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President Obama Makes Hard Push For Health Care Reform; Who Will Fill Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat?; White House 'Czars' Under Fire; What the President Will Tell the Kids; From Dairy Co-op to Health Co- op
Aired September 7, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now: Fired up over health care reform, President Obama rallies some of his motor loyal supporters with a rousing speech. Is it a preview of what he will say to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night?
Also, the president's upcoming speech to the nation's schoolkids, some conservatives are calling it indoctrination, even comparing it to the Hitler youth. Now the speech is out, and we are finding out what is really in it.
Plus, he's widely seen as a possible successor to the late uncle Ted. Now former Congressman Joseph Kennedy makes a final decision about running for Senate.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Wednesday, he will try to rally the nation behind his effort to overhaul the health care system with a speech to a joint session of Congress. But, on this Labor Day, President Obama tried to fire up organized labor for his cause with a speech to the AFL-CIO, telling its members that the country has never been this close to health care reform.
Our CNN White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us live.
And, Ed, obviously, the president, he seemed very fired up, actually, really kind of pumped up in a way. Did he give us any indication about what he's going to say on Wednesday?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Suzanne. He was very fired up today. And it may very well be a taste of what we're going to see Wednesday night, because some advisers I have been talking to, advisers to the president, say they expect him on Wednesday to be much more assertive in this debate, getting more specific, but also getting a bit more animated.
You have seen in recent speeches some of them have been a little bit dry. They have gotten into the weeds on health care, but, today, he was really showing that he wants to stand up and fight.
This was a very receptive crowd, because it was an organized labor crowd. These are the hard-core fans who want serious comprehensive health reform. And what the president was doing was sort of almost slipping back into campaign mode, really ending with a fiery remembrance of that now famous campaign story about this elderly woman in South Carolina who fired him up on a gloomy day in the campaign.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your voice can change the world. Your voice will get health care passed. Your voice will make sure that the American worker is protected.
You can build America. I need your help.
Thank you, Cincinnati.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Are you fired up?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Ready to go? Fired up? Ready to go? Fired up?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: His advisers say we can expect a president on Wednesday night who will be fired up, but also willing to put a lot more specifics on the table than we have seen so far -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Ed, obviously, the president back from vacation looking tan, relaxed, aggressive, and very excited about what he's going to do. But he was speaking to a crowd that certainly wants to hear a big push for that public option in the health reform package.
Do you think they were disappointed?
HENRY: Well, the president did seem to send an important signal today, because the public option is very popular with organized labor crowd. He was with labor leaders, like Rich Trumka from the AFL-CIO, who has publicly said to Democratic fence-sitters that, if you don't get behind a public option, organized labor may try to defeat you at the polls next year.
So, if the president wanted to give an impassioned defense of the public option, here was his opportunity. Instead, he gave kind of a bland defense, very quick, one line. He basically said -- quote -- "I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs."
What you did not hear him say is, it's essential, this is a deal- breaker, I'm going to the mat on this one.
I think when you put that together with what some of his advisers said over the weekend, it seems to square with what we have been hearing from the advisers to the president in private, which is that, on Wednesday night, he will again say he's for a public option, but he's not -- essentially not going to go to the mat. This is not going to be a deal-breaker for him, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK, Ed, very revealing. Thank you so much.
Meanwhile, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has come up with a health care reform plan that's likely the last chance for a bipartisan bill. It's expected -- as expected, does not include a government insurance plan, the so-called public option.
Our CNN congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's joining us live.
Brianna, what did Max Baucus offer instead?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, as expected, the key element of Senator Baucus' plan is this health care cooperative system.
These would be nonprofit co-ops governed by the patients they serve, this according to a source with knowledge of this proposal. And this plan is based on the month and months of negotiations between key Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, as you said, seen really as the best chance of getting a bipartisan deal on health care reform.
But this proposal was actually put together by Senator Baucus -- Baucus himself to see if this group, this gang of six, can reach an agreement in the coming days -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: So, Brianna, is part of the plan to expand Medicaid?
KEILAR: That is part of the plan. Right now, Medicaid covers children up to the age of 5 and pregnant women below the poverty level and to one third above it.
So, under this proposal, it would cover everyone whose income is up to one-third above the poverty level, including more children, and also adults who do not have children themselves -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: How is he going to pay for this, Brianna?
KEILAR: Well, the big part would be paid for with a new tax on those so-called Cadillac health insurance plans, those high-end insurance plans that some say encourage consumers to overuse health care.
