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'Meet the Press' transcript for March 21, 2010

Transcript of the March 21, 2010 broadcast of NBC's "Meet the Press," featuring John Boehner, Steny Hoyer, Tim Kaine, Michael Steele, Anita Dunn, Ed Gillespie, Tavis Smiley and Chuck Todd.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday, decision time.  A special preview of the historic House vote on health care expected just hours from now.  Have the Democrats reached the magic number of 216 for passage after a personal visit from the president to House Democrats, Saturday?


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  It is in your hands.  It is time to pass healthcare reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  What will the final bill achieve?  With us exclusively, the leaders in the middle of the fight, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio.

Then, what are the stakes for the Obama presidency and how large will health care loom in the fall campaign?  The political debate this morning between the party chairmen, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine vs. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

Plus, insights and analysis on where the president goes from here with NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd; PBS's Tavis Smiley; former White House insider, Democrat Anita Dunn; and Republican Ed Gillespie.

And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, we remember Liz Carpenter, a pioneer in journalism, politics, and the women's rights movement who died yesterday at the age of 89.  Her feisty spirit was on display right here 33 years ago as she argued the case for the Equal Rights Amendment.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  But first, down to the wire on healthcare reform. The House votes just hours from now.  President Obama made a last-minute trip to the Hill yesterday afternoon for the final push.  Joining us now, two men at the center of that fight, House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Both of you, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS on a big day.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD):  Good to be with you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Leader Hoyer, you need...

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH):  Nice to see you.

MR. GREGORY:  ...216 votes.  Where are you this morning?

REP. HOYER:  We're going to get those 216 votes because we believe that they understand that Americans want healthcare reform by overwhelming majorities.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you have them as we sit here?

REP. HOYER:  I think we're going to have 216 votes when the roll is called, yes.

MR. GREGORY:  But not yet?  You're not nailed down.

REP. HOYER:  There's still member...

MR. GREGORY:  You--you're still a few behind.

REP. HOYER:  There's still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds.  But we think that there are going to be 216-plus votes when we call the roll.

MR. GREGORY:  What makes you so confident?  What's the final push?

REP. HOYER:  Because for a hundred years, over a hundred years, David, as you well know, presidents of both parties have been saying we need to make sure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. George Bush said that, his father said that, Richard Nixon said it in 1974.  So that this is the time to do it.  We've come the furthest we've ever come to get--getting this done, and we're going to get it done today in the House of Representatives.

MR. GREGORY:  Fair to say there will not be a vote called if you don't have the 216?

REP. HOYER:  We're going to have a vote.  We're going to have 216.

MR. GREGORY:  Either way?

REP. HOYER:  We're going to pass this bill.

MR. GREGORY:  Either way you'll have a vote?

REP. HOYER:  We're going, we're going to pass this bill, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Leader Boehner, do they have the votes?

REP. BOEHNER:  Well, it's clear from listening to Steny that they don't have the votes yet.  You have to think about this.  Fifty-four speeches by the president of the United States over the last year, a year's conversation with the American people, and they've been heavily engaged in this conversation for nine months.  The Senate bill's been out there now for three months.  And yet, after all of this hand-wringing, all of this debate, millions of Americans upset on both sides of this debate, we're about to make this historic change on a purely partisan vote.  And I think if the American people stay engaged in this fight for the next few hours, that this, this fight is not lost yet. This fight for having real healthcare reform on a step-by-step basis to make our current system work better really can happen.  But first, we have to stop this bill, which will ruin our economy, ruin our healthcare system, the best healthcare system in the world.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, you'll,

REP. HOYER:  David, let...

MR. GREGORY:'ll be able to respond to some of the substance of that. But I thought Rex Babin in the Sacramento Bee, a cartoonist, summed up what the final push really looks like in this cartoon.  You have Speaker Pelosi, or the rough rider, trying to herd cats literally in the
Democratic caucus.  To Leader Boehner's point, why is this vote so close? Does it have something to do with the fact that, if you look at the opinion surveys, the public's against it?

REP. HOYER:  No, I don't think that's right.  The Economist poll shows that the majority of Americans are for it.  Kaiser shows that Americans are for it. Wall Street Journal poll that came out just a few days ago shows that...

MR. GREGORY:  That's our poll.  That's not what it shows.  It shows...

REP. HOYER:  Forty-six, 45.

MR. GREGORY:  ...a majority want them to complete it, but the majority are opposed to it.

REP. HOYER:  Well, I think if you look at every one of the internals, David, about stopping insurance companies from preventing pre-existing conditions from getting insurance, from putting so much money on--you have to spend per year that you go bankrupt and not putting on lifetime caps, those insurance reforms, those process reforms to insurance companies that are hurting Americans are all supported by overwhelming numbers of people.

REP. BOEHNER:  Well, Steny, listen, there's no question...

REP. HOYER:  And people believe that we ought to have a, a national exchange so that the free market can be--operate so you can have transparency and competition.

Let me also say about this vote, David.  You remember the prescription drug bill?  You remember that it took them three hours, from 3 AM in the morning to 6 AM in the morning, to bludgeon their members to get it to pass.  And it was very controversial.  And guess what, people like that prescription drug program and, in fact, we're going to make sure that the
failures of that program to, to make sure all Americans could afford it, we're going to close the doughnut hole for seniors.  So I think that Americans are for this bill. What they don't like is the divisiveness, the confrontation and, very frankly, the misrepresentation.

REP. BOEHNER:  Oh, no.  David, David, there are insurance reforms and healthcare reforms that we can agree upon.  We talked about it at the White House during the summer.  But the--what the American people don't want is this big government takeover of our healthcare system--160 new boards, commissions, mandates, $500 billion in tax increases on an economy that, that is supposed to be producing jobs, and $500 billion being stolen from Medicare in order to fund a new government entitlement program.  They want no part of this.

REP. HOYER:  Government takeover...

