updated 12/22/2009 12:08:31 PM ET 2009-12-22T17:08:31

Guests: Tom Harkin, Adam Green, Jane Hamsher, Debbie Stabenow, A.B.

Stoddard, Joan Walsh, John Feehery, Brent Budowsky

ED SCHULTZ, HOST:  Good evening, Americans.  Welcome to THE ED SHOW from Minneapolis tonight.

Well, in the wee hours of the morning, the Senate voted along party lines at what many think is a historic vote that pushes the health care bill towards the finish line.  Let‘s hope so. 

Folks, this is nothing but a watered-down win for the Democrats, a slight win.  If the Democrats want to sell this as reform, though, I think they are going to make a serious political miscalculation to the base. 

The bill makes the insurance mandatory for all Americans.  This mandate is one of the most un-American things that the Senate, I think, has ever done. 

This isn‘t the same as mandating for car insurance or homeowner‘s insurance.  I mean, there‘s nothing more personal than your own body.  So the Senate is forcing Americans to purchase insurance from the very people who have spent $400 million to lobby the Congress to ruin this whole bill.  Go figure. 

Forcing people, by the way, to buy health care, my opinion, that‘s not liberty.  It‘s not reform.  It‘s restriction.  It‘s a restriction of freedom that‘s not democratic.  There‘s nothing democratic about saying that you have to go out and do something with your body to protect it.

Now, if you want to look at it this way, big insurance just got a thousand new customers for every million dollars they spent on lobbying.  It‘s dishonest, I think, for the Democrats to try to sell this as change and reform.  It‘s a bill, but it‘s not reform.  And I think the mandate is very dangerous. 

The thing that was so good about the public option is just that.  It would have been an option, in or out, you can do what you want.  So now the Democrats and the Obama White House are out on the sell job making the case that this is reform. 

Hold the phone on that.  The president started that today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The United States Senate knocked down a filibuster aimed at blocking a final vote on health care reform and scored a big victory for the American people.  By standing up to the special interests who prevented reform for decades and were furiously lobbying against it now, the Senate has moved us closer to reform that makes a tremendous difference for families, for seniors, for businesses and for the country as a whole. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  The truth is, this is everything candidate Obama ran against.  Ben Nelson got to hold these Senate hostage and demand the stipulation on Medicaid for his state of Nebraska, and, of course, right at the dinner table with him is the lobbyists. 

And the mandate is a form—and it pains me to say this—it is a form of socialism.  You can‘t get around it.  And as I‘ve said before, there are good things in the bill, and I think we all know that. 

It does 30 million people.  It‘s deficit-neutral.  At least we hope it is.  It bans the pre-existing condition, although I am skeptical of that.  And it encourages prevention and wellness, which I think really is the most under-publicized in the whole bill. 

I hope it works.  I‘m not sure that it will.

The people have no choice.  No single payer, no public option, no Medicare buy-in.  The mandate is forcing people to buy their product from the private sector. 

The government basically is guaranteeing to the insurance company a whole bunch of customers.  Big insurers have really no incentive to win our business because we‘re going to be forced to give the business to them. 

Now, if the Republicans get one of the majorities back, watch this—the bill will never see the day of light.  They are going to start legislation to repeal it right away. 

And just so we‘re on the same page here, folks, so you know where I‘m at on this, do you really think that the insurance industry is going to stop lobbying now that this bill has gone through? 

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

Is this health care reform bill—and I‘ll afford you that by calling it reform—is this bill change that you can believe in?  Is it change you can believe in? 

Text “A” for yes, “B” for no to 622639.  We‘ll bring you the results later on in the show. 

Now, as I‘ve said, there are some good things.  Joining me now is Senator Tom Harkin, who is the chairman of the Senate HELP Committee. 

Senator, good to have you with us tonight.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA:  Thanks, Ed.  Good to be with you again. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet.

There‘s been a lot made here in the last news cycle about the deals that were cut to make this thing happen.  One of them, Ben Nelson. 

How do you feel about your constituents in Iowa having to pick up the tab for the folks in Nebraska when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid? 

HARKIN:  Well, Ed, that‘s not really the whole story.  Of course, compromises have to be made in legislation.  We needed 60 votes.  But, quite frankly, Mr. Nelson may have done all of us a big favor.  Well, here‘s what I mean by that, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  How‘s that? 

HARKIN:  Well, let me explain it to you. 

What he did for Nebraska, he said in 2017, states will have to come down from 100 percent on their Medicaid, the difference between the difference that we‘re picking up now.  But when other states have to go down from 100 percent, but Nebraska stays at 100 percent, do you think the governor of Missouri or the governor of California or the governor of New York or the governor of North Dakota is going to say, wait a minute, why do they get it and we don‘t? 

I think you‘re going to see it all stays at 100 percent.  So Mr.

Nelson may have done the governors of every state a big favor. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  But did he do the taxpayers a favor, Senator?  Did he do the taxpayers and the people a favor by holding out this late, holding the public option as hostage, and being the 60th vote?  Did he just play his cards maybe better than anybody else? 

