

All right.  Now, if we use reconciliation, we don‘t need 60 votes.  You know that.  We don‘t need a watered-down bill to get the Bill Nelsons of the world or Max Baucuses of the world or Olympia Snowe on board.  We only need 51; right? 

OK.  Now, we could have a strong bill with a robust public option which actually is nothing more than guaranteed competition for the private sector.  The righties have already been running a PR campaign against reconciliation, telling Americans that it is an extraordinarily parliamentary procedure and a gross abuse of power. 

Yes, right. 

They ought to know.  They used it a number of times, you know, for like tax cuts for the rich back in 2001 and 2003.  Also to push this oil drilling in Alaska that they‘re never going to get.  And, of course, to cut Medicaid for poor Americans, which we‘ll address in just a moment.  All of which, of course, Democrats were against all of that. 

Now, I didn‘t hear any crying from them over them overreaching at that particular point.  Now, President Obama and the Democrats have said we will work with any Republican who is serious about reforming health care.  Today, in the markup for the bipartisan Baucus bill that was—hadn‘t gotten any support from any Republicans.  In fact, not even one.  OK?

Now, the righties offered nothing but—get this—what I call garbage amendments and partisan rhetoric.  Here‘s what they wanted to do, here‘s what they did do. 

Let‘s see now.  We‘ve got Texas Republican John Cornyn and his buddy Orrin Hatch from Utah.  You know what they‘re concerned about?  ACORN.

Ask yourself the question tonight, folks, you know, we really got to get this health care thing done, but we‘re really concerned about ACORN, too.  So, let‘s put an ACORN amendment on health care reform.  Cut me some slack.  This is why Americans get frustrated with Washington. 

And then, of course, there‘s Senator John Ensign of Nevada.  He, of course, offered an amendment about czars.  Damn it, we‘ve got reel in those czars on health care, don‘t we? 

This is all part of the stall game in September.  They are trying amendment this bill to death.  Their motives are completely transparent. 

Listen to the Republican senators repeat the same old talking points. 

This is today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, FINANCE COMMITTEE:  Artificial deadlines forced us to where we are today.  It seems to me that some people in the Senate would rather have it done right now instead of being done right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE ENZI ®, FINANCE COMMITTEE:  Apparently, in some circles there‘s a belief that passing a bill quickly is more important than getting it right.  I regret that we ran out of time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, FINANCE COMMITTEE:  Unfortunately, due to outside pressures and arbitrary timelines faced by the chairman, we are now considering a bill that once again proposes more spending, more government, and more taxes. 

Step back.  Take a deep breath.  And start over on a truly bipartisan bill. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  I‘ve been in the Senate for 35, 40 years.  We‘ve got to move slow. 

Now, remember, Max did say he worked 100 hours on this. 

Folks, they just want to talk in delay and hit the restart button all the way to 2010.  That‘s what they want to do.  So, they tell the American people, oh, Democrats, they can‘t govern, they can‘t get it done. 

President Obama has said he wants a bill this year.  I hope he sticks to that deadline. 

What‘s wrong with deadlines?  You‘re in public—private business, aren‘t you?  Does your boss ever come in and give you a deadline?  Damn it, you‘ve got to get it done.  That‘s why we have this thing.

Now, I hope that Harry Reid is serious with this reconciliation process and doesn‘t back off it. 

Get your cell phones out.  I want to know what you think about all this tonight. 

Do you think “Dirty Harry” is ready to pull the trigger?  Now, we‘ve got to call him “Dirty Harry” just for the “Dirty Harry” movies.  Right?

Is he ready to pull the trigger on reconciliation?  Text “A” for yes and “B” for no to 622639.  And we‘ll bring you the results later on in the show. 

Now, what‘s happening in the Senate Finance Committee when it comes to the Democrats? 

Joining me now is Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, a member of that committee. 

Senator, good to have you with us tonight. 

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  Thanks, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  We‘re going to come out with some polling numbers at the bottom of the hour that is going to, I think, reflect that there might be some missing of the messaging that‘s going on with the American public.  The guaranteed competition for the private sector, which is the public option, you‘re coming forward with an amendment in the Senate Finance Committee for a public option even though Max Baucus said today that it‘s not going to be in that bill. 

Tell us what‘s going on. 

ROCKEFELLER:  Well, it‘s interesting, Ed, that the Mayo Clinic, which the people who have been for the co-op approach and against the public option approach, which is the real sort of what I call the Adam Smith approach, really forced competition among the insurance companies who are eating us for lunch, the Mayo Clinic came out for the public option. 

That‘s news.  That‘s breaking news.  That‘s big, and that‘s a stunning development. 

And we‘re not actually doing amendments yet.  We‘re just doing a walkthrough and asking questions. 