This is a tax that insurance companies would pay, not the individuals. But critics charge that it's just going to be passed on to everyone who has health insurance. So, really, people will be hit with it -- the price tag here, $900 billion over 10 years. That's about $100 billion less than the other plans that Congress is considering.
And, Suzanne, no coincidence Senator Baucus put this out ahead of the president's address to Congress on Wednesday. This bipartisan group of six senators has been working, as I said, for months. And the chairman wants to ensure that they have an opportunity to really put a stamp on the health care debate before the president starts laying out some of those boundaries in his address Wednesday night. MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks, Brianna.
Well, he was on many people's short list for possible replacements for Ted Kennedy in the Senate, but now his nephew former Congressman Joseph Kennedy II is scratching his name off, saying that, after much consideration, he's decided not to run.
Our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, she is joining us live.
And, Candy, what does this mean? Does it mean the end of this Kennedy era for Massachusetts' Senate seat?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly looks that way, because, at least in terms of Massachusetts, there are few other Kennedys, unless you look at Vicki Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy's widow, but who has signalled and told friends that she's not interested.
So, what you are talking about is a Senate seat that has basically been held by someone named Kennedy, either JFK, who then became president, or Teddy Kennedy, since 1953, when JFK first took that Senate seat.
There were two years in between, after President Kennedy took office, where someone was appointed. But, since then, it's been Ted Kennedy, since '62, 1962. So, it -- and it's wide-open. It's not as though it's just a, OK, here we go.
The Democratic primary will be key here, Massachusetts being a very Democratic state. Hard to see how a Republican could win that Senate seat. So, you have to watch that Democratic primary pretty closely.
MALVEAUX: And, Candy, what does this mean for the race to fill that seat?
CROWLEY: Well, it means it will be pretty exciting.
And it also means, right now, we have two people that are already in, the state attorney general, also a congressman from the congressional delegation. But it looks like most of the Massachusetts congressional delegation actually might want a shot at this job. So, it makes it wide open, because so many people were sitting around waiting to see what Joe Kennedy was going to do.
And now that he's out, that pretty much opens the doors for those what that were sitting on the sidelines.
MALVEAUX: All right, Candy, thank you so much.
Well, an exclusive one-on-one interview with former first lady Laura Bush. She sits down with CNN's Zain Verjee, talking about life after the White House, what her husband is doing now. Plus, she gives us a preview of her memoirs.
Also, they are the White House's point people on some of its top priorities, but the administration's so-called czars are coming under fire. One has just resigned, and now there are some Republicans who are trying to block any appointments.
And when will America's job crisis turn around? Our CNN's Richard Quest, well, presses Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for a forecast.
MALVEAUX: In his speech to the AFL-CIO today, President Obama said that his recovery plan is working to turn around the U.S. economy, but he also says he won't be satisfied until there are more jobs for out- of-work Americans.
Well, when can we expect to see them?
CNN's Richard Quest, he has put that question to one of the key players of the president's turnaround team. That is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Well, he's in London for a meeting of the G20.
And, Richard, what did he tell you?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not surprisingly, there was no hard and fast forecast from the treasury secretary, but he had been attending the G20 ministers -- finance ministers here in London, and they have decided that they needed to continue spending. The stimulus package had to continue for the foreseeable future, until recovery was well under way.
On the question of what that means, because the big fear, Suzanne, is that there will be a jobless recovery, basically, economic growth gets under way, but it takes a lot more than that before the jobless numbers start to come down. And with the U.S. unemployment rate dangerously near 10 percent, and expected to go higher, a question for Tim Geithner is, what would happen next?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: What's happening is real, real improvement in underlying economic conditions. So, you are now seeing growth in positive territory.
And it's true that unemployment is still unacceptably high, and it's true that job losses are still at an unacceptably high rate, but the pace of deterioration has slowed dramatically. And you're seeing real improvement. Now, that is a necessary condition -- it's not a sufficient condition -- for recovery.
QUEST: I was about to say, necessary, but not sufficient.
QUEST: When -- and you may not -- you may bat this straight back at me, but when would you expect to see a turnaround in U.S. unemployment numbers and a job creation, rather than losses?
GEITHNER: It's just -- it's just hard to know, and I just generally don't get in the business, Richard, of providing forecasts. I won't do that.