HARKIN:  Well, look, Ed, I‘m not going to comment on that.  I am just so grateful that we had the 60 votes at 1:00 a.m. last night. 

And here‘s the way I put it, Ed.  You‘re a great friend and I love you dearly, and I keep talking to our progressive base. 

Last night, we crossed a demarcation line.  That demarcation line—on side of that demarcation line is health care as a privilege.  On the other side is health care as a right.

Well, we‘ve been on one side.  Health care is a privilege for far too long.  Last night we took the first step forward over that line to start making health care an inalienable right of every American. 

SCHULTZ:  But Senator, it does not have the competition, as I see it.  And I‘ve asked the White House this and I can‘t get an answer, and I‘ll respectfully ask you tonight.  And by the way, I love you too, Tom.  Merry Christmas and all that other good stuff. 

HARKIN:  Merry Christmas.

SCHULTZ:  Where is the competition, Tom?  Where is the competition in this?  I don‘t see how we‘re going to be holding down rates on this deal.

HARKIN:  Well, we will be holding down rates greatly, Ed.  As you know, between now and when we pass the bill, when it‘s signed and when the exchanges come in, we get to look at all the insurance companies.

If they jack up their rates, they have to pay a rebate.  They have to start paying rebates back to their customers.

We put what‘s called a medical loss ratio now of 80 or 85 percent.  That means that insurance companies will have to spend at least 85 cents of every dollar on health care.  They are not doing that now. 

Now, those things can be adjusted upward in the future, too, Ed.  And I keep saying to my friends, this bill is not the end.  It‘s just the beginning.  There‘s a lot of things that we‘re going to have to come and revisit in the future. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, Senator, I know that you‘ve told...

HARKIN:  And one of those, Ed, is the public option, believe me. 

We‘re going to revisit that public option. 

SCHULTZ:  All right.  I know that you‘ve told reporters today that you‘re going to revisit the public option. 

This is a relatively new Senator from Colorado, Senator Bennet, talking about how he‘s a little disappointed and took his own party to task on holding the public option hostage.  Here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO:  There is a report criticizing me because the National Republican Campaign Committee was rejoicing that I didn‘t ask for special favors.  Only in Washington would someone be attacked for not negotiating a backroom deal.  And just because others choose to engage in the same tired Washington rituals doesn‘t mean that I have to. 

So I have a message for the columnists, the political professionals and those back home.  I‘m not happy about the backroom deals.  I‘m not happy that the public option was held hostage by people in our own party.

I do not support rewarding delay with special deals.  I‘ll let others justify their vote and their tactics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  And Senator, we know that there are always deals in legislation, although we were sold pretty hard on competition and everybody getting covered.  But the bottom line here is, is that Joe Lieberman is saying that the White House and the president himself never pushed him for a public option.  Russ Feingold is saying that he blames the White House for not having the public option.  And I know that you‘re an advocate of it. 

I‘d like to you sort that out for us tonight. 

HARKIN:  Well, Ed, I‘ve always been for the public option, and I still am.  And I‘m just sorry that we didn‘t have the 60 votes that we needed. 

Now, we have well over 51 votes.  I would say right now, we have at least 55 votes solid for a public option.  But we need 60, and so we had to make the compromise as necessary that you do in legislation.

SCHULTZ:  But the president left the impression—but, Senator, the president left the impression that he was going to fight for a public option.  Lo and behold, Lieberman comes out and says, no, he never pushed me for it, and I was one of the ones down at the end of 60 voters.

HARKIN:  Well, I‘m really surprised at that.  I would have thought that President Obama—I know he met a number of times with Senator Lieberman and Senator Nelson and others.  I assumed that they were pushing hard for the public option.  I just assumed that. 

And the senator said no under any circumstance.  And that‘s why we had to do the compromise. 

Here‘s the hope I‘m holding out, Ed.  Next year and the year after there are other ways of revisiting the public option.  Keep that in mind. 

We‘re not giving up on this.  This is not the end of the road for a public option. 

SCHULTZ:  Senator, great to have you with us tonight.  Have a great holiday season.  Thanks for keeping up the fight.

HARKIN:  If the Republicans ever let us out of here.  Thanks, Ed. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCHULTZ:  All right.  Thank you.  I appreciate your time. 

HARKIN:  Thanks, Ed.

SCHULTZ:  Joining me now is Independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, joining us tonight.

Senator Sanders, on numerous occasions, has told us that on record, that he would accept nothing less than a public option.  So what happened to Senator Sanders that he went forward and voted for this legislation to move it forward?  And we‘re going to get word from him.

He did push for $10 billion in funding for community health centers and we want to ask him about that. 

Senator Bernie Sanders with us tonight from the Capitol, here on that particular issue. 

Senator Sanders, are you with us tonight? 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  I‘m right here.  How are you, Ed?