And what I was focusing on was the Children‘s Health Insurance Plan, which gets killed under -- 14.3 million children are going to lose their benefits unless there‘s improvements in the plan, which I think there will be.  And also the way you set up Medicare, and that‘s the MedPAC thing, which is garbled speak, but it‘s the idea that you take the decisions away from the Congress and the lobbyists and you give it to the health care professionals, because they can really help seniors get better coverage. 

SCHULTZ:  Now, Senator, you said the Mayor Clinic.  Now, when they say that they‘re for the public option, does that mean they are advocating an independently-run, government-administered program that would compete against the private sector?  Be very clear on that. 

ROCKEFELLER:  I have to be—I have to assume that, but I don‘t know that because I‘ve just heard that they‘re for it.  But if you‘re for the public option, it sounds to me like you‘ve got to be pretty much what you said. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  Now, the bill that‘s going to be...

ROCKEFELLER:  It‘s good news, Ed.  That‘s great news.  Smile.

SCHULTZ:  Oh, it‘s great news.  Well, OK, I‘m smiling. 

And the reason why I‘m smiling is because the president has repeatedly used the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota as, you know, an example on the campaign trail, on the stump, talking about this, saying that we‘ve got to get all clinics to this level.  Now, they have the best doctors in the world, do they not, Senator, at the Mayo Clinic? 

ROCKEFELLER:  Yes.  But they have relatively few low-income patients that come to them like a lot of other large urban hospitals.  In other words, they get high costs paying, then not so many people who have to go into their emergency rooms. 

SCHULTZ:  How much division is there on the Senate Finance Committee about this particular issue? 

ROCKEFELLER:  I‘m not going to jinx it.  I have a feeling that the public option is picking up some support., but I‘m not going to jinx it by making anything declarative, even on your show, Ed.  Or especially on your show.  OK?

SCHULTZ:  Well, that‘s where I want you to do it. 

ROCKEFELLER:  I know that.  I know that.  And that‘s why I‘m not going to do it. 

But it certainly isn‘t any worse, and it may be better.  It‘s really a public relations problem, because the word “public” is getting in the way of senators‘ interpretation of what the public option really does, which is actually kind of an Adam Smith-type amendment.  It‘s a good Republican amendment, actually. 

SCHULTZ:  Now, and finally, have you seen in the last few days the Republicans shift at all, you know, kind of lighten up a little bit on possibly going along with some Democratic thinking on guaranteed competition for the private sector?  Do you see any movement at all here or are they still playing hardball with you? 

ROCKEFELLER:  Yes, hardball.  Hardball.  That‘s what you‘re playing, you see.  That‘s the name of your program.  And that‘s what the Republicans are playing with us on public option and on most other things, too. 

They just don‘t want to yield.  I mean, they—look, Ed, as you‘ve said 1,000 times, they‘ve never been for health care reform in the history of health care reform, and they‘re not starting now. 

SCHULTZ:  Senator, good to have you with us tonight.  I appreciate your time. 

ROCKEFELLER:  Thanks, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet.

Senator Jay Rockefeller with us here on THE ED SHOW.

As I said earlier, the righties are already launching a PR campaign against reconciliation.  Here is the predictable response from the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER:  If that option is chosen, I think there will be a severe negative and, frankly, appropriate reaction on the part of the American people.  Doing it is a huge mistake.  If will be widely noted by the American people.  There will be an overwhelming negative reaction throughout the country to choosing this kind of device to try to circumvent the normal rules of the Senate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  Now, did you hear that, folks?  Getting people some health care is going to really make a lot of people upset.

Joining me now is another member of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Senator, good to have you with us tonight.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), FINANCE COMMITTEE:  Thanks for having me back.

SCHULTZ:  All right.  Now, we‘ve talked a lot about choice, and you‘ve got an amendment out there that would allow employees to shop around the health insurance policies, to shop around for them.

What kind of shopping are we talking about?

WYDEN:  Ed, we‘re talking about the kind of shopping that members of Congress do.  What my amendment is all about is that this provides a way for the typical consumer to hold the insurance companies accountable.  It puts the consumer in the driver‘s seat.  It forces the insurance companies to compete for the consumers‘ business. 

The president always says, and I really like it, you can keep the coverage you have.  What I want to do is make sure that if you don‘t like the coverage you have, you can go out and hold the insurance companies accountable.  If they‘re ripping you off with your current coverage, you can go get something else just the way members of Congress can. 

SCHULTZ:  From the insurance industry? 

WYDEN:  Absolutely. 

SCHULTZ:  Ron, what‘s that going to do? 

WYDEN:  Ed, either a public option or a private option has to have choice.  If you‘re going to hold these insurance companies accountable, choice is the coin of the realm. 