MR. GREGORY:  Let, let me, let me interject a question.

REP. HOYER:  ...and stolen--John, you know that is not true.  It--this is not a government takeover, it's a creation of open markets with private insurance companies offering insurance to people who don't have it.

REP. BOEHNER:  It, it is a government takeover...

REP. HOYER:  It's not a government takeover.

REP. BOEHNER:  ...and, and a mandate on every American to have health insurance, a mandate on every employer to provide health insurance.  How about the health choices czar...

REP. HOYER:  But that's not accurate.

REP. BOEHNER:  ...that's going to decide what every health insurance policy in America looks like within five years.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me interject a question about the tone of this debate. This was the scene on Capitol Hill yesterday where you had tea party activists protesting the vote.  And in some cases it got quite ugly, where we had instances of anti-gay epithets being hurled at  Congressman Frank, racist epithets, as well, hurled by protesters.  Are you concerned, Leader Boehner, that the Republican Party is in any way associated with tea party activists who are among these protesters?

REP. BOEHNER:  Well, listen.  There were some isolated incidents on the Hill yesterday that were reprehensible and should not have happened.  But let's not let a few isolated incidents get in the way of the fact that millions of Americans are scared to death and millions of Americans want no part of this growing size of government here in Washington.  We've got
the best healthcare system in the world, and we're about to take this dangerous step, very dangerous step toward the government running the whole thing.  That's not what the American people want.

MR. GREGORY:  We--we've heard this debate over weeks and months, and we're not going to solve that now about--this is very much a question about the role of government in a, in a, in a system like health care. But I want to ask, first of all, Leader Hoyer, a comment on some of the, the protests that you saw yesterday and the tone of the debate at the end.

REP. HOYER:  I think the tone of this entire debate has been denigrated, has been brought down, frankly, by the rhetoric of "government takeover," "socialism," things that are simply not accurate or true.  But it has put people in fear.  And when they're fear--fearful and angry, they don't look at the substance.  But when you ask them questions about the substance of these bills, which is the point I made earlier, David, they say yes, that makes sense.  Yes, that's common sense.  Yes, that makes sense.  Whether it's the insurance reforms, the affordability.  This is the biggest deficit reduction bill that we're going to have the
opportunity to vote on in a very long period of time.

And very frankly, John Boehner said in 1993 that if we adopted President Clinton's economic program, the economy was going to go downhill very, very quickly, unemployment would rocket up and the deficits would explode.  Exactly the opposite happened.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we, we have...

REP. HOYER:  Best economy we've had in my lifetime.

REP. BOEHNER:  This will bankrupt our country.

MR. GREGORY:  This debate will play out.  But, Leader Hoyer...

REP. HOYER:  This time he says he's right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...I want to get to a couple of substantive points.

REP. HOYER:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  Very briefly, three top things that Americans will feel from healthcare reform this year.

REP. HOYER:  Availability of insurance, availability for small businesses. For seniors, the doughnut hole's going to be closed.  People who have children who are up to 25 or 26 years of age will have access to be on their insurance policies.  Immediate reduction in prices for small
business.  They're going  to have group--availability of group policies. And tax credits for small businesses and individuals to get insurance.

MR. GREGORY:  But the 32 million additional don't really start to get covered till 2014.

REP. HOYER:  No.  We'll--we'll phase them in.  That's accurate, David. And we're going to phase them in, because this is a very large, complex program. And we're going to have to...

REP. BOEHNER:  But, David, you're right.  Most of this doesn't go into effect for four years.

REP. HOYER:  Well, he's correct.

REP. BOEHNER:  Except the tax increases and the Medicare cuts go into effect immediately.

REP. HOYER:  No, no.

REP. BOEHNER:  So we've got 10 years of, of Medicare cuts, 10 years of tax increases to pay for six years of, of this new program.  And while the...

REP. HOYER:  John, you're making a point...

REP. BOEHNER: friend says...

REP. HOYER:  ...but we save over $1 trillion over the next 20 years.

REP. BOEHNER:  ...that we're, that we're, that we're going to save, we're going to save money from this is just not true.  The $300...

MR. GREGORY:  And, in fact, and in fact...

REP. BOEHNER:  ...billion of--to fix the doctor reimbursement problem is
not in the bill.

REP. HOYER:  And what's in, and what's in your bill, John?

REP. BOEHNER:  And everybody knows, and everybody knows that, that it's going to need to be dealt with.

REP. HOYER:  Why didn't you put it in your bill, John?

REP. BOEHNER:  They take, they take $70 billion out of the Class Act, this is the new long-term care insurance program, and they use it to pay for current benefits.  And the $500 billion they take out of Medicare--they're stealing from Medicare to start a new entitlement program, and if there's savings from Medicare, why wouldn't we roll it back in to save Medicare and, and to prolong the trust fund that's there to fund it?

MR. GREGORY:  Leader Boehner, there's a question of the cost of inaction, and Ron Brownstein writes about it in his National Journal column.  I want to put it up on the screen and have you react to it.  "In all," he writes, "CBO,” the Congressional Budget Office, “has projected that the
Senate bill would raise enough revenue and sufficiently cut existing spending to both cover its costs and reduce the federal deficit in the near and long term.  For fiscal hawks, that's a powerful" incentative "for action"--incentive, rather.  "But equally compelling could be the
price of inaction.  If Obama's plan fails, as President Clinton's did, it's likely that no president would attempt a seriously expand coverage for many years.  The independent Medicare actuary has projected that under current trends the number of uninsured will increase by 10 million, to about 57 million, by 2019.  Providing uncompensated care to so many uninsured people would further strain physicians and hospitals - and inflate premiums as those providers shift costs to their insured patients."

Why, based on that, would you not conclude that even a flawed bill, as you might see it, is still better than nothing?