SCHULTZ:  OK.  All right.  Good.  Good to have you with us.  I appreciate your time.

You‘ve told us on this show and also have been quoted elsewhere that it was a public option or nothing.  And you voted for it.  What happened?

SANDERS:  What I said is I would be very, very reluctant to vote for legislation without a public option, and that‘s true.  What happened is, at my request, Senator Reid put $10 billion into community health centers, which means that 25 million more Americans are going to have access to affordable health care, dental care, the lowest cost prescription drugs in America and mental health counseling. 

It also means that we‘re going to have 20,000 additional primary health care doctors and dentists and nurses in this country.  It means, basically, there‘s going to be a revolution in primary health care, something this country absolutely and desperately needs.  And at the end of the day, by keeping people out of emergency rooms and out of the hospital, because they can get to a doctor when they need it, we are going to actually save money. 

So those were one of the factors that made me reconsider. 

SCHULTZ:  All right.  You‘re going to be targeted, along with some other liberal senators like Senator Brown from the progressive groups to not be there in the end because there is not competition, there‘s not the public option.

How do you feel about that? 

SANDERS:  Well, this is how I feel.  If anyone wants to tell me this is not a particularly strong piece of legislation, you know what?  I agree with them.  And if anyone wants to tell me that we should have had a private option to provide competition to the private insurance companies, we‘re going to laugh all the way to the bank, I agree with them.

And if anyone wants to tell me that the Senate bill is inferior to the House bill because it taxes health care benefits rather than progressive taxation, I agree with them.  And if anybody wants to tell me we should pass prescription drug reimportation to lower the cost of prescription drugs for everybody in American, I agree with them.  But the reality is...

SCHULTZ:  So why would you support it?

SANDERS:  All right, that‘s the question.  Because what is the alternative? 

The alternative is to defeat health care legislation, all of the community health centers, 31 million more people with insurance, insurance reform, and many other important factors, and do what?  For five years, 10 years, we don‘t revisit this issue? 

Forty-five thousand people a year die because they don‘t get to a doctor when they should.  We can improve that situation with this legislation.  As Tom Harkin just said, the day after this bill is passed we can go back to it and try to improve it. 

Look, I‘m not going to argue with you about the public option.  I fought for it has hard as I can.

Here‘s the reality.  You‘ve got no Republican support.  You‘ve got 60 Democrats, including some conservative Democrats. 

If the choice is to kill this bill completely, not see health care reform come up again for five years, 10 years, I think weighing the pluses and the minuses is better to go with what we have.  The day after this bill is passed we improve it. 

Look, I brought on the floor a Medicare for all singer-payer system.  At the end of the day, you know what, Ed?  That‘s the way this country is going to go.  But I don‘t want to see 45,000 people a year continuing to die. 

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

SANDERS:  Thank you. 

SCHULTZ:  There is going to be pushback from the progressive crowd. 

Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee joining us tonight.

Tell us, Mr. Green, how do you feel about the answers you‘ve just heard from two senators that fought for the public option that eventually voted for it when it doesn‘t have it in there and it doesn‘t look like there is going to be one in there?  What‘s your next move? 

ADAM GREEN, CO-FOUNDER, PROGRESSIVE CHANGE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE:  Well,

that was pretty depressing, honestly.  And Senator Sanders asking, “What‘s the alternative?”  Honestly, there‘s an answer.  The answer is he hasn‘t been fighting and the alternative is to fight. 

What would fighting look like?  It would mean that he would be on your show tonight saying that he would exercise the same leverage that Joe Lieberman has leveraged and saying, and he would say, “I will not vote for a final bill after the House/Senate compromise if there is not a strong public option.”

And if President Obama then—you know, he would have a choice.  He could side with Senator Sanders and the overwhelming majority of Americans, or he could side with Joe Lieberman. 

And the fact that we read today that Obama has not begun to fight and has never pressured Joe Lieberman is very telling.  We should all feel outraged, and Senator Sanders should really call that bluff of Obama and demand that he actually crack down on Joe Lieberman.  And it‘s one of the alternatives.  You know, if that doesn‘t work, reconciliation could work.

SCHULTZ:  Mr. Green, OK.  You want reconciliation.  We all want the public option.  But I want to point this out. 

And, you know, I pushed as hard as anybody in all of the media across this country because I believe in it, and I think we‘ve got to have competition.  But when you look at labor, when you look at women‘s rights, when you look at civil rights, even when you look at Independents, these were things that took time to achieve.  You didn‘t get it all in one fell swoop. 

So, why would progressives on the cusp of something—and I‘m just objectively asking you this—why would progressives on the cusp of some real change in this country say, nah, it‘s not enough, to hell with it, let‘s vote it down, and we‘re going to kick anybody that goes along with it?  Why would you do that? 

GREEN:  Well, first of all, voters had a mandate last election for President Obama and Democrats in Congress.  They wanted big change, they wanted fundamental reform of our health care system.