I‘ve said on this show that I am very open to a public option.  We had a kind of a breakthrough today.  The Mayo Clinic, for example, said it was OK if you did the public option with an approach like members of Congress want. 

That‘s exactly the kind of thing I think we ought to be doing.  It‘s in line with my bill.  So, we‘re on the march now for the public option. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  But Senator, in your bill, you want to involve the states.  And I‘ll be right upfront with you.  I don‘t trust Jindal in Louisiana, I don‘t trust Haley Barbour in Mississippi, and I sure as hell don‘t trust Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota if they‘re going to be part of administering some kind of plan that is supposed to be good for me. 

You‘re trusting the Republicans here, Ron.  That‘s what you‘re doing. 

WYDEN:  Ed, I‘m going with the model for the only bill that stops insurance rip-offs.  When I came to the United States Congress, we found seniors getting ripped all the time with policies to supplement their Medicare. 

I wrote this law on the basis of hardball insurance reform that stopped the rip-offs that seniors were facing with their Medicare supplements.  We can do that again.  It drained the swamp.  Seniors don‘t get ripped off any longer.  That‘s exactly the model that I‘m using for our free choice. 

Now, is there any chance at all of something being put into the Senate Finance Committee where a public option would be there?  Or do you think you‘ve gone as far as you can go in Senate Finance and this bill is just not going to have it? 

WYDEN:  I think the odds got a lot better today.  When you have a prestigious medical organization like Mayo Clinic saying that they could accept a public option if it was like what members of Congress get—and that‘s who my legislation does—that‘s a real breakthrough.  The Mayo Clinic is saying, categorically, they want to get a good deal for their patients. 

It‘s time for patients to be able to hold insurance companies accountable.  That‘s what we did with seniors when we stopped the rip-offs and the policies sold to supplement their Medicare.  We can do it again.  And as far as I‘m concerned, this Mayo Clinic development today, where they said they‘d support a public option if it was set up the way members of Congress get their health care, I think that‘s a big development. 

SCHULTZ:  I think it‘s a great development for the Democrats.  But believe me, the Republicans will find something wrong with the Mayo Clinic between now and tomorrow night‘s show.  I‘m sure of that.

WYDEN:  Ed, you can be sure the status quo caucus led by these insurance lobbyists who are slicing a fat hog, they‘re going to fight us.  But we picked up some momentum today. 

SCHULTZ:  Senator, good to have you on with us.  Thanks so much.

WYDEN:  Thanks for having me.

SCHULTZ:  You bet.

Coming up, Bill Clinton thinks President Obama is wise to step back and rethink his options in Afghanistan.  I think we ought to just opt out of there.  The highest ranking former military officer ever elected to the Congress, Admiral Joe Sestak, joins me next. 

Plus, full-time psycho talker Glenn Beck doesn‘t discriminate when it comes to hate.  Wait until you hear what he has to say about John McCain.  This is a reversal, isn‘t it? 

And Plaxico‘s in the clink.  So, if you‘re a star receiver and you shoot yourself, you can go to jail.  But if you‘re the vice president of the United States and you shoot your buddy in the face, heck, you can get a get-out-of-jail free card.  Stephen A. Smith is going to be here in the “Playbook.”

It‘s all coming up on THE ED SHOW.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.

It‘s decision time for President Obama on the war in Afghanistan.  General McChrystal, the president‘s top commander there, wants more troops now.  He says if there‘s not a troop surge within the next year, the war is likely to fail. 

The Obama administration is saying they need more time to review the strategy options that are out there.  I say it is time.  We‘re in a no-win situation over there and it‘s time to reduce the force and change the presence. 

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, retired as a three-star admiral in the Navy, and also was dealing with Navy intelligence. 

Congressman, there‘s a lot of options on the table.  And I know you‘ve got some strategies for Afghanistan.  What should we be doing in your opinion? 

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  I think we have to make it very clear what our goal is.  And our primary goal is the eradication of that safe haven of al Qaeda, the al Qaeda who hit us on 9/11 that‘s inside Pakistan.  And second, setting the conditions for redeploying out of Afghanistan with a probability that the al Qaeda will not go back there. 

That‘s a strategy, Ed, that‘s going to take an approach that isn‘t counterterrorism.  It‘s a counterinsurgency, and it may involve a few more troops in the nearer term because it‘s spiraled so far south downward, that gains the trust of the population, because the Taliban is about 20,000. 

SCHULTZ:  Yes.  Am I hearing you, interpreting you tonight as saying that you would support the president if he were to commit more troops to Afghanistan before the end of the year, which would go along with the general‘s request? 

