October 19, 2009

You've just got to love this framing for Chris Matthews' first panel segment on his weekend bobble head show. Does President Obama have the "bedside manners" to tell the left they're not going to get a public option? How about this one instead Chris? Does President Obama have the "bedside manners" to tell anyone who wants to filibuster a public option to break out the cots and the Depends? How's that for a different lead in to this segment Chris? In case you didn't notice, it takes 51 votes to get something passed in the United States Senate, not 60. It's time for the Democrats to quit allowing these silent filibusters.

INTRO: Bedside manners--the time is coming when our Democratic President will have to break the bad news to his liberal supporters and have to tell them that they can't get the kind of health care bill on which they have set their hearts. Does he have the strong bedside manner to give them the bad news and still keep their spirits up?


MATTHEWS: Boy, Dan, this is a rock and a hard place. The liberals in the Congress are pushing and pushing, and the president has to face reality. He needs 60 senators, 218 members of the Congress.

Mr. DAN RATHER: Uh-huh.

MATTHEWS: Can both meet peacefully?

Mr. RATHER: No. The president isn't going to get a--the--what's been described as a public option. He may get something close to that, something he can camouflage up as if--he isn't going to get it. And this is going to take a long time, Chris. I wouldn't be surprised if we aren't talking about this same subject late into December. And there is the question of public fatigue. I think he will get a bill, I think it will be progress along the lines of health care reform, but he's going to need a health care reform number two. And whether he can get that in an election year of 2010 is a real open question.

MATTHEWS: Kelly, you cover it all the time, and my question is, can you square a circle? You've got people on the Republican side now, Olympia Snowe, who's aboard so far. Maybe Susan Collins, the other senator from Maine. Maybe, maybe. But you've also got Joe Lieberman of Connecticut saying, `I'm here for the--for the insurance industry of Hartford. I'm not going to be for this bill as it stands.'

Ms. KELLY O'DONNELL: Well, getting all the Democrats will be tough if you're talking about a government insurance plan. That is going to be difficult because not only Joe Lieberman, but there are a number of moderates. When you're talking about Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins, the Republican ladies of Maine who get a lot of attention, they're kind of--they're using their influence really effectively right now. They still can have a phone call with the president, a one-on-one meeting with the president, which most Republicans don't have any chance of having, and they're still also talking to Republicans, expressing concerns about what it would cost, how big the change would be, could government be competent to have this kind of a program. So they're keeping the conversation going. In the end you could see Snowe, you could see Collins joining on, but that might be crucial to get to 60 because you may lose some of the moderate Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Right. Well, that's what I don't get here. Helene, jump in here. I mean, you cover the White House. How in the world does this president deliver health care if the price is a public option, when so many people who will have to vote for this to pass are against it? I don't see how it works.

Ms. HELENE COOPER: I mean, I think that's why you're now seeing people talking--floating ideas about compromises. Olympia Snowe, for instance, has brought up this trigger mechanism. And Chuck Schumer has brought that, something where you might see some sort of default position that the White House has indicated they might be interested in as well. A couple of administration officials said this week that they thought this was a good idea, where a public option could be left to the states. I think you're seeing--you're seeing people looking for different wiggle room and different ways to call it--call it what it's not, maybe.


O'DONNELL: (Unintelligible)...compromise.

MATTHEWS: But the problem, Andrew, at some point it's either going to be a trigger that really works or not. And it looks like a phony trigger, if it looks like a phony compromise, there's not going to be health care. The left--and I mean a lot of top leaders like Schumer, on both coasts--are going to be very angry and won't maybe vote for the bill.

Mr. ANDREW SULLIVAN: That may be true. I mean, what's going on in the Congress is right now a Rubik's Cube, which every week it's shifting around. I think we shouldn't predict anything at this point, because they're all keeping their options open. I would say the public option is not dead for a couple of reasons, and the first is that it actually will reduce the deficit. In other words, there is a fiscally conservative argument for a public health option. Secondly, I think there is another kind of conservative argument for it, which is it really does increase choice for people. When Bill O'Reilly says, `Why couldn't we have that option for ourselves?' he's representing, I think, a lot of what people believe in the country. And many of the things we're trying to do in this bill we just don't know how they're going to work out. We don't know. So why not use the federalist system to have little experiments with public options? Let the people of the states decide if they want to include or not. I think they've shrewdly maneuvered themselves into position where we're now debating the public option.

MATTHEWS: The president has a goal here, and this gets to the question: Does the president want a bill more than he wants anything in particular in it, Dan?

Mr. RATHER: He does want a bill, but he does want a public option, or as close to it as he can get. With that, he's not just talking for political purposes.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, I guess I'm skeptical.

Ms. O'DONNELL: But...