The bottom line for insurance companies is that they can not be trusted.  And the idea that we would mandate that people buy insurance policies from failed companies that even, for the insurer, deny people care, is outrages.  That‘s not real reform.  And we need progressive people to fight.

It‘s almost—it‘s nonsensical that progressives would enter a policy debate about health care and be prepared from the very beginning to not exert any leverage whatsoever, to have no line in the sand, to not plant their flag anywhere and say, if you don‘t go here, I will not be there for the bill.  The public option was the compromise, and we need them to fight.

SCHULTZ:  OK.  Adam Green, good to have you with us tonight.  Only time will tell how much of an effect this is going to have, and it will be interesting to see how the progressive movement operates in the wake of all of this. 

Good to have you with us.

Coming up, Vicki Kennedy has asked Congress to finish the work of Ted‘s life and get reform passed.  But Jane Hamsher will be here to outline the top 10 reasons why this bill needs to be killed in just a moment.

And Senate Republicans are masters of the slowdown process.  Senator Debbie Stabenow will explain how they‘ve managed to push the vote to 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

It‘s all coming up.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.

No one has been missed more in this health care debate than Ted Kennedy.  His widow, Vicki Kennedy, was in the Senate gallery this morning when Democrats cast a crucial vote on the health care bill.

Mrs. Kennedy wrote in an op-ed in “The Washington Post” this weekend, saying that her husband would have vote voted for this bill even as it stands now.  “The bill,” she writes, “before Congress will finally deliver on the urgent needs of all Americans.  It would make their lives better and do so much good for this country.”

“That, in the end, must be the test of reform that was always the test for Ted Kennedy.  So I humbly ask his colleagues to finish the work of his life, the work of generations.  As Ted always said, when it‘s finally done, the people will wonder what took so long.” 

Ted Kennedy was as liberal as they come, but he was also a master of the deal.  But I wonder if this would have been enough to convince progressives to support the compromised bill.

Joining me now is Jane Hamsher, founder of firedoglake.com.

Jane, good to have you with us tonight. 

You‘ve got on your Web site 10 reasons why they should deep-six this bill.  But when you‘ve got Vicki Kennedy coming out, and you just heard Bernie Sanders and Tom Harkin, two of the most liberal senators in the Senate, how is the progressive moment going to get wind at their back on this one? 

What are your thoughts?

JANE HAMSHER, FOUNDER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM:  Well, let me ask you, Ed. 

Are you saying that this bill will be fixed later? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, I‘m asking you.  I‘ll answer your question in just a moment, but we‘ve gotten a lot of promises.  We‘ve gotten a lot of promises from President Obama. 

I think it‘s very interesting now that Lieberman says that, well, he was never pushed by the president for the public option.  I think it‘s truth to power when Russ Feingold says that the White House, it‘s their fault for not getting it. 

I‘ll go back to Senator Conrad‘s comment, and that is they didn‘t have the 60 votes.  Well, there‘s a lot of money floating around.  I‘ve got a commentary coming up later in this show.  Maybe the Democrats aren‘t any different from the Republicans.

I‘m asking you, where‘s the victory here?  And how are you going to get the victory if you‘ve got Vicki Kennedy and Bernie Sanders, who are now basically saying they‘re going to go forward with this? 

HAMSHER:  If this bill passes in its current form, we‘re going to se a collapse of the progressive infrastructure unlike anything we‘ve seen in my lifetime.  What we‘re going to have is a bunch of people who call themselves progressives rubberstamping a bill that is everything the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies want. 

If we truly want to have a victory here for the people who need health care and not the politicians who want a “W” in the win column so they can do well in elections, why are we going to mandate all of this money?  Every American will have to purchase health insurance from a private corporation or they will be fined two percent of their income and it will be seized by the IRS. 

Why are we passing mandates now if what we say we‘re going to do is come back and fix it later but the insurance doesn‘t kick in until 2014?  Why don‘t we say, great, let‘s do insurance reform now and then we‘ll come back and we‘ll revisit it, and we‘ll do the mandates when the insurance companies will meet a contract with the public that we are guaranteeing, as the government, will provide quality insurance, because that is not here now, Ed.

And it is immoral to force people to pay for insurance that they do not want, that is not good insurance, when we are not guaranteeing them that what we are providing them is something that will give them affordable health care.  And this does not. 

SCHULTZ:  Jane, I don‘t disagree with any of that.  I‘m against the mandate.  I don‘t like the idea that there‘s not an option. 

But the question now is, how far will the progressive movement in this country go to work to correct this mistake, if you may?  Because it‘s not reform.  I agree with you on that. 

But when you look at it in the generational sense, isn‘t there an argument to be made whether it was civil rights, women‘s rights, workers‘ rights, that it took time to make major changes?  You don‘t agree with that? 

HAMSHER:  This bill is designed to transfer trillions of taxpayer dollars to the insurance companies‘ bottom lines.  We have never done anything like this before.