SESTAK:  If it is focused upon the mission, the two goals I stated, with clear conditions of an exit strategy that is focused not on nation-building, but is focused only on about 30 percent of the 20,000 Taliban that have been al Qaeda-ized and making them irrelevant.  That is a requirement for the increase in troops. 

If he does that, I will do it, because we rely upon the Afghanistan military to build itself up after we let this spiral so far down there.  Because when I was on the ground there early in that war, we had it in our hand.  But we can‘t rely upon them to bring it back up, not when the al Qaeda we are after are the ones who struck us.  And we have got to protect ourselves in the future. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  So, you want to narrow the mission. 

SESTAK:  Absolutely.

SCHULTZ:  You want to broaden the regional commitment.  You want to get more people involved.  But focusing on community development, is that not nation-building, Joe? 

SESTAK:  It is not to get them up to the level that at once was envisioned back in 2001 of the rule of law, of having a central government that is not corrupt, and extends its influence across the nation.  No, we can‘t (ph) accept that there are some warlords who are opposed to the al Qaeda-ized Taliban, that there are some Taliban that may be acceptable.  But it gives local governance and some type of economic job opportunity to individuals. 

That‘s about it. 

And finally, when the president says he needs more time to assess the situation, do you understand that?  Are you on board with that?  How soon does he have to move on this? 

SESTAK:  I don‘t think he has a lot of time, Ed, because I do agree with the general that when the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff said two years ago, in Iraq we do what we must, in Afghanistan we do what we can, that strategy has let it go so far down, that if he waits much longer, because potentially he wants to deal with health care here alone, then I think we are in danger of having to put too many troops in there where there‘s a minimum level that may be acceptable now.  This cannot be an open-ended commitment. 

We have an opportunity.  We should take advantage of that last opportunity we have. 

SCHULTZ:  Congressman Joe Sestak, thanks for your time tonight, and your expertise.  I appreciate it.

SESTAK:  Thank you, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet. 

Coming up, we all know sleaze bag Glenn Beck thinks that President Obama has a deep-seated hatred for white people, but you‘ll never guess who he says would be even worse for the country—John McCain.  I‘ll show you this Mac attack next in “Psycho Talk.”  

Stay with us.  And this is “Psycho Talk.”  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  And welcome back to THE ED SHOW.  Time now for “Psycho Talk.” 

We‘ve got another dandy tonight.  Ooh, it‘s “The Beckster.”  He‘s really outdone himself this time.  He‘s got to have a hell of a home movie collection.  You know? 

After months of just going after President Obama and riling up the right-wingers on the verge of violence, he comes up with this one...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS:  How about this?  I think John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama.  How‘s that? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

SCHULTZ:  Oh, “The Beckster,” he was just out there saying this stuff to get a rise out of people.  OK.  We laugh at it. 

Yesterday, he says McCain would have been worse than Obama?  But just this summer he was calling President Obama a racist. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BECK:  This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.  I don‘t know what it is. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  John McCain‘s got to feel really good right now, huh? 

And back in April, drama queen Glenn got in touch with his pyromaniac side to protest what the president was doing.  Now, he pretended to pour gasoline over a guest and compared Obama‘s policies to setting average American on fire. 

“Beckster,” if you think Obama‘s that terrible, what do you think about McCain?  What do you think he would have done? 

Beck is nothing but a high-rent entertainer.  And maybe he ought to join twinkle toes Tom DeLay on “Dancing With The Stars,” because this stuff is ridiculous, despicable, and “Psycho Talk.”  

Coming up, former New York Giant wide receiver Plaxico Burress is going to spend two years in the slammer for shooting himself.  New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg wanted to throw the book at him, and I think he went too far.  Stephen A. Smith in the house to talk about that tonight. 

Plus, our latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll is hot off the presses.  Folks, the message on public option simply is not getting through. 

That‘s next on THE ED SHOW.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.  Our NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll has just been released moments ago.  Here are the headlines.  Folks, the Democrats in Congress don‘t seem to get it.  Their numbers are dropping.  I think it‘s because of all this wishy washy stalling over health care.  People want to see them leading and getting out there and getting it done. 

The American people don‘t get it either.  They‘re confused about the public option.  After all the talk about health care, the message is still just not getting through the way the Dems want it to get through.  Take a look at these.  These two back-to-back questions are just a dandy.  Now, question number 30 in this survey, “how important is a choice of public plan run by the government in a health care proposal?”  All right, 73 percent say extremely or quite important; 23 percent say, eh, not that important. 

The next question, question 31, “do you favor or oppose the creation of a public plan run by the government?”  Forty six percent favor it; 48 percent oppose it. 

What?  These are the same questions.  Come on, folks.  In question 30, 73 percent of the people saw it‘s extremely important.  In question 31, 48 percent say, eh, they‘re against it.  Let me bring in John Harwood, CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent and political writer for the “New York Times.”