But it depends on the strength of growth, relative to the rate at which the economy normally grows. So, for the United States, you know, we normally -- we would expect to normally grow at range -- in the rough range of 2.5 percent over time. So, you need to have growth significantly above that to bring down the unemployment rate fast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And, Richard, Geithner also talked about the long-term plans to avoid another financial crisis like the one that we have just experienced. What did he tell you about that?
As they look towards the Pittsburgh summit at the end of the month, the U.S. treasury secretary is really hawking around a plan that basically says, by all means, have some bonus plan to stop bankers' bad bonuses, but what the U.S. really wants is a big plan to recapitalize and to make banks stronger by insisting they hold greater reserves.
MALVEAUX: OK. Richard, thank you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEITHNER: We need to make sure that we have a new international accord on capital standards that constrains excess leverage in the future. That is going to be a critical part of reforms. There's very broad support across the G20 for the kinds of reforms we talked about.
QUEST: But they managed to avoid those the last time. The whole tenor of the crisis was, they got (INAUDIBLE)
GEITHNER: You're exactly right. Well, we waited too long to put in place more effective constraints. And we made them too easy to evade. And we're not going to make that mistake.
QUEST: How easy is it going to be to get agreement on greater capital requirements for banks?
GEITHNER: It's going to hard for some countries. It's going to hard for some, just to be honest. But we're going to get agreement, because I think everybody knows that the damage caused by this crisis was unacceptable. And it's not tenable for any country, I think, to resist the kind of changes we need to prevent this from happening again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: Suzanne, I cannot overstate the amount of negotiations that will take place between now and Pittsburgh, as countries battle between themselves to see what to do on bonuses, what to do on stimulus, and, most importantly, what to do on bank credit and -- and reserves.
MALVEAUX: And, Richard, it's only two weeks, so we will see just how far they come.
Thank you, Richard.
Well, it's a speech that some conservatives hated before they even knew what was in it. Now we know exactly what President Obama will be saying to the nation's schoolkids tomorrow. Does it validate critics' charges?
Plus, an exclusive interview with former first lady Laura Bush. She goes one on one with CNN's Zain Verjee, revealing new details of surprises that she has in store for her upcoming memoirs.
MALVEAUX: Deb Feyerick is monitoring the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Deb, it's good to see you. What are you watching?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You, too. Welcome to New York.
Well, there's a report today that police in Milwaukee have arrested a suspect in the killings of seven women. The suspected serial killings happened over 21 years, beginning in 1986. "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" says a 49-year-old man was taken into custody Saturday and booked on a temporary felony warrant. Milwaukee police reopened their investigation four months ago based on DNA evidence linking the killings.
And a private prisoner transport company is withholding the name of its driver killed in an interstate crash. The driver was behind the wheel of the van carrying nine inmates and three guards when it drove off Interstate 59 near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and down an embankment yesterday. One guard and two prisoners are in critical condition. Everyone had to be cut out from the wreckage.
And whatever Oprah wants, even if it brings much of Chicago to a standstill. City officials have shut down three blocks of busy Michigan Avenue for a big block party kicking offer the 24th season of Oprah Winfrey's syndicated talk show. The stage and other preps are going on today. Admission is free on a first-come/first-serve basis beginning at noon tomorrow, no camping overnight, no alcohol, and no weapons allowed.
Finally, what a way to kick off a life together. A woman had to be airlifted from a hiking trail in Cabin John, Maryland, after what was meant to be a romantic moment with her boyfriend. The story goes that he chose a nice spot where he asked her to marry him. No sooner had she accepted and said yes than she lost her footing and fell on a large jagged rock. She was treated and released from the hospital.
So, it can only go uphill, or up-mountain, or whatever.
MALVEAUX: Good luck on that marriage.
FEYERICK: ... still working on it.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Deb.
Well, after more than eight years in the public eye, former first lady Laura Bush, she is now once again a private citizen, rarely speaking publicly. But she just sat down for an exclusive and revealing one- on-one interview with our own CNN's Zain Verjee.
Zain asked about the life outside of the White House.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: What's it like for you being a private citizen?
LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, it's great, really.
BUSH: It really is nice. We're enjoying our home in Texas a lot. We have a new house in...
VERJEE: Furniture yet?
BUSH: Getting some furniture. We had a lot of fun working on that. We're both working on our memoirs, writing our memoirs.