We have never mandated that the public pay eight percent of their income to a private company.  That is obscene. 

The reason we supported a public option was because we thought that Americans should have the choice to not pay it private companies, that we should—they should have the choice to pay, if this is going to be mandated, to the government instead.  Now that we‘re being told we have to pay Aetna, and there is no meaningful restriction on what Aetna can do with that money, or the insurance that they have to provide you in exchange for that, it‘s wrong, Ed.  And it‘s wrong for people to say that this some kind of political victory from the progressive or the conservative side.

This is a victory for Aetna.  It is not a victory for Americans. 

SCHULTZ:  Jane Hamsher, good to have you on tonight.  Firedoglake.com, she‘s got the 10 reasons why to vote against it on her Web site. 

Coming up, the United States government just slapped a three-hour limit on how long you can be stuck on an airport tarmac.  But they‘re just scratching the surface of our aviation nightmares. 

I‘ll tell you what I think about all of that in just a moment.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.  Here‘s one for the travelers; the government put a limit on how long you an be stranded on an airport tarmac.  The Department of Transportation says three hours is now the limit.  In the first six months of 2009, there were 613 instances where people were left without food, water, and, in some cases, even a functioning restroom. 

The new rule goes into effect in 120 days.  Thousands of travelers are still stranded after the blizzard that slammed our East Coast this weekend.  The three major airports—New York City airports canceled around 1,200 flights.  Philadelphia International Airport gave the ax to almost 800 flights.  And almost 600 flights were canceled out of Washington, D.C.

Now, folks, in an age where the airline knows your name, rank, serial number, your phone number, your e-mail address—heck, they may even text you now—you would think that they would be well-informed as to whether the flight is going to be canceled, and they would let you in on that.  But that, of course, is not the case.  It‘s still up to the consumer to figure out what the weather is all about.  But they sure would like to know if the flight is canceled and how in the heck are they going to find out if the airlines don‘t tell them anything? 

I think the government needs to step in and requires that the airlines, at least through new technology—that they contact you and tell you that your flight is canceled.  Friends, that is a mandate I think that I can live with. 

SCHULTZ:  Coming up, Psycho Talk.  Plus one senator who doesn‘t tolerate Republican games is Debbie Stabenow.  She‘ll be here to explain how the righties are trying to sabotage the bill this holiday season, in just a moment.

Plus, some House members are still wavering, the public option or bus flag.  One insider tells us a revolt could be in the works.  Psycho Talk as well.  You‘re watching THE ED SHOW.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.  If it all goes according to plan, the Senate will pass the health care reform bill 7:00 at night on Christmas eve.  That means eight months of fighting over health care is almost over.  Now, I‘ve been telling you for months, folks, that—we‘ve had this on-going discussion that the Democrats had the 60 votes—it would have been pointless to work with the Republicans.  Trying to work with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins has really left America with I think a watered down bill. 

Remember the Gang of Six in the Senate Finance Committee?  Max Baucus couldn‘t get a bill by August because Chuck Grassley had to go home and tell everybody that Barack Obama was going to pull the plug on grandma.  Remember those days?  That delay, of course, gave Sarah Palin all the time she needed to Facebook about death panels.  It gave the Tea Partiers all the time in the world to compare Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. 

The Democrats did need to negotiate.  They ended up buying a few at the end.  They could have done that months ago.  But just to think about dealing with the obstructionists, the Republicans, I think was a mistake.  Republican Senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint, really he was the only guy telling the truth, saying that he wanted this to be the Obama‘s Waterloo.  The White House I don‘t think was smartest enough to listen to him. 

Joining me now is Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who I know will tell me that this is wonderful.  Senator, good to have you with us, tonight.  Appreciate your time.  If we don‘t have critics, we can‘t make progress.  Is that fair enough, senator? 

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN:  Well, let me just say, on the health care bill overall, I just want to remind you that back when Medicare passed, it only covered hospital care.  Then Part B was added for doctor visits and home care and so on.  Then people with disabilities were added.  Then prescription drugs. 

So this is a process.  I wish we had everything in this bill that I want in this bill.  But I‘ll tell you what; it‘s better than the status quo.  And, yes, we do take on the insurance companies with reforms that they don‘t like.  And we do cover more 30 million people, and create a way for everybody to be able to get affordable insurance, with bringing the costs down. 

So it‘s a good start.  It‘s a great start.  And I‘m going to fight for it, because the folks on the other side just want to let the insurance companies have business as usual.  And that is not good enough for us. 

SCHULTZ:  OK.  Senator, I give you that.  But what about the mandate?  A lot of Americans and progressives are squawking about the fact that the government is forcing Americans to buy insurance from the private sector that has been gouging us for the last 10 to 15 years.  How do you make sense of that? 

STABENOW:  Well, let me talk about what is in the bill.  In 2014, people will be required to have insurance, if they can find it for eight percent of their income or less.  So already you have pressure on the companies.  If they want to get your business, they are going to have to make it eight percent of your income or less. 