REP. BOEHNER:  I don't disagree with what Ron wrote there, and there's nobody in talk--in Washington talking about inaction.  We've laid out commonsense steps that will lower the cost of health insurance according to the Congressional Budget Office by up to 10 percent, and this
step-by-step approach preserves the greatest healthcare system in the world.  It doesn't take this dangerous step toward, toward government-run health insurance.  And so we can take steps, and we need to take steps, but we need to do it together.  Never in the history of our country have we made such a big, momentous decision on a straight party-line vote.

REP. HOYER:  Well, we made a very big momentous decision in 1993, as I pointed out on a partisan line, no Republicans voted for it.  We had the best economy result in our lifetimes.  However, having said that, the dangerous takeovers, this language, really distracts us from the debate on the substance.  Harry and Louise said in 1994, "You're going to pay more and get less if we do something." We did nothing and guess what happened?  They paid more and they got less.

MR. GREGORY:  But in terms...

REP. HOYER:  This is--he's absolutely right when he makes that quote. This is an opportunity both to save money in the short term and in the long term. And, unlike your program, which included three million people, this includes 32 million people...

MR. GREGORY:  But the reality is, this assumes the Congress...

REP. HOYER: access.

MR. GREGORY:  ...will do what it says it will do going forward.

REP. HOYER:  Yes, it does.

MR. GREGORY:  And you know there is indeed the chance that some of the financing, raising taxes down the line, which won't happen until 2018, may not actually come to pass.  So you can't take these CBO numbers to the bank, can you?

REP. HOYER:  David, you're correct on that, and Congress is going to have to show courage, and the American people are going to have to show judgment as we go forward whatever we do.  You're absolutely right on that.  As somebody who believes that the fiscal posture confronting our country is one of the most serious that we have, and we need to get back
to fiscal discipline and fiscal balance.  And the surpluses that we had during the Clinton administration, you're absolutely right on that. We're going to have to show courage and do what we say we're going to do.

MR. GREGORY:  Leader Boehner, this is what you said about the politics of this decision for the November race.  This is what you said the other day.

(Videotape, Friday)

REP. BOEHNER:  The American people do not want any part of this, and if anyone thinks the American people are going to forget this vote, just watch.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  That to me--I may be wrong about this--that does sound like a threat.  Are Democrats going to lose the House in the fall because of this vote?

REP. BOEHNER:  I don't know whether they will or not.  Our goal is to gain the majority.  It's a steep climb, but we want the majority not for the sake of having the majority.  We want the majority so that we can renew our fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable

MR. GREGORY:  But the campaign in the fall will be about, for Republicans, will be about repealing health care?

REP. BOEHNER:  If, if this bill passes, we will have an effort to repeal the bill, and we'll do it the same way that we approached health care, on a step-by-step basis.  I'd have a bill on the floor the first thing out to eliminate the Medicare cuts, eliminate the tax increases, eliminate
the mandate that every American has to buy health insurance and the employer mandate...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  And, and...

REP. BOEHNER:  ...that's going to kill jobs.

MR. GREGORY:  And Republicans, they would cover far fewer people.  I mean, that's the vision that Republicans...

REP. HOYER:  Would you eliminate...

MR. GREGORY:  Leader Hoyer, wait a minute.  Before...

REP. BOEHNER:  Their plan will bankrupt our country, David!


REP. HOYER:  That's not what the CBO says.

MR. GREGORY:  Leader Hoyer, the impact on 2010?  Does this cost Democrats
the House?

REP. HOYER:  No.  I think we're going to win the House back.  I think the American public saw the Republican leadership for 12 years, and they decided they didn't like that in '06, and they decided they didn't like the Republican presidency either in '08.  And so they changed course, and they asked us to do strong things.  And John McCain in that campaign said, "What do we need?  We need to have Americans have access to affordable health care." All Americans. That's what John McCain said in the debate in '08.

REP. BOEHNER:  And I agree with him.

REP. HOYER:  Obama said the same thing, and that's what we're doing.

MR. GREGORY:  We are--we are out of time.  Leader Hoyer, how many votes shy are you as you sit here?

REP. HOYER:  We're going to get the votes.

MR. GREGORY:  Low single digits?

REP. HOYER:  We're going to get the votes.  Low single digits, certainly, but we're going to get the votes, and we're going to have those votes this afternoon.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, trying to pin you down.  Thank you both very much.

REP. HOYER:  Good try.

MR. GREGORY:  Up next, what are the stakes of this healthcare legislation for the Obama presidency, and how large will this issue loom in the fall campaign? An exclusive debate, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine vs. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.  Plus, insights and analysis on it all from our roundtable.  Chuck Todd, Tavis Smiley, Anita Dunn, and Ed Gillespie, only here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. GREGORY:  Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine and Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele square off in an exclusive debate after this brief commercial break.


MR. DAVID GREGORY:  We're back, joined now by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

All right, we just heard from the leaders about all of the runs, hits and errors on Capitol Hill today.  Let me ask a slightly larger question, Chairman Steele.  If this is victory for the president on health care, at what cost did he achieve it.

MR. MICHAEL STEELE:  I think his defeat in the fall, in November.  I think you cannot ignore the past year of voters out there at town halls, in tea parties, in gatherings around the country, talking and conversing with their congressmen and elected officials directly, and then not
having that listened to, having a deaf ear turned to them by the administration, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid.  And I think the ballot box will be the last voice in this, in this big campaign for health care because the voters have made it very clear in poll after poll.  They do not want what's presently being proposed, they want to take a slower step approach.  They want the reforms, but they want it in a way that really address the costs.  You're going to add 33 million people to the healthcare rolls.  How do you effectively pay for it?  And the way this is set up, those folks don't hit the rolls until 2014 and later, which  then jumps the cost of this to over $2 trillion.

MR. GREGORY:  But you wrote a, you wrote a letter this week to, to supporters of the RNC.