And then we're also building the presidential library at SMU with the institute that will be a part of it. And I have been the chairman of the design committee. And that's been a lot of fun to work with Bob Stern, our architect, and Michael Van Valkenburgh, our landscape architect.
And we just had our last design meeting, so now we will go to the construction plans and get ready. I hope to break ground some time in a little over a year.
VERJEE: Give us a taste of your memoirs. What -- give us a tease.
BUSH: I'm talking, really, about -- of course, about the years in the White House, a lot about the years in the White House, but also my vantage point, the -- the viewpoint that I had living inside the White House of, you know, these really very dramatic times that we lived in, certainly, and interesting times. VERJEE: What would surprise readers, for example?
BUSH: Well, I think maybe parts of my background will surprise readers. I'm talking about growing up in West Texas and what that was like. And I think there's maybe a stereotypical view of what that would be, that I think people will be interested to hear what it was really like.
VERJEE: And what it was really like on 9/11 or...
BUSH: That's right.
VERJEE: ... or critical moments...
BUSH: Exactly. So, all of that....
VERJEE: ... or the war in Iraq...
BUSH: ... will be part of it.
And it's been fun and interesting to work on, because it's -- you know, there's something sort of psychological, I think, about writing your memoirs.
BUSH: And as you go through it -- go through it, you see a lot of sides of every part of it that happen to you.
VERJEE: How is President Bush doing? Is he glad to be out of the spotlight?
BUSH: He's doing very well. Thank you for asking. He's riding his mountain bike a lot.
BUSH: He likes that. And he's very disciplined about writing his memoirs. In fact, I'm ashamed every...
VERJEE: Better than you?
BUSH: Yes, a lot better than me.
BUSH: He's always been a lot more disciplined than I am. So he's working on those. I keep telling him that I have gotten to the second grade in my memoirs.
VERJEE: How do you think the world will remember him?
BUSH: Well, I think the world will remember him for really what he is. And that's what I think people will get to see, both from his memoirs and from mine.
And that is somebody who stood for freedom and who stood for the security of our country. And I think people know that. I think the people that really know him know what he is like, and they -- they see what -- what he stood for. And that's the freedom of 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
VERJEE: Many around the world would say that he stood for divisiveness and destructiveness in much of the world.
BUSH: Well, I would say that that's absolutely not right.
And I don't think they have the -- the -- either the right view of him or what his responsibilities are and were as president of the United States.
MALVEAUX: We will have more of Zain's interview with the former first lady ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Well, he lost his job, rejoined the military, and paid the ultimate price -- the story of one soldier's ultimate sacrifice, not only to country, but also for his family.
And the resignation of President Obama's green jobs czar rekindles a sticking point between White House and Congress. Critics say there are too many White House aides with too much power.
MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: trouble on the highway from Kabul to Kandahar -- an engineering feat that once signaled Afghanistan's new beginning could now become the comeback trail for the Taliban.
Controversy boils over the president's speech tomorrow to schoolchildren. Now that the text has been released, will it still be unwelcome by some? We will ask one of the president's harshest critics.
And great sharks prowl the waters off Cape Cod, and swimmers stay away.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A fiery speech, a celebration of U.S. workers, and a passionate push for the public option to health care coverage. President Obama traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, for Labor Day and to a speech to the nation's largest union.
Our CNN's Jill Dougherty, she is traveling today with the president today -- Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, you couldn't pick a more symbolic place to celebrate Labor Day than an AFL-CIO picnic in Cincinnati, Ohio.
These are people who are great supporters of the president, but they are also people who have been hurt by the economic and financial problems in the country, so, President Obama trying to make the case that things are actually getting better. He said some of his opponents have strategic amnesia for the time that the financial system, not so long ago, was on the verge of collapse.
Here's how he put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Whenever Americans are losing jobs, that's simply unacceptable. But, for the second straight month, we lost fewer jobs than the month before, and it was the fewest jobs that we had lost in a year.
OBAMA: So, make no mistake. We're moving in the right direction. We're on the road to recovery, Ohio.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: The president also giving these union members something else, and that is a manufacturing czar, Ron Bloom, formerly with the steelworkers union and now the point person for this administration on policy and strategic planning, trying to bring the manufacturing sector back, something that could bring jobs back to the Midwest, to the Cincinnati area, and obviously make -- score some points with the AFL-CIO -- back to you, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jill.
DOUGHERTY: Well, President Obama is appointing a new senior adviser. Ron Bloom will be the so-called czar for manufacturing policy. But the president's growing use of these point people on his top priorities is now generating a backlash.