Secondly, we‘ve given the power to states—and I‘ve said this to you before, this doesn‘t get talked about much.  But Senator Cantwell and I put in a provision that allows the state government to take the tax cuts given to individuals to buy from private insurance, and take it as a lump sum, and set up their own insurance plan, for up to 75 percent of the uninsured, to negotiate directly to lower prices. 

And in this new provision we‘ve put together—we‘re voting on tomorrow morning—the same national agency that negotiates rates for us, for our insurance plan, the federal government, will be negotiating nationally to set up national non-profit—

SCHULTZ:  OK, so you think that there is competition in this?  You can tell us tonight that you believe there is competition in this to hold down rates?  I‘ll take that as a yes, based on your last answer.

STABENOW:  Can I say one other thing?  That is: is there enough? 

Would I like to see more?  Yes, absolutely. 

SCHULTZ:  OK. 

STABENOW:  But we do have competition. 

SCHULTZ:  All right.  Are the Democrats going to go on the offensive and make sure that the American people know that zero Republicans were on board with this?  I mean, if this is such great reform, and if this is going to be everything that the Democrats are cracking it up to be, when are the Democrats going to go on the offensive.  I mean, if Mitch McConnell were standing right next to you right now, what would you say to him, Senator?

STABENOW:  First of all, I would say, stop sticking up for the interests of the insurance industry and the status quo, and start looking at the fact that too many people in this country, even with insurance, are filing for bankruptcy, because they don‘t have the coverage that they thought that they had.

So the reality is, Ed, that we are now, as you and I are talking—we are continuing to talk about what is in the legislation.  People will see once it‘s passed because they will be able to feel it and see for it themselves.  Then we‘re going to continue to build on it.

I‘m not saying for a second that this is everything that I would like to have.  But this is a whole lot better than what we have today.  And it‘s a great place to build. 

SCHULTZ:  Senator, have a good holiday.  Good to have you with us tonight.  Thank you so much. 

STABENOW:  Happy holidays. 

SCHULTZ:  Senator Debbie Stabenow, from Michigan, with us. 

For more, let me bring in A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of “The Hill.”  A.B., nice to see you tonight.  Good to have you on.   

A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL”:  Nice to see you, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  You‘ve been giving analysis of this for months on end.  Now that we seem to be close to the finish line, how serious do you take these talkers over in the House that the lack of a public option and also this abortion language may be a problem where they would stop it?  What do you think? 

STODDARD:  Well, I think the Democratic party is really on the edge here of having a big accomplishment.  Again, it‘s not what you want, Ed.  But, as the senator said and others before her, it‘s something to build on.  And I think that if they were going to derail this over the issue of abortion, they would be in a lot more political trouble than they are in now, and they are in some trouble now. 

The polls are against them.  They are facing tough losses.  They‘ve got to pass something.  And they‘ve got to turn it around and sell as a component of economic security to nervous and anxious Americans.  They‘ve got to hope unemployment turns around.

They‘ve made the decision as a party that they must pass something, even though the polls against them, that to govern is better to fail to govern.  So I think they really have to talk to their liberal left about the fact that the public option cannot pass through the Senate, and that this abortion thing shouldn‘t bring this whole thing down. 

SCHULTZ:  A.B., don‘t you think that there‘s some sense—or let me put it this way, that there may be some progressives across this country, and liberals, who view the Senate as somewhat of an arrogant chamber, as Senator Conrad and Senator Lieberman have said that you pretty much are going to have to take what is in the Senate bill.  How is that going to play out? 

STODDARD:  This is a tough course ahead.  When the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, was asked about this last week, I asked, can you pas a bill over here without a public option.  He said, yes, I‘ve always said that we can.  I support a public option, but I think we can pass one without it.  There‘s so much in the guts of this bill, he said, that‘s good.  We can move forward.  We can build on choice and competition without a public option. 

When it came to the question, will you just take and swallow the Senate bill, the answer was no.  So you‘re going to see a lot of resistance from the House about what they want.  They want to take the best of the House bill and the best of the Senate.

But then we‘re looking at really what is politically viable here.  I think we‘ve seen in these late night votes and all of this wrangling on the Senate side, whether you think the Senate is an arrogant body or not -- 

SCHULTZ:  I didn‘t say it.  They said it. 

STODDARD:  The bottom line is 60 votes is really hard to come by even on moderate legislation, let alone reordering a sixth of the economy.  I think the House is going to look at a bill very similar to the Senate.

SCHULTZ:  Quickly, does Harry Reid get a victory out of this?  He‘s in trouble in Nevada.  Does this help him?  

STODDARD:  I don‘t know if this helps him in Nevada.  It helps him with his colleagues, who doubted he could do this.  This is a major legislative feet to get this through.  And I think it‘s a huge victory for Harry Reid.  How it plays at home is a different question. 

SCHULTZ:  A.B., great to have you on.  Happy Holidays.  Thanks so much. 

STODDARD:  You, too. 