It‘s the wrong question.  We‘re confused as American, aren‘t we? 

JOHN HARWOOD, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  I tell you, Ed, I have a running debate in my head over 30 years of covering politics; are the American people and voters really wise and they really come to considered decisions, or are they dumb as a rock?  Every once in a while, you come into a question like this where you have a direct contradiction.  I don‘t think that means that people are as dumb as a rock.  But means it does mean this is a very complicated subject.  It‘s very difficult. 

I think all polling on health care ought to be viewed skeptically for that reason, because people have a very hard time getting their minds around the particulars of these plans. 

SCHULTZ:  Positive numbers for reform; 44 percent are concerned it won‘t go far enough; 48 percent concerned it will go too far.  That number was 54 percent last month.  What do you make of that? 

HARWOOD:  What we‘ve seen is President Obama with his PR blitz has stabilized his numbers.  He hasn‘t radically turned anything around.  He does a little bit better on the good idea/bad idea question on his plan.  He‘s gone from minus six in the red to minus two.  We‘re seeing that the president‘s got some seniors now feeling a little bit better about the plan.  So you see a slight uptick on some of the questions. 

It‘s still a muddled picture out there.  He‘s got a persuasion job to do.  But mostly I think the persuasion job is on Capitol Hill, not with the public. 

SCHULTZ:  The anti-s, the lobbyists, he‘s had to fight a lot.  The question is, has the president beaten the town hall socialist Hitler fears, the 44 percent, those are lefties who are worried.  Why aren‘t the Democrats?  I guess the question I‘m ask here is that has the president been able to beat these folks back to the point where he‘s in positive territory? 

HARWOOD:  Well, he is not entirely in positive territory on some questions.  He is on others.  On the bottom-line question, should a plan pass or should we keep the status quo?  He‘s in positive territory on that.  So I think he has made a bit of a comeback, a bit of a rebound since August.  But it‘s just not dramatic. 

SCHULTZ:  Is he popular? 

HARWOOD:  He‘s 51 percent job approval.  That is a solid rating.  It‘s not a robust rating.  One of the things that we have seen consistently about Obama since the beginning is people like him a lot.  You get three quarters of the American people say they like him personally.  But a good chunk of those say they don‘t agree with his policies.  And that‘s where the difficulty is. 

SCHULTZ:  He‘s got on attraction about him.  People do like him.  Last night, Letterman did better than all of the news shows put together.  Rather unusual, don‘t you think? 

HARWOOD:  Did you realize he was black before the election? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, I thought he was.  Before the election, they were saying he wasn‘t black enough.  I thought there was confusion there.  I‘m glad he got it squared away last night. 

HARWOOD:  In case you were wondering, I was white before the election. 

SCHULTZ:  I‘ve always had red hair.  I don‘t die it or anything.  I‘ve always been a fat guy too.  So what‘s the president‘s next play?  I mean, what do these numbers tell the White House? 

HARWOOD:  Well, I think the White House has got to keep pushing ahead.  They‘ve got a favorable legislative situation.  The Finance Committee is moving.  I think really the action is less in public opinion than in passing this thing on the Hill.  If they pass it, I think then you‘re going to see some of the polls move on the success that he achieves, if he does pass it, which I think is likely. 

SCHULTZ:  John Harwood, great to have you with us.

HARWOOD:  You bet. 

SCHULTZ:  Thanks so much.  For more, let‘s bring in our panel tonight.  Democratic strategist Todd Webster with us tonight, and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.  We thought we‘d just have these two folks get after it with Big Eddie tonight. 

Todd, I‘ll ask you first.  Do you think this poll, these numbers that quickly you just consumed, is this a wake-up call for the White House? 

TODD WEBSTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think President Obama remains incredibly popular and he remains extremely persuasive.  He is the strongest spokesman and the best person to articulate what it is that his message is.  I think that‘s much to his credit. 

I think some of the confusion about the public plan is a smoke screen and, frankly, is some confusion from our friends on the Republican side.  For 30 years, the Republicans said that the government—there‘s nothing that the government can do, that it‘s inept and it‘s incompetent and the Bush administration then spent eight years trying to test that hypothesis. 

Now they‘re saying just the opposite.  It‘s a complete rhetorical 180 saying that private industry, the insurance companies, can‘t possibly compete with a public option, with a government.  So it‘s interesting to watch the conservative contortions on this, particularly when you look at the example President Obama made, which is that we have a robust—the public university system in this country, and we have a robust private college and private university system. 