Our CNN's Mary Snow, she is joining us live.
Mary, give us a sense of the controversy over this.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, this is a controversy that has been brewing. And conservatives particularly have applauded this weekend's resignation of Van Jones, whose unofficial title was the green jobs czar.
And, as Jill Dougherty just reported, this issue is not over, as the president just appointed another czar.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: The backlash continues over Van Jones' resignation on Saturday as special adviser for green jobs. He came under scrutiny by conservatives for controversial remarks.
But the last straw proved to be questions asked about why his name appeared on a 2004 petition asking for a probe into whether high- ranking government officials deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur. Jones denied ever holding those views.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander says it's not Jones, but rather czars in the administration that's the real issue, as most don't face the vetting process that appointees do through Senate confirmation.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: So, when you take all these people and make policy close to the president and the White House to people who don't go to the Congress and aren't approved by the Congress, you're just adding fuel to the fire by those who think Washington is taking over everything.
SNOW: Republican Congressman Mike Pence is calling for a congressional hearing before any more czars are appointed.
Historians say czars reporting to the White House date back to FDR and they extend to both parties. Richard Nixon, for example, had an energy czar. George H. W. Bush appointed the first drug czar.
Some counts put the number of czars in this White House at 30, but that's under a very broad definition. A more conservative count would easily half that number.
But David Gergen, who has advise the both Republican and Democratic presidents, says the number is still high.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: We've never seen anything like that before. We have seen powerful White House aides in past administrations. We have not seen this many powerful White House aides.
SNOW: But he says there's merit to having czars.
GERGEN: The president does need someone to bang heads together to coordinate a very complicated executive branch.
SNOW: Some political observers say expect Republicans to push the czar issue.
LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's a great argument for a party that is trying to portray a president as pushing too, far too fast on too many advanced topics.
SNOW: And Larry Sabato, who you just heard there, says expect this issue to continue throughout the fall, Suzanne, with the Van Jones resignation fueling this debate now.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Mary.
Well, they are touted by some as an alternative to a government health insurance plan or public option. But are members of health care cooperatives really happy with their plans? We go to Wisconsin to find out.
Also, President Obama fired up over health care reform. Is he getting his mojo back? I'll ask Donna Brazile and Tony Blankley.
Also, the U.S. teaching foreign fighters how to fly, but will these new fighter pilots always be U.S. allies?
MALVEAUX: It's been generating controversy for weeks, a speech President Obama will give to the nation's schoolchildren tomorrow. Well, now we know exactly what he's going to be saying.
Our CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry joins us live again.
And Ed, we've seen these remarks that the president is going to be delivering tomorrow. Do they validate these critics' complaints?
HENRY: No, not really at all, Suzanne. In fact, there was a lot of noise out there, especially in the last few days, before the president's critics even saw what he was going to say.
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ready to go? Fired up? Ready to go?
HENRY (voice-over): Fired up at a Labor Day rally in Ohio, the president also teed up Tuesday's speech to schoolchildren.
OBAMA: And yes, I'm going to have something to say tomorrow to our children, telling them to stay in school and work hard, because that's the right message to send.
HENRY: But aboard Air Force One, his press secretary lashed out at critics.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a sad state of affairs that many in this country politically would rather start an "Animal House" food fight rather than inspire kids to stay in school, to work hard.
HENRY: The pushback came after days of conservatives whipping up controversy, charging the president wanted to indoctrinate kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president is a community organizer. He is organizing Hitler youth. He's turning their minds.
HENRY: A lesson in the modern presidency -- the commander in chief no longer gets the deference of office.
Liberals like author Tim Wise believe the president's critics simply shoot first and ask questions later.
TIM WISE, AUTHOR: The problem is it's not just modern media. It is this particular president. He has been vilified from day one as un- American, subversive, dangerous, destroying the country. And when you say that, that means anything he does. If he wants to talk to kids and tell them to stay in school, it must be brainwashing.
HENRY: The administration initially helped fuel this controversy by distributing lesson plans that appeared to be political, asking students to write about how they can help the president. The White House backtracked on those plans and has now released an advanced copy of the president's speech to show it's not so controversial.
Mr. Obama will stress personal responsibility, telling kids, "... if you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country."