SCHULTZ:  For more, let me bring in my panel tonight, Joan Walsh, editor in chief of “Salon,” John Feehery, Republican strategist. 

Joan, will there be conflict over in the House?  They are being told, basically, by Conrad and Lieberman, look, it‘s going to have to really be somewhat of what we‘ve had come out of the Senate if you‘re going to get to 60 votes.  Those are almost in-house fighting words, aren‘t they? 

JOAN WALSH, “SALON”:  They are.  They‘re fighting words.  There will be conflict.  There absolutely will be, Ed.  At the end of the day, if you get Bernie Sanders on board, talking the way he was talking on your show a while ago, if you get Tom Harkin on board, I believe you will get the progressive caucus on board for something. 

I believe there will be more compromises to come.  I don‘t think the Senate can say that and get away with it.  On the other hand, I think that Democrats are going to have to look really long and hard before they reject a bill of this significance.  So I believe there will be a bill at the end of the day. 

SCHULTZ:  John Feehery, when you look at history, those who opposed Medicare paid a political price.  Why wouldn‘t the Republicans get on board with this, if it does benefit private industry?  Why not do it?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Ed, this bill is a complete mess.  It‘s a hodge-podge of special interest spending.  I never thought I‘d agree with that lady from “Fire Dog Lake,” but she‘s absolutely right.  This is a huge give-away to the insurance industry.  There‘s nothing that the Republicans would have wanted for competition.  It spends way too much money.  It taxes.

Ed, I think you‘ve put your finger on the fact that the individual mandate is something that is going to be extraordinarily popular with the Democratic base.  I think Joan is probably right that this is going to probably pass.  But I don‘t know.  I mean, in the House, it passed by one vote.  It‘s going to be tough.  I think a lot of Blue Dogs are going to be having a lot of trouble with this thing. 

WALSH:  John, let me say one thing about that, though.  I don‘t see how you get to universal coverage without universal mandates.  That‘s where I, as a progressive, part company with my friends Ed and Jane.  I think it‘s really damaging for progressives to be lobbying against universal mandate, because you don‘t get to universal without it.  You simply do need the younger and the healthier people in the risk pool. 

And, secondly, look, the public option—

FEEHERY:  Joan, if you put a tax on people who can barely afford insurance as it is, it‘s going to be very politically unpopular with key constituents for the Democrats. 

WALSH:  I agree.  And there are subsidies and the response of many progressives like me is the subsidies need to be bigger.  That‘s what progressives should be fighting for.  But to say there shouldn‘t be a mandate I think really defeats the whole purpose of the bill. 

The other thing about the public option that I want to say—I support the public option, but we haven‘t had a chance to educate people about it.  There‘s not a big hue and cry if it goes away.  There needs—this bill needs to pass and then there needs to be education about what true competition looks like.

SCHULTZ:  Joan, I‘ve got to ask you, what do you make of Joe Lieberman saying that President Obama never pushed him on a public option, yet, all along, the president was out on the stump talking about how we needed it? 

WALSH:  Well, the fact is Russ Feingold, a great liberal, is blaming President Obama as well.

SCHULTZ:  So how does that play in the progressive community, do you think?

WALSH:  Not well.  I think people are very, very disappointed with President Obama.  But President Obama and his political fortunes are a different thing from whether this bill should pass.  You can handle those two things differently.

FEEHERY:  Hey, Ed, how many times have I come on this show and said, the public option doesn‘t have the votes?  The public option never had the votes.  It‘s not there.  It‘s not going to happen.  How many times have I said that?

WALSH:  OK, John, you‘re right.  You want us to say you‘re right.  OK. 

FEEHERY:  I was right.  Give me some credit. 

WALSH:  You got me on the record.  But I wish the president—

SCHULTZ:  John, I have no defense for that.  You sold them better than I did.  I know where we‘ve got to go.  Great to have you with us.  Happy holidays to both of you.  Thanks for coming on.

Coming up, things have gotten so ugly in the Senate that one Republican started praying for something terrible to happen last night.  I‘ll tell you who was doing all this wishful thinking that lands him Psycho Talk.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  And in Psycho Talk tonight, it seems like the Republicans will resort to just about anything to stop this watered down health care bill right in its tracks, even if it means asking the American people to pray for somebody else‘s misfortune during this holiday season.  Check out this dandy from Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can‘t make the vote tonight.  That‘s what they ought to pray.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  Hoping for anyone not to show up for a vote is just plain wrong.  And asking the American people to pray for that is going too far.  Senator Dick Durbin seems to agree with me. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  I don‘t think it‘s appropriate to be invoking prayer to wish misfortune on a colleague.  I want him to clarify that.  I‘ve invited him.  I‘ve tried to reach out to him.  He is my friend and I have worked with him.  But this statement goes too far.  The simple reality is this: we are becoming more course and more divided here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  Now, I have seen the Republicans do just about everything possibly that they can to get in the way of progress.  I know that they are the party of no.  And, of course, Waterloo has been there them throughout all of this.  But that kind of talk on the Senate floor can only be—only be categorized as Psycho Talk.