Ms. COOPER: They're not--they're not sounding resigned at this point at the White House at all. I mean, I think--I think Dan's--right.

MATTHEWS: So what do they make of people like Olympia Snowe, who's been so prominent here, saying `no way, Jose'; Susan Collins, who might come aboard, no way; Lieberman openly saying he's here--and he's a smart guy, openly saying, `I'm here for Connecticut. I'm here for the insurance industry,' just saying it?

Ms. COOPER: Yeah. I think you put Lieberman aside. I think they think they can work a lot more with Snowe and Susan Collins than with Joe Lieberman, to tell the truth.

MATTHEWS: As replacement parts.

Ms. COOPER: Yeah.

Ms. O'DONNELL: But part of it--I think you--he wants to have that lasting image, that for decades now we'll have that iconic moment of him signing whatever this legislation is.

MATTHEWS: So a bill.

Ms. O'DONNELL: Now, details are important.

MATTHEWS: `There's a paper here, I'm signing it.'

Ms. O'DONNELL: Yes. But that moment will live long beyond his presidency, and they can claim victory and define victory on a lot of different terms.

MATTHEWS: Could it be that a lot of the people on the left, on the progressive side will say if it hadn't been for this lousy economy this year, with jobless almost at 10 percent, there would have been a real shot for a real public option taking effect immediately. Do you buy that, Andrew, that if the economy...

Mr. SULLIVAN: I think the reverse is true. I think that the economy's making a public option more appealing, because people are tight, and this might actually give them a cheaper health insurance plan. It may not come with all the...

Ms. O'DONNELL: Afraid of losing their jobs.

Mr. SULLIVAN: ...bells and whistles, but, you know, people are looking for economy items in this--in this economy.

MATTHEWS: OK. I...(unintelligible). How can you sell spending another trillion dollars on health care after you bailed out all these top industries with all the billion-dollar payouts already, trillion-dollar bailouts already?

Ms. O'DONNELL: Well, there's enormous frustration about that, enormous frustration.

MATTHEWS: There's no money left in the cash register.

Ms. O'DONNELL: And if you can personalize it to people's own checkbooks and budgets, they sort of get that. But if you're talking about the larger economy, people are afraid of being without health care. If they lose their job or they're forced into part time...


Ms. O'DONNELL: ...that's compelling for a lot of people.

Mr. SULLIVAN: And, look, even though everybody's scared of the government running anything--I sure am--the alternative are these insurance companies that don't seem to be able to run--we've all had nightmares of bureaucracy with insurance companies. It feels like the government without any of the benefits of cheaper services.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's the great question.

Mr. SULLIVAN: So, I mean...

MATTHEWS: Andrew, you're--OK.

Mr. SULLIVAN: ...I think that's where we're at.

MATTHEWS: I've got--I never thought I'd ask this question. Why is it some people trust private enterprise even when it's failed more than they do government when it hasn't failed yet?

Mr. SULLIVAN: Because they're ideologues, they haven't actually looked at reality. And conservative--real conservatives will look at reality and say, `This isn't working. It has not worked. How do we get it to work?' A public option gets it to work a little better, maybe. Let's try it out. I mean, this is--this is like FDR. We have to keep trying stuff.

MATTHEWS: You're laughing, Helene.

Ms. COOPER: No, I want Andrew to say what he really thinks.

MATTHEWS: No, because I think--I think that you're speaking for the progressive side. But a lot of people in the...

Mr. SULLIVAN: I don't think of that that way.


Mr. SULLIVAN: I'm think I'm speaking for common sense here.


Mr. SULLIVAN: I don't...(unintelligible)...progression.


Mr. RATHER: This is worth noting, though, that as this long battle gets even longer and stretches over the next month and a half, two months, the insurance companies, we know that they're swarming Capitol Hill with lobbyists. This is--this is the point the president can take advantage of in saying, `Look, the insurance companies are no better than the banks at running things. They're part of the problem.'


Mr. RATHER: And that may be a slight advantage for him as we go along.

MATTHEWS: He hasn't done that yet, Dan, has he?

Ms. COOPER: That's all...

Mr. RATHER: He's not.

Ms. COOPER: No, that's starting to happen now. You're seeing the White House and the insurance industry starting to go mano a mano at this.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let's take a look at the bottom line. We asked The Matthews Meter, 12 of our regulars, do the Democratic leaders who are pushing the public option now really deep down know that it's dead, that it can't be part of a solution that gets 60 votes, 218 in the House? Our meter's got a canny bunch here. Look, seven say the leaders already know there's not going to be a public option, five say they honestly still believe they can win it and get it part of this package.

Kelly, you believe what I believe, that in the end they know they're not going to get it in this bill to get the signatures of people they need.

Can you help us out?

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