HENRY: Now, liberals like Tom Wise, that author, are putting some of the blame on the White House. They say there's been a lot of it disinformation not just here over the education flap, but also in the health care debate, and they believe it took the White House too long to respond. They think it's time for the president, as well as his staff, to step up and push back much sooner and much harder -- Suzanne
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Ed.
Well, when Washington fires back up after the recess, debate over health care reform is sure to take center stage. But dairy farmers in Wisconsin say they already have a good alternative to the public option. It's a health care co-op.
Here's CNN National Correspondent John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two hundred and eighty cows here. Each eats about 100 pounds of feed a day. Three milking cycles, not to mention tending to the corn and other crops.
A family farm is a long, hard day's work. And with milk prices down, a profit is hard to come by, which makes Bob Topel all the more grateful for his invisible partner.
BOB TOPEL, WISCONSIN DAIRY FARMER: Seed, fuel, fertilizer, feed, everything we buy is pretty much through a cooperative. We market our milk through a cooperative. If there is profit made, the profit returns to the owner. So, the more you use the co-operative, the more earnings you get back. Co-ops have been around for over a hundred years in agriculture.
KING: And for the past 10 months, Topel his has turned to the co-op approach for something far more personal, his health care. Joining a two-and-a-half-year-old farmers' cooperative, he said should be a model as Washington looks for way to force private insurance companies to compete more for their business.
TOPEL: Step it up. There's a lot of farmers who had individual health insurance elsewhere came to us and saw their premiums go down, and the other benefit we saw was there was farmers who didn't come to farmers health but by putting an extra layer of competition in the marketplace, their premiums went down just to meet what the farmers' health is putting out.
KING (on camera): Now I got it. All right.
(voice-over): Competition and choice are the main goals and co- op fans say their way makes more sense than a new government-run health insurance option.
BILL DEMICHEN, COOPERATIVE NETWORK PRESIDENT & CEO: Eighty-five percent of the members of the farmer's health cooperative, for example, reported to us either their premiums fell or they stayed somewhat similar to what they had before but it's important is 65 percent of them said their health benefits actually increased substantially over what they had before. So where co-ops are they tend to be very, very high quality because it is the consumer who owns them, making sure that their health care providers are quality health care provider.
KING: In addition to expanding choice and competition, Bill Demichen of the Cooperative Network says the plans are helping with another big problem.
About 12 percent of our members were previously uninsured. So we think we've had a real impact on bringing in producers who previously couldn't get access to health insurance.
KING: Wisconsin has a dozen health care co-ops in all. Some hire doctors directly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You took x-rays today.
KING: Others used their pooled purchasing power to negotiate better rates with private insurers. Plans are widely accepted across the state, including this clinic in Monroe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No numbness or tingling?
KING: Bob Topel knows critics suggest what works in rural areas or small cities might not fit in more diverse suburbs or in urban America, but he's just as skeptical that government has the answer.
TOPEL: To me, just looking at the way the government managed the clunkers program and managed FEMA and Katrina and all of those things I don't want to turn my health care over to a government agency and try to get my round peg in a square hole and if it doesn't fit I'm caught in some bureaucratic red tape. With the co-op system I know the people that I can call and they're going to take care of me because I'm an owner versus just a number.
KING: John King, CNN, Waterloo, Wisconsin. (END VIDEOTAPE)
MALVEAUX: Well, much has been made this year of health care and how to reform the system, but we have uncovered a story that is sure to add a whole other dimension to this debate.
Our CNN's Jim Acosta, he has the story of an American soldier who re- upped to make sure that his family is covered, but he ultimately paid the ultimate price.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the story of Greg Missman is not just about a soldier's sacrifice in the intensifying war in Afghanistan, it's also about a father's sacrifice to his family, when that family has no health insurance.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Army Specialist Greg Missman was only on the ground in Afghanistan for one month.
JIM MISSMAN, FATHER OF ARMY SPC. GREG MISSMAN: My son's convoy had been ambushed.
ACOSTA: In July, his father Jim got that knock on the door.
MISSMAN: A chaplain and a master sergeant showed up. So it was -- it was not a pleasant day.
ACOSTA: It was an abrupt end to what was actually Missman's second stint in the Army. He left the service 11 years ago, but last year, he lost his job as a computer consultant.
(on camera): He lost his job?
ACOSTA: And became unemployed.
MISSMAN: Became unemployed. Lost his health insurance.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Missman says his son re-enlisted to see to it his family had health insurance.