MR. STEELE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  And you say this, "After a year a pushing his radical socialist health care `reform' experiment, Obama has just a few more days to wait to see" if "his number one priority succeeded.  ... If Pelosi can successfully cajole, intimidate, coerce her Democrat majority into
approving a bill the American people are against by a 3:1 margin, Obama and the rest of the radical Democrats in Washington will see their dream of government-run, government-rationed health care come true." And, you know, critics of, of that kind of appeal with that sort of heavy rhetoric say this is a healthcare package that is more moderate than President Nixon actually put forward.

MR. STEELE:  Well, not the way the American people see it.  You're taking one-sixth of the economy, and you're basically turning it on a head--on its head where you've got more government controls put in place, more commissions, more regulatory processes that are put in place, $406 billion in new taxes, $507 billion in cuts to Medicare.  You've got this,
this 94--900--nine--what, $940 billion CBO number, which even they say, "Well, it's not the real number because there are other features of this that when they kick in will jump the cost over $2 trillion." So this is the, this is the predicate that has been laid for the healthcare
debate that concerns people.  I think that rhetoric is reflective of how people feel and, and the concern that they have.  And I think it's important for the administration and the leadership on the hill to understand that.

MR. GREGORY:  Governor, at what cost will victory be achieved?

FMR. GOV. TIM KAINE (D-VA):  David, this is going to be great for Democrats. You know, I've been on a ballot seven times and won seven races.  I would love to be running on this.  And I think the extreme nature of the rhetoric just shows how worried the other guys are.  Here's
what's going to happen.  This bill passes, right away seniors get a break on purchasing prescription medications.  Right away small businesses get a tax credit so they can afford to purchase insurance for their employees.  Right away parents will be able to keep kids on their
policies till they're 26 instead of 21.  And right away we stop the most heartless abuses of insurance companies kicking sick people around. That's going to happen right away.  The American public will see it. They won't see death panels, they won't see a government bureaucrat telling you to switch doctors, they won't see any of the phantoms that the other
guy's created.  And so if the--if going forward into 2010, if they want to campaign, as the leader said a minute ago, Leader Boehner, on repeal, let them do that just like Alf Landon campaigned to repeal Social Security in 1936.  This is going to be a big win for the American public, and every Democrat everywhere will get a tailwind because

MR. GREGORY:  But, Governor Kaine, you, you...

GOV. KAINE:  ...they will have solved the big issue and done it well.

MR. GREGORY:  You and the White House, certainly, Democrats, make the argument, `Let's pass this thing and you'll see the popularity increase.' Former President Clinton has said the same thing because people will like the individual elements of the bill, they're going to come around to this, even though a majority oppose the president's version of healthcare reform now. And yet, if you look at how the stimulus has fared, oh, those many months ago that it was passed, here's our latest poll that shows views about the stimulus package passed by the administration.  Forty-two percent think it's still a bad idea as opposed to 35 percent think it's a good idea.  What makes you so sure that people are going to come around on health care?

GOV. KAINE:  Well, well, look, David, here's the deal.  Before the stimulus was passed, the economy, as you know, was shrinking at 6 percent a year.  It's now growing at 6 percent a year.  Before the stimulus was passed, the American economy was losing 750,000 jobs a month.  Now we've got it back to net even. This is not primarily about politics, it's primarily about solving an issue that presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have tried to solve.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, that's a fair point.  But I'm asking you a political question, and it's not always about merits in politics.

GOV. KAINE:  But--OK.  Then let me get to politics.  Then let me get to the politics.

MR. GREGORY:  People don't feel the stimulus.

GOV. KAINE:  What, what they see about the healthcare bill is if--there are some polls, and you've cited them, that, overall, people have concerns.  Now, there were some polls this week that showed a majority are in favor.  In fact, in the last six weeks, there's been about a 13
point move in favor of healthcare reform.  But the thing that's important to know, and I know, I know you know this from your guys' own poll, if you poll about the individual elements, "What do you think about reforming insurance so that they can't kick people off when they get sick
or turn them down when they change jobs or because of pre-existing condition," the American public says thumbs up.  "What do you think about tax credits for small businesses?" Thumbs up.  "What do you think about parents having kids on their policy?" Thumbs up.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah, but you're repeating the point.  What I'm trying to make--say is that, that the package deal on the stimulus has not borne fruit, and what makes you so sure that it's going to bear fruit on...

GOV. KAINE:  But it has borne fruit.  The, the economy is now starting to go the right direction again.  It was in a free fall, and the other guys wouldn't even pull the rip cord.

MR. STEELE:  But you're not, but you're not creating jobs, Governor. You're not--that's the core of this, this debate, really, is not so much about health care...

GOV. KAINE:  CBO says we are creating jobs.

MR. STEELE:'s more about--well, tell that to the person who just got a pink slip yesterday.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

GOV. KAINE:  Well...

MR. STEELE:  Because the reality of it is that people are still being  aid off, jobs are not being created, and now you're about to take one-sixth of the nation's economy and turn it on its head at a time when you can ill afford to do that.  And the legacy here--this is the key thing that we need to focus on--if we don't get this right now--and I think we're both in agreement that we need to get this right--but if we don't get it right, future generations are--will not forgive us for passing on the debt and deficits that will come as a result of spending money we do not have today.

GOV. KAINE:  Well, David...

MR. GREGORY:  Well, let, let, let me, let me ask...

GOV. KAINE:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  ...the other political kind of corollary to this.  Here's a poll about Congress, which we'll prepare, shows how people feel.  The question was, "Would you vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including your own representative?" Fifty percent say yes. So in that case, Chairman Steele, how, how do you frame the debate about health care in the fall?  Is it about repeal?

MR. STEELE:  It--absolutely it's about repealing.  You know who's framing the debate this fall?  The people are.  That's the beauty of what's happening right now.  You've seen this surge across the spectrum--right, left, center--people expressing what they want.  The problem has been from the very beginning of this debate, David, that the leadership has not listened.  This administration, this Congress has not listened to what people wanted.  They've gotten on their cell phones in the middle of town hall meetings, they've asked for IDs.  Here in northern Virginia, at--in town hall meetings, you know, before you speak, you've got to let me know if you're in my district.  People have an expression they want to make on this, on this healthcare debate, on the economy, and the administration and the Congress hasn't let them do it. So, yes, this is very much about those things.