Much the same, we have a great U.S. Postal Service and, yet, UPS and Fed-Ex are able to compete and do just fine.  UPS and Fed-Ex are not at all imperiled—

SCHULTZ:  They are not.  I use the Postal Service all the time.  Karen, I have to ask you now.  I‘m going to take the Republicans at face value for what they say.  They talk about Waterloo.  They talk about failure.  These numbers that are out right now, are these numbers bad enough for the president that might—have the Republicans stick to their guns and not come on board, because they might see a crack in the armor here, and maybe they see light at the end of the tunnel, that fighting Obama on reform might be the best way to go? 

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think, first of all, regarding this poll and your last conversation, these questions are almost meaningless.  If you called me—if a pollster called me and said, how important is the public option?  I would say it is extremely important because I completely am opposed to it.  I would never say the public option is not that important to me.  Of course it‘s important. 

So you have this 73 percent number who say it‘s extremely important, and, yet, half the country—and really what these numbers show is there‘s been no movement in support for the president‘s plan or for the Democrats‘ plan.  This is a—

SCHULTZ:  Karen, that‘s a key point.  We‘re still a divided country.  We can roll it right back to the election.  I think the numbers are still about the same, and so why not—

HANRETTY:  Not all the numbers are the same.  First of all, President Obama has seen a double-digit drop in his approval numbers.  So not all—

SCHULTZ:  Ahead of the last two presidents at this time.  Wait a minute. 

HANRETTY:  I don‘t think the country is split on health care based on partisanship. 

SCHULTZ:  Karen, wait a second now.  The president is still faring very well against Bush and Clinton when it comes to numbers at this point in time. 

HANRETTY:  Sure, after eight years and the Iraq war.  I wouldn‘t use President Bush as a barometer, Ed.  That‘s not a good argument for you. 

SCHULTZ:  It‘s a very good argument because the American people like this guy. 

HANRETTY:  They don‘t like the health care policy. 

SCHULTZ:  I want to know, will—I guess the Republican word to use here is embolden.  Will these numbers embolden the right to put their feet in concrete even further than what they‘ve done when it comes to reform? 

HANRETTY:  No, I don‘t think these numbers are going to embolden the right or the left.  Listen, I think the real problem is—you know, if this goes to reconciliation—you were talking about that earlier as well.  It can‘t go to reconciliation until October 15th.  That‘s a long way away.  The longer this thing drags out, the more I think set people‘s opinions are where you‘re not—

Forget Republicans in Congress.  It‘s the American people.  They are not being persuaded. 

SCHULTZ:  What about that date, Todd?  I kind of like October 15th.  I kind of—we can call it a health Octoberfest or something like that.  I kind of like it because that means more town halls.  That means the president can get out there.  I think he wins on this issue.  Your thought? 

WEBSTER:  I think at the pace the Congress is going, that‘s not that far away.  The reality is the American people don‘t care the process of how this thing gets done.  Mitch McConnell whining about reconciliation or how it happens or how it doesn‘t.  The process is meaningless.  What matters is whether we can pass comprehensive health care reform that reduces cost, that expands coverage and that ends some of these insurance company abuses.  The only way you can do that is with a public option. 

Do you notice that we‘re no longer debating whether we should have health care reform.  We‘re debating what it should look like.  The Republican position is we should do nothing; we should stand here; we‘re not going to support any bill.  The Democrats are trying to move forward and get this done. 

HANRETTY:  Time is not on your side. 

SCHULTZ:  We like October 15th, Karen. 

HANRETTY:  Time is not on your side, Ed.  You have to have me back on October 15th

SCHULTZ:  I‘ll have you back before then.  You‘re one of the very few conservatives I do listen to.  Thank you for joining us, Karen Hanretty and Todd Webster tonight. 

Coming up, former professional football star Plaxico Burress is sitting in Rikers Island jail right now.  Steven A. Smith says he may have broken the law, but he‘s anything, anything but a criminal.  He‘s next in my playbook.  You‘re watching THE ED SHOW on MSNBC.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  In my playbook tonight, former New York Giants‘ wide receiver Plaxico Burress has been sentenced to two years in prison on a gun charge after he brought a loaded gun into a night club last year.  You‘ll remember he gave himself away when he accidentally shot himself in the leg.  Now Burress broke the law, we know that.  But two years behind bars? 

That‘s a little rough in my opinion.  I‘ve always struggled with this. 

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a hand in the sentence, I believe.  He over-stepped his bounds big-time last year when he pushed for Burress to get three and a half years behind bars. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK:  I think it would be an outrage if we didn‘t prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, particularly, people who live in the public domain, make their living because of their visibility.  They are the role models for our kids.  If we don‘t prosecute to the fullest extent of the law them, I don‘t know who on Earth we would. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  If that‘s not a signal to the judges, I don‘t know what is. 

Let me bring in journalist and commentator Steven A. Smith with us tonight. 

Steven A., great to have you with us.