Coming up, after the White House cut a deal with Big Pharma and killed the Dorgan amendment, where does that leave us on the public option?  David Axelrod changed his tune on “Meet the Press.”  We‘ll get to the bottom of that.  Stay with us, coming up in the playbook.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHULTZ:  In my playbook tonight, some optimistic game plans for health care reform; 30 Senate Democrats and the White House killed Byron Dorgan‘s drug reimportation amendment last week.  That was a major defeat for consumers who desperately need cheaper medication.  But maybe hope isn‘t lost. 

Our buddy David Axelrod said this on sundae. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  Let me be clear, the president supports reimportation, as he said safe reimportation of drugs into this country.  There‘s no reason why Americans should pay a premium for the pharmaceuticals that other people in other countries pay less for.  And we will move forward on it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  I hope you know something I don‘t know on this one, Mr.  Axelrod.  My next guest is former Congressional aide, who has a game plan to bring back both the drug reimportation and the public option, bring it right back to life.  Joining me now is columnist of “The Hill,” Brent Budowsky.  What‘s the play now, Brent?  Where do we go from here? 

BRENT BUDOWSKY, “THE HILL”:  I‘m going to end up on Fox News Psycho Talk for saying this, but my prayer is that the president and Democrats learn how to fight and fight and fight and stop surrendering. 

Number one, on the drug import, for lower priced safe drugs that 90 percent of the American people want, there are Republican votes planning aplenty to pass that.  That will pass with more than 60 votes in the Senate.  It will pass with a huge majority in the House.  The American people want it.  And it lowers the deficit.  And we will fight, in one way or another, and we will win that, and that will become law if we fight.  And as we say that we‘ll do that, the drug companies just might trade us the public option. 

Number two, right now under the Senate bill, they are re-legalizing price fixing and price gouging for insurers.  Under this bill, it‘s an invitation and a license—as we‘re going into a mandate and we‘re going to fine people and t tax people if they don‘t buy the insurance—we‘re allowing the drug—the insurers right now to sit back and say with each other, let‘s fix the market.  That‘s what the Senate does.  There are Republican votes in the Senate.  There are Republican votes in the House.  There are more than 60 votes in the Senate to join with Democrats and play hardball and make that law. 

SCHULTZ:  Got to ask you, Brent, about the mandate.  Does the mandate give a black eye to the progressives?  What do you think?

BUDOWSKY:  That depends on whether we fight in the conference committee on the House and win a better deal for the public option or the limits on the insurers.  The mandate is fine as long as the choices are good.  If the choices are bad, and we‘re going to tax people for not doing it, that becomes a disaster.

But what we need to do, Ed, is start talking about removing Joe Lieberman as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.  Every Democrat should call their senators and tell them to do that.  I would like to see a tough guy like George Mitchell, the former Majority Leader, be brought into the White House as a chairman. 

I want a president that doesn‘t go out on a day like this and say—everyone knows this is untrue—that what the Senate did was a defeat for the special interests, when in reality it was a victory for them. 

I‘ve had enough, as banks have had, as Americans.  This whole thing is just a give-away to Wall Street, insurers.

SCHULTZ:  Brent, it is a give-away.  There are some good things.  Good to have you with us.  Appreciate it, Brent Budowsky of “The Hill.” 

Tonight, I asked, is the health care bill change you can believe in? 

Thirty two percent of you said yes, and 68 percent said no. 

A final word tonight.  Through this entire process, I guess I could say I‘ve become more cynical.  Maybe I‘m more independent than I thought I was.  I wanted to believe in the Democrats.  I really thought that they would stand by principle and not turn this into a Senate hostage taking event.

Well, some things never change.  Money still talks and BS walks in DC.  The Dems are no different from the Republicans when it comes to money and influence.  The Dems, I think, are going to sell this hard to the public that this is reform.

But it‘s not.  This doesn‘t move us any closer to universal health care reform.  It helps some folks, true.  But it is controlled by the corporations that have been just gauging consumers for years.  I don‘t like it.

It does cover more Americans, no doubt about that, but it doesn‘t do it our way, the liberal way.  It doesn‘t do it the way we were told and sold.

I want to thank the listeners and the viewers of this show, who have e-mailed me over the months in support of this fight.  We fought the good fight and the encouragement has been felt and appreciated.  I just want you to know that I‘ll never give up.  I know you‘ll never give up.  We are in this together.  Let‘s keep going. 

That‘s THE ED SHOW.  I‘m Ed Schultz.  This is my favorite part of the show, to show this beautiful Christmas tree at 30 Rock in New York City.  Wendy went to buy a Christmas tree in Fargo today, and now I‘ve got to go home and decorate it.  I‘ll try to do it just like that.  Chris Matthews is next.  Have a great one.  We‘ll see you tomorrow.

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

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