MR. GREGORY:  Before you respond to the poll...

GOV. KAINE:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  ...what about the tone of the debate?  I asked the leaders about this.  Some of the racial epithets, anti-gay epithets among tea party activists.  Is there a danger for Republicans to be associated with the tea party movement?

MR. STEELE:  Well, we're not associate--well, we're not--no, it's not a danger to be associated with the tea party movement.  It is--it's certainly not a reflection of the movement or the Republican Party when you have some idiots out there saying very stupid things.  So, as, as the leader said, as Leader Boehner said, that's reprehensible, we do not support that.  You can have this debate without, without attacking a member of Congress personally.

MR. GREGORY:  But do you think some of your own rhetoric in the RNC, that slide show you had from your finance director vilifying the speaker and the president, talking about socialist health care.  Do you think...

MR. STEELE:  Inappropriate, as I said, inappropriate, and it should not
have happened.  And we've dealt...

MR. GREGORY:  But what about your own fundraising letter?  Does that kind of rhetoric spur activism that gets to a point of ugliness?

MR. STEELE:  Well, there's a fine line between engaging your donors and your activists to get them fired up and go out, going out and, and do for you, to raise money, etc., and saying something, as we've heard yesterday, that are racial epithets and anti-gay language.  There's a very--there's a very bright line there for us to not cross.  And nothing we've done or said on either side, Democrat or Republican, in the hot rhetoric of this, you know, I think comes to that.  What you had out there yesterday were a handful of people who just got stupid and, and said very ignorant things.  And neither party, I believe, are associated--or should be associated with that.

MR. GREGORY:  Governor Kaine, let me get you back to the framing the fall.

GOV. KAINE:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  You've got stubborn joblessness, a high unemployment rate. How do Democrats use this healthcare vote to campaign in the fall?

GOV. KAINE:  Sure.  We're the solutions party, David.  That's the way we use it.  I think the overheated rhetoric is one of the reasons why people, when they're asked about Congress, say things like, "Well, we should replace it," because they want to see not rhetoric but results.
And so what we've seen with the Democrats over the last year and a half is the economy was in a free fall, and the previous administration wouldn't even pull the rip cord to, you know, pull out the parachute. This president has done the heavy lifting to get the economy growing again.  He's done the heavy lifting to stop the job losses, and we're doing the heavy lifting to do something that presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have tried, which is provide security to the Americans with insurance and a path to coverage to those who don't have it.  And
finally, as the CBO said, tackling the unsustainable growth in healthcare costs.  That's what this bill does.  I think the American public will always reward problem solvers over the folks who just, you know, throw rhetorical arguments and red meat to their base.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, let...

GOV. KAINE:  And we're solving problems.  And that's how we win in November.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me conclude with this.  I want to put something on the screen that Ron Brownstein also--National Journal wrote about what we've learned about the president's leadership approach to issues like this. And this is what he wrote:  "The [health care] fight has opened a second window into Obama.  The key here is the '08 campaign assertion that
`Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America' more than Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton did.  The ...  struggle suggests that Obama views changing that trajectory as the ultimate measure of a presidency's success.  His aim is to establish a long-term political direction - one
centered on a more activist government.  ...  Everything else - the legislative tactics, even most individual policies - is negotiable.  He wants to chart the course for the supertanker, not to steer it around each wave or decide which crates are loaded into its hull."

From each of you, what have we learned about the president's approach to his job, to his presidency?

MR. STEELE:  I think he hit it right on the head.  He--this is a president who believes fundamentally in an activist government, not an activist business class, not an activist community of investors and, and those who will create the wealth in an economy.  He sees that being centered--coming out of the federal government, using the institutions and the apparati of, of federal government to achieve those ends.  That is not what this country was founded on.  It is--fundamentally goes against every economic approach that we've had. Whether you like capitalism or not, it has provided for the wealth that's been created in
this nation.  It has not been created by government.  And that, for me, is a fundamental difference between a Ronald Reagan and a Barack Obama.

MR. GREGORY:  What have we learned?

GOV. KAINE:  David, what I'll say is what we've learned is that the president is good to his campaign promise.  He campaigned on the status quo is not working for the American public.  The, the decade of the--you know, the first decade of this century people lost income, we were losing jobs, the stock market was tanking, lax regulation led to meltdowns in the financial industry. And the president campaigned saying we've got to change direction if we're going to serve our people and be competitive in a global economy.  And that's why we see the heavy lifting to get the economy going again, to find a better energy future, to reform education,
and, yes, to do what so many presidents have tried to do, solve Americans' pressing health problems.

I met a firefighter this week who has got, a daughter's about ready to graduate from college who's got a, you know, congenital illness and said she's going to go off his policy and what can he do?  When a bill like this passes and parents can keep kids on their policy till they're 26 or
seniors get a break, we'll be solving problems.  That's what this president was elected to do.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you think that, either of you, that you'll be back here on this program discussing grand consensus between Republicans and Democrats in the course of this administration on another issue?

MR. STEELE:  I hope so.

GOV. KAINE:  I do.  I do, yeah.

MR. STEELE:  I--yeah, I hope so.  I really do, because the country can't take what we've just spent the last year doing.  We cannot, we cannot approach the big issues that we face the way we have.  You cannot claim bipartisanship but then not invite the Republican leadership to the table or even to be in the room.  You cannot...

MR. GREGORY:  That, of course, would be disputed.