I‘m struggling with the sentence.  I think Plaxico Burress could have done community service, paid a big fine, influenced a lot of kids.  The thing that bothers me about this, Steven A, is he did not have a prior.  Your thoughts on this.  Is this the criminal justice system not working or working? 

STEVEN A. SMITH, COMMENTATOR:  I think it‘s not working.  I definitely think the penalty was excessive.  I don‘t think there‘s any way to deny that.  You have legal experts out there who feel that way as well.  They feel that the penalty was excessive. 

At the same time, the law was on the book in the state of New York City—in the city of New York, actually.  Mayor Bloomberg made sure a three and a half year mandatory sentence was instituted for anybody carrying an illegal firearm.  That is the case with Plaxico Burress. 

Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law, as they say.  Clearly he didn‘t know that.  The reality is that his gun was not licensed in New Jersey.  It was not licensed in New York City.  It expired in the state of Florida in May of 2008, just five to six months prior to the incident.  So you do the crime, unfortunately you have to do the time. 

The jail cells, let‘s say this, could be put to far better use than putting somebody like him behind bars. 

SCHULTZ:  I think so, too.  Especially, he didn‘t have a record, not a prior, anything like that.  Do you think they‘re making him an example so people take notice on the gun laws? 

SMITH:  Don‘t politicians do that all the time?  You have a whole bunch of people—one of the things you have a lot of people lamenting is the fact that professional athletes are sort of used as the poster child—poster children for all that goes wrong in the world.  The fact is, it‘s just used as a distraction.  Maybe if you aim your eye in their direction, you‘re not pointing at politicians, people legislating and governing the lives and others, and trifling things that they do.  You‘d like to see some of them behind bars. 

At the end of the day, it comes down to professional athletes, a guy like Plaxico Burress.  You know that he‘s not a criminal.  His crime throughout his career has been tardiness, and that‘s about it.  But unfortunately this was a bigger one.  That‘s why he‘s behind bars.

SCHULTZ:  What if that gun had gone off and not hit him in the leg, might have killed somebody else? 

SMITH:  That‘s why he‘s doing two years, plain and simple.  If it hadn‘t been for that, he wouldn‘t be two years.  If you didn‘t take that into consideration, you could have came up with anything.

SCHULTZ:  Now, why is it that a lot of professional athletes, let‘s face it, who are well off financially, millionaires, why are they packing heat? 

SMITH:  Because of stupidity.  That‘s really what this comes down to.  There‘s no other way around it.  The fact is they can afford to have a driver.  They can afford to have security.  They can afford to hire security that‘s licensed to be armed, so they don‘t have to put themselves in those kind of precarious positions. 

But unfortunately, on far too many occasions, they engage in acts of stupidity, carrying concealed weapons themselves.  I‘m not going to put a percentage on it, because I don‘t know.  Neither does anybody else.  The reality is, you have a lot of guys that are in the public eye.  They are targets.  I know for a fact many professional athletes who have been accosted, who have been robbed, people that have been held at gunpoint, et cetera.  So they do have reasons for being concerned. 

But if you got that much of a reason to be concerned, perhaps you should stay your behind home. 

SCHULTZ:  Did you have a problem with the mayor of New York being so visible and so vocal on this?  He really used Plaxico Burress and really whipped him up and whipped him right into jail on this, and tainted the whole situation.  I think that was really unfair.  The other thing, I don‘t like the sentence because this guy could have done thousands of hours of community service, and affected a lot of kids who looked up to him because he‘s a New York Giant.  I just think it‘s too harsh.

SMITH:  You could have gave him six months and the rest could have been community service.  That‘s number one.  Number two, I‘m a fan of Mayor Bloomberg.  I‘ve got a lot of respect for what he‘s accomplished for the city of New York.  I think he‘s done an outstanding job as mayor. 

In this particular situation, I thought he crossed the line.  I thought he was butting his nose into business he didn‘t have any—should not have butted his nose into.  I thought it was politically expedient and I thought it was grossly unfair to Plaxico Burress, the man, the father, the husband, even the profession athlete.  I don‘t see Mayor Bloomberg standing up every time an athlete gets in trouble.  He certainly doesn‘t do it when a politician gets in trouble. 

SCHULTZ:  He could get out in 20 months.  Steven A. Smith, good to have you with us tonight.  Thanks so much.

SMITH:  My pleasure.  Take care.

SCHULTZ:  Coming up, my old friend Lanny Davis thinks I‘ve got it wrong on health care?  He‘s going to try to set me straight.  Good luck.  The main event coming up.  Lanny‘s with us on THE ED SHOW.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve been a United States senator.  I was elected seven terms.  I‘ve been vice president now about eight months.  I have never seen so much consensus on so many major parts of a reform plan in my entire public life.  This is no time to tinker.  You can‘t rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.  We have to change ships here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  That was Vice President Joe Biden today calling for health care overhaul in Maryland.  I‘m all about it, but where‘s this consensus?  How many Republicans are on board? 