MISSMAN: See you in a year.
ACOSTA: He was full of confidence on the day he left for Afghanistan.
MISSMAN: So he said, you know, I'm going to go back in the Army and make sure Jack has -- his son Jack would have health insurance. That was really the motivating thing to have him go back in.
ACOSTA (on camera): Greg Missman grew up in a community that's already lost two of its sons in the war of Iraq. Greg made it three, only in Afghanistan.
(voice-over): Keith (INAUDIBLE) son, Matt, is one of the other fallen soldiers.
(on camera): Do you think we'll see more cases like Greg Missman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No doubt about it. We probably will. You know, I was going to say hope it isn't from here, but I hope it isn't from anywhere. But it will happen again.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Jim Missman looks at the letters he has received from the president and military leaders and worries about the future.
MISSMAN: I'm a gold star parent because of my son's sacrifice, and I would rather not see any other Gold Star parents.
ACOSTA: But this Gold Star parent doesn't have the answer on how to fix the nations' health care system.
MISSMAN: He made quite a sacrifice. Health care is - it's going to be a tough one.
ACOSTA: These days he's remembering a son who sacrificed to country and family.
ACOSTA: A Pentagon spokesman says there's no way to count how many soldiers have joined the armed services to get health care benefits. As for Greg Missman, his son will continue to receive military health insurance so the soldier's sacrifice will live on -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Well, President Obama's first Labor Day as president sounding much like he is back on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Cincinnati, are you fired up? Ready to go? Fired up? Ready to go? Fired up?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Health care reform message to union members in Cincinnati. But did they buy it?
And the airline industry's last bastion against add-on fees changes its tunes. Get ready to slip a little extra for a choice seat on the plane.
MALVEAUX: President Obama is getting a lot of heat for his plan to deliver a speech to the nation's schoolchildren tomorrow. So much so, that the White House released the text of the speech today.
Well, joining me for today's "Strategy Session" are Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile and Republican strategist and syndicated columnist Tony Blankley.
Thanks for joining us here.
Obviously, they released these remarks ahead of time. I want to read one of the passages from this, his remarks tomorrow.
He tells students, "Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength."
Now, in going through this speech, this is perhaps the only thing you see as a marker or a sign of his leadership style, perhaps, but is there anything in this -- I'll start with you, Tony -- that seems to be political?
TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, and that's really not the question. If I were the president's White House staff, I would ask, why this routine speech? And this has been done by former presidents of both parties, and in the past both parties, the opposition, has said it's political and it never amounted to anything. This time, it connected with the public for some reason.
And the question I would ask, if I was part of the communications team of the White House, is, what have we done or not done up until now to permit -- to allow this kind of a powerful reaction across the country with school boards changing their rules on the speech, which as we see is a normal speech? So, that's the political problem I think the White House has.
MALVEAUX: Donna, I'm not quite sure I understand. Is there anything that you've read through in this speech that even -- that wreaks of politics or even suggests that there's a political statement behind this?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, Suzanne. And truth be told, is that, you know, someone has unleashed political toxins in our daily debate across the country. And everything the president says, or things that he attempts to do, is somehow or another political, it's not good for the country and, therefore, his critics all shout at him and telling him to cease, cease doing your job, Mr. President.
No, I think this is a wonderful speech. I hope each and every student across the country will listen to it, pay attention.
This is the president of the United States who, after all, is telling children based on his own experience that education is the passport to your future, to study hard, to stay in school, to respect your parents, your grandparents, and others. This is a good speech for young people to listen, to learn, and hopefully they will go back home and tell their parents that, I heard from the president today. He talked to me directly about the things that I should do to make life better not just for us, but for the entire country.
It's a great speech.
MALVEAUX: And Tony, we heard from Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Senator Lamar Alexander, saying they didn't find any problem with the president addressing schoolchildren. When you read this speech, do you see any problem with what the president is saying here? Why are Republicans divided?
BLANKLEY: No, of course not. Part of the problem, of course, as you reported, was that the instructional points that the Department of Education sent out included suggested questions such as, you know, what about the president inspires you? How are you going to help the president? And that's -- and they backed away from those statements. So, that was a mistake, and the White House has admitted they made that mistake.
But I have to go back to the original point. Look, partisanship didn't start on January 20th this year. Bush was the subject of very tough attacks.
My old boss, Reagan, was subject to attacks. Bush number one was attacked by the Democrats for giving a speech