GOV. KAINE:  And, David, and here--I mean, here's a good sign.  Senator Schumer and Senator Graham had an article that came out just two days ago talking about the fact that there can be bipartisan agreement on comprehensive immigration reform.  And I think there are a whole series of issues where there can be.  I wish that there had been some Republicans who would get on board with the healthcare bill that, frankly, owes an awful lot to their ideas.  They're going to miss this opportunity, but there are going to be other opportunities.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, to be continued.  Thank you both very much.

MR. STEELE:  All right.

MR. GREGORY:  Up next, where does President Obama go from here?  Plus, the very latest on the American public's attitude toward the president and Congress from our Wall Street Journal poll with NBC.  Our roundtable weighs in:  NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd; PBS's Tavis Smiley; former White House insiders, Democrat Anita Dunn and Republican Ed Gillespie. It's all after this brief station break.


MR. DAVID GREGORY:  We're back with our roundtable:  former White House advisers, two insiders, Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Anita Dunn; Chuck Todd of NBC News, our chief White House correspondent and political director; as well as Tavis Smiley of PBS.

Welcome to all of you.  Let's get right into it.  Here was the president on Friday, the, the "close the sale" rally that he had.  And he had some interesting things to say.  Listen to this.

(Videotape, Friday)

PRES. OBAMA:  I don't know how passing health care will play politically, but I know it's right.  Ted--Teddy Roosevelt knew it was right.  Harry Truman knew when it was right.  Ted Kennedy knew it was right.  And if you believe that it's right, then you've got to help us finish this

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  He, he mentioned some former presidents and, of course, Ted Kennedy, all of whom couldn't get health care done.  If, indeed, it proves that he does get it done, is this his crowning achievement?  Is this what puts him in the history books, Anita?

MS. ANITA DUNN:  You know, David, I would think that given the fact that he's got another two and a half years of his administration, there would be other achievements as well.  But there's no question this would be a huge thing for the American people, for this Congress, and for this presidency to show that you really can still deal with big issues in this town, which is something many people have thought just wasn't possible. And the political courage of taking on a very complex, very difficult issue that Republican and Democratic presidents have tried to deal with for over a century now, is something that I think would be a significant achievement.  But the winners?  The American people who don't have to worry about insurance.

MR. GREGORY:  Ed Gillespie, you've been here in--inside the White House, dealing with very tough, controversial, big issues under President Bush. What does this mean for President Obama?  Do you see it differently?

MR. ED GILLESPIE:  No.  Look, if he gets this done, it is historic.  I think it's historically bad and that there will be a real price to pay for it in November.  But there's no doubt, I mean, the way they have pushed this bill through is going to have a long-term effect, not only on our health care and our economy, but also on the future of Washington.  And for someone who ran as a post-partisan, this has been a very partisan process.  And 10 years from now when there's a discussion on the roundtable about why is the Senate now just like the House in terms of
the civil discourse and the lack of bipartisanship and the, you know, the polarizing nature of it, we'll look back and say, "Well, remember in--when they did health care, they got rid of the 60-vote margin and now the Senate lives by a simple majority rule," and that's going to have
long-term impact as well.  It's negative.

MR. GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, you study our polling, you're involved with our polling, of course.  I think it's fair to say, left, right and center, the American people expected more from Washington on this.

MR. CHUCK TODD:  They did.  I mean, clearly this issue of polarization is something that is frustrating, particularly the middle.  And one thing I think we forget, though, is on the issue of health care is that this actually gets at the philosophical divide between Democrats and
Republicans.  I've asked many a Republican and many a Democrat on this issue, is health care coverage a right or a privilege?  And that divide in it, it is a philosophical divide. So, on this issue, it shouldn't be surprising that we're sitting here so polarized.  It's sort of the
fundamental reason why somebody's a Democrat, believing in a more activist government, or somebody's a Republican, believing in keeping government smaller.  It's so--sometimes I--you know, when I was hearing the two party chairmen saying, "Well, maybe on immigration, maybe on energy they can come"--well, that's because they, actually, are regional differences, this isn't a philosophical divide.  This is truly one of the great philosophical divides of American politics.

MR. GREGORY:  Tavis, when you, when you strip away all the process, which will melt away over time, and even, even some of the rancorous feelings about all that, you'll be left with whether this makes people better off or not.

MR. TAVIS SMILEY:  I think the president deserves great respect for having the courage to take this issue on.  Seven presidents have tired heretofore, and they've all failed.  So I think he gets credit for taking it on.  There's some good stuff in this bill; there's some bad stuff in
this bill.  I think we have another four years of a death sentence, quite frankly, for people who do have pre-existing conditions who aren't going to be covered for four years. It takes too long to phase this thing in. I think, additionally, that it's not just the American people who might
win today, if this vote can pass--30, 31, 32 million more Americans are covered.  That's a good thing.  But it's also true that the insurance people are the real winners here.  There is so much more that this bill should have been, to your question to Chuck a moment ago.  Americans expected more.  The insurance companies really won here.

When I was last around this table, that week the stock of the insurance companies hit a 52-year high.  They are happy about this vote today given what it could have been.  And so I think that, you know, there's a lot to be done here.  Speaker Gingrich, former Speaker Gingrich, yesterday suggested that Democrats should pass this, and that it's good if they pass it because it's going to hurt them the way that the Democrats were hurt after LBJ crushed--pushed through civil rights legislation.  If that--first of all, it's a bad analogy to the speaker, number one.  But secondly, there are some things that are just right, and if you're going
to lose, go down swinging.  And I think this is an issue that's serious for all Americans.

MS. DUNN:  Well, I do have to respond to that, David, because if it's so good for the insurance companies, Tavis, why have they spent $200 million trying to defeat this?  Why has there been such a pitched battle from that particular interest group and from those groups?  I mean the reality of this is, for all the Republicans have talked about how it's a government takeover, this is very similar, as Chairman Kaine said, to, you know, a--the Republican approach from 1993.  What it says to the American people, David, is that it--Washington has changed, that they're
ready to stand up to one of the most powerful groups of interests, the insurance companies, that they're ready to stand up to the forces of fear that have kept people from dealing with this issue for so long, and that the reality is that, as of next week at this time, you're going to be talking about the fact that college students can stay on their parents policies after they graduate in May and June this year until they're 26, that they won't be without insurance.  You're going to be talking about the fact that children who have pre-existing conditions can  get insurance, which they cannot do right now.  You're going to be talking about small businesses getting tax credits to cover their employees. You're going to be talking about very different things that are all huge benefits.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, well, we'll--and I want to get some of the...

MS. DUNN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: the politics lays out.

MS. DUNN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  But let's, let's talk--this question, Chuck, of at what cost is victory achieved.  What are the leadership lessons of this healthcare fight for the administration?

MR. TODD:  Well, I think they're going to, at this point, look at a couple of things.  Number one, the mistake of letting Congress write this thing.  The mistake of just putting it all on them and it was sort of overlearning--you know, I think every presidency does this, they overlearn the conventional wisdom, mistakes of the previous presidency. And in this one, the overlearned lesson here with, "Well, we didn't work--Bill Clinton didn't work with Congress close enough.  Didn't, didn't do these things." And so they let it happen, and let it--they let too many odd issues bubble up and sort of over, overtake some of the bigger, the bigger issues.  And then you look at the bipartisanship.  I mean, the fact is they had Olympia--the White House had Olympia Snowe, and they wouldn't even have been worrying about Scott Brown, they probably would have had this thing passed two months ago.  And Harry Reid lost Olympia Snowe.  And when they lost even the one or two Republicans that they could have gotten, it set up the situation that they're facing today.

MR. GREGORY:  And Ed, as we brought up with the party chairman, they are still counting on a strategy where they hope support increases--and White House advisers say they believe this--that there actually will be increased support once it gets passed, once it gets past a point of

MR. GILLESPIE:  Yeah.  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  But then you look at the stimulus example...


MR. GREGORY:  ...where that still hasn't come to pass yet.

MR. GILLESPIE:  A couple of points.  One, they've clearly made the, the determination politically that they are more damned if they don't than damned if they do.  I disagree with that.  I think passing this bill is going to result not only in a Republican takeover of the House in November, I think we could possibly take over the Senate at this point, which I have not said before and not felt before.  But if they jam this through the Senate and through the House, I think we can.  There's going to be a lot of blood on the floor at the end of the day, and it's not going to be Republican blood.

Second, I'm not sure it's, it's actually--we're talking here as though it's a done deal and that it's going to pass.  And my head says that's the case because, if the speaker of the House brings a bill to the floor, generally it passes.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GILLESPIE:  But my gut tells me it may not be.  I mean, I think we could be in for a very long day, and it's not--it would not surprise me, at the end of the day, if this bill collapses.

MR. GREGORY:  Anita, to that point, do...

MR. TODD:  Kansas was supposed to beat Northern Iowa.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Exactly, yeah.  The speaker's always the number one seed.

MR. GREGORY:  Inside the White House, do they think this is done?

MS. DUNN:  Inside the White House, they believe that by the end of the day we will see a vote in the House...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. DUNN:  ...that will pass this bill.

MR. GREGORY:  Which is pretty dynamic for a Sunday, the fact they will...

MS. DUNN:  Well, I was going to say that's not the typical Sunday conversation.

MR. GREGORY:  So a lot could happen, yeah.  Not a typical Sunday.  A lot can happen.

MS. DUNN:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  Let's play a little bit of politics here, OK?  Another president says he doesn't know how it plays politically, and that we're sort of obsessed with that here.

MS. DUNN:  Fortunately, he's got people like us for him.  So...

MR. GREGORY:  Yes, exactly right.  And he doesn't face the voters.  Let's look, everybody around the table, at a couple of voters--a couple of congressman who are voting; one no, one yes.  Here's Representative Jason Altmire.  He's from western Pennsylvania.  He'll be voting no.  He has cited a lot of constituents as being overwhelmingly opposed to this.  He faced some steelworkers who staged a sit-in in his office just yesterday urging him to do the right thing and vote for the bill.  He is from a very tough district that McCain carried 55-44 in 2006.

Now on the other side you have John Boccieri.  He is voting yes now after voting no in November.  He's a Democrat.  He was just elected in '08. Another tight district, 50 percent McCain to Obama, 48, just in 2008.  He says now something is better than nothing.

Chuck, what are the consequences for each of these congressmen as they go into the fall?

MR. TODD:  I'll say this.  I do think that we're--we--to assume that the next six months is going to look like it looks today is, is clearly--to say that is clearly you haven't watched American politics over the last three cycles.  To sustain this anger and this, and this ability to rally conservatives, rally independents against Democrats in some of these swing districts I think is going to be tricky.  That said, you know, look, there are some guys who have--who basically made the decision "Well, it is easier to go down.  At least the base of the Democratic
Party will be with me in the fall and, you know, this is going to be a base turnout election, so don't depress the base." I mean, that was sort of the political argument that they were saying.  But I'll tell you, look, with the middle, you know, if they don't see what they're
getting--and see that's  I think going to be the tricky thing.  Selling this thing in six months.  People aren't going to see the fact...

MR. SMILEY:  I respect Chuck's analysis, and I think he's right about this, but here's, here's the problem--and I'm not naive when I say this and know that I'm sitting in Washington this morning--the problem with Washington is that everything is about political calculation.  It's never about doing the right thing on behalf of the American people.  It's about, "Is this going to help me?  Is this going to hurt me?  Does it help or hurt in my fundraising? Am I going to win or am I going to lose?" LBJ did the right thing on civil rights because it was right for the
country.  You cannot become a transformational president, we cannot become transformational people if everything is about media, market, and political calculation; and that's what's wrong with these very graphs, that nobody's getting to the heart of the fact that Americans are  dying in this debate.  We've never talked about even health disparities.  I was in Chicago yesterday.  Thirty-two hundred black folk every year die in  Chicago just because of health disparities.  So it's--we got to move beyond this--again, I'm not naive here, but we got to move beyond political calculation if we're going to advance these big issues in America.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, but do you think that congressmen, the two of which I just cited, are they capable of moving beyond that calculation?

MR. SMILEY:  I, I don't, I don't know them personally.  I think Washington in general has not, has not proven of late that they're capable.

MR. GREGORY:  Because if they, if they feel that they want to, they still have to get through the clearing gate of an election.

MR. SMILEY:  Absolutely.

MR. GREGORY:  And that's the reality.

MR. SMILEY:  Yeah.  I don't know them personally, I just know...


MR. SMILEY:  ...that when you look at Washington at a glance, it certainly appears, I think, to the everyday American...

MR. GREGORY:  Well, Ed, and so, the, the question in '94 was, was it better for Republicans to have a bill passed or not to have a bill passed?


MR. GREGORY:  What's better for Republicans in 2010?

MR. GILLESPIE:  Well, I think actually to run against this bill--look, when this bill passes, people say, "Oh, it's going to get better over time." I don't think that's the case.  I think as the details of what's in there gets out there more, voters hear about it, understand it.  I understand there's $10 billion in funding for the IRS to collect the new  taxes, to enforce the individual mandate.  It would take 16,500 new IRS officials to do all of this. This is massive.  And when people see it, and I know Democrats take umbrage to "Oh, it's government takeover," it is a government takeover.  That's what's going on here.  And the voters are going to see it, and they're going to reject it.  And, and one last thing, sorry, but...


MR. GILLESPIE: know, yes, politics.  We live in a representative democracy and the majority of voters think this is a bad idea, and the majority in Congress are going to disregard that and do it anyway.  And the majority of voters, I believe, in November are going to say, "OK, well, we told you so."

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  Well, President Bush also got the surge through when the public was against the war.

MR. GILLESPIE:  I agree with that, David.  There's no doubt about it. And, and, look, there are, there are times and I think national security is an area where I think, as commander-in-chief, you have to.  You have a moral obligation to do that.  I know the president feels he has a moral obligation to do this.  I think the voters will see it differently.  I also think the outcomes will be different.  The surge worked.  I don't think this bill's going to work.

MS. DUNN:  You know, after this bill becomes law, the Earth is not going to stop spinning on its axis, David, OK?  The sky is not going to fall. And I think that the, the Republican characterization of the bill, a "government takeover, next week you won't get to go see your doctor, you're going to be kicked out of your insurance and some bureaucrat in Washington is going to take over," which doesn't happen, it just won't happen, that I think that the way the Republicans have framed this thing and the scare tactics they've used will work against them once this becomes law because the bad things will not happen.

MR. GREGORY:  But you--don't you have to concede, as Leader Hoyer did, and this goes to your point, I think, Tavis...

MR. SMILEY:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  ...which is there may be celebrations in the White House and on Capitol Hill if this thing gets done, but there are a lot of assumptions about this bill, including the financing, including the budgetary impacts, that you cannot take to the bank unless future Congresses have the courage to live up to all the obligations that this Congress didn't have the courage to do.  Fair point?

MS. DUNN:  Here's the deal, David, which is the assumptions in the bill about both the spending piece and the savings piece, do depend on future action, but this Congress is showing amazing courage of putting the framework in place.  I also have to tell you, throughout this debate, the
Republicans have loved to cite CBO when they're talking about spending, and they ignore them when they're talking about the savings.  It's necessary to do this, to reduce costs in the long run.  And this Congress is showing the courage, and future ones will as well.

MR. GREGORY:  I got to make that the last word.  To be continued.  It's going to be a dynamic day.  Thank you all.

Up next, our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, remembering Liz Carpenter, a pioneer in journalism, politics, and the women's right movement, who died yesterday at the age of 89, after this brief station break.


MR. DAVID GREGORY:  We are back with our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, remembering noted feminist, prolific author, and celebrated humorist Liz Carpenter.  She died yesterday at the age of 89.  Carpenter started her career as a newspaper reporter and went on to become the first female executive assistant to Vice President Lyndon Johnson and then the press secretary to the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson.  Carpenter appeared here on MEET THE PRESS in 1977 as the co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus to debate the Equal Rights Amendment with Phyllis Schlafly, the founder and national chairman of Stop ERA.

(Videotape, November 20, 1977)

MS. ELLEN GOODMAN:  Ms. Carpenter, we seem to be reading polls this morning. I read a poll this morning by a Catholic organization which said that 68 percent of the Catholics were pro-ERA but anti-abortion.  These two issues have been linked very strongly in the minds of the public. You are either pro-ERA and pro-abortion or anti-ERA and anti-abortion. Yet there seems to be quite a split.  And has the ERAmerica done anything?  Is--are women who are anti-abortion welcome in the pro-ERA movement?

MS. LIZ CARPENTER:  Absolutely.  As a matter of fact, I, I hope that America will read the national plan of action because it will deny a great many of the things that Mrs. Schlafly has been saying across this country.  The ERA has nothing to do with abortion, nothing to do with
co-ed bathrooms, nothing to do with all of the horrors which she has spread across the country in speeches throughout the country.  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.  It simply says that.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  One other note about Carpenter:  On that tragic day, November 22, 1963, the day President John F.  Kennedy was assassinated, Carpenter, as an aide to Vice President Johnson, drafted the 58 words Johnson spoke to a grief-stricken nation.


PRES. LYNDON B. JOHNSON:  This is a sad time for all people.  We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed.  For me, it is a deep personal tragedy.  I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear.  I will do my best.  That is all I can do.  I ask for
your help and God's.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Liz Carpenter and her family are in our thoughts and prayers this morning.  We'll be right back.


MR. DAVID GREGORY:  That's all for today.  Stay with NBC News and MSNBC for complete coverage of the historic House vote later today, including a wrap-up on "Nightly News" tonight.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.