Joining me now is Lanny Davis, former White House special counsel to President Clinton.  Good to see you tonight.  You‘ve written extensively on health care.  Your most recent column was the Wyden/Bennett Healthy Americans Act, why not just say yes?  Lanny, I will tell you why, because you can‘t trust the Republicans, that‘s why.  What makes you think this is going to be the catch-all? 

LANNY DAVIS, FMR. SPECIAL COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT CLINTON:  Look, I discovered this almost by accident.  And let me explain to your audience that the basic concept is everyone who is receiving a health insurance policy from an employer can cash out, use the cash in a public marketplace, and force the insurance companies to compete for their business, or they can stay in and continue with the same plan from their employer.

But the minimum on the public exchange has to be the same plan that federal employees and members of Congress have.  So it‘s universal coverage.  It uses market mechanisms, which is why the Republicans like it.  Peter Orszag, Ed, the director of OMB, when he was head of CBO, rated this in terms of costs that in the first two years it‘s deficit neutral and it produces a surplus, reducing the deficit after two years.  What‘s wrong with this picture? 

SCHULTZ:  I‘ll tell you what‘s wrong with the picture.  Number one, nothing in Washington is paid for.  I think that‘s kind of the wrong discussion.  It‘s what the people want.  All this talk about deficit neutral, I think the American people just want a great health care system.  Here‘s what I say, Lanny, and why not this?  Let the insurance industry go do whatever they want to do.  And then let‘s get a government-run assistance program for any American who wants to get in.  And then let‘s see the prices come down. 

What‘s wrong with that?  What I see in this plan that you‘re supporting is that you want states to administer this, and states are going to be involved in monitoring this as well?  That means Republican governors and Republican legislatures are going to get involved in this?  Lanny, come on now.  The Republicans beat you guys up on health care in the Clinton years.  How can you go along with this? 

DAVIS:  Actually, the Heritage Conservative think tank opposes this because it‘s overly regulating insurance companies who are simply selling what they‘re now doing on a state by state basis, but they don‘t have competition.  What this bill does is mandate that they have to offer something at least as good as the federal employee system, which members of Congress have. 

I‘m in favor of the public option.  In fact, Ed, I‘m pretty radical. 

I‘m in favor of a single-payer system. 

SCHULTZ:  Me too. 

DAVIS:  But this offer is—I know you had Senator Wyden on.  I‘m still writing about this, trying to figure how come so many Republicans are supporting it, because they recognize we have to have a universal system in order to mandate insurance companies to insure everyone without regard to pre-existing conditions.  And you have to have choice in competition on insurance companies to get their prices down.

And, remember, Orszag said that because we are taxing employers to help pay for the poor, people who can‘t afford insurance, that it produces revenues that are greater than the cost of this plan. 

SCHULTZ:  Lanny, I‘m jaded on this.  Anything the Republicans are for I‘m against.  You can‘t trust them.  You can‘t trust them on anything.  This is our time to really reform.  And we can always come back later on if it‘s not working.  The point I don‘t like about the Wyden plan is it‘s not tough enough on the private sector.  It‘s not tough enough on the insurance companies.  And so I‘ll give you the last word on this. 

DAVIS:  Do me a favor.  I love arguing with you because you‘re extremely convincing, but you keep an open mind.  I‘ve been looking at this thing.  And I‘m telling you it‘s very tough on the insurance—on the insurance companies.  I‘m writing another column on Monday to explain that.  You keep an open mind and have me back. 

SCHULTZ:  All right.  You write what I‘m saying.  You can‘t trust them.  You‘re never going—they got after you guys in the Clinton years.  We‘re way behind this. 

DAVIS:  The Republicans—

SCHULTZ:  Just think if we had had reform back in the Clinton years how much easier it would have been for American families right now.  You can‘t trust them, Lanny. 

DAVIS:  Where I part company on that statement is that I know a lot of Republicans who I do trust.  I know a lot of Democrats who I don‘t trust.  Rather than generalize, I think there are some good people on both sides we need to bring together. 

SCHULTZ:  They‘re good people, they just don‘t want reform.  Lanny, we got to have you back. 

DAVIS:  Thank you for having me on. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet.  Early in the show, I asked you what you thought. 

Do you think Harry Reid is ready to pull the trigger on reconciliation?  Seventy five percent of you said yes; 25 percent of you said no.  That‘s THE ED SHOW.  I‘m Ed Schultz.  Back tomorrow night at 6:00 Eastern.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is next right on the place for politics, MSNBC.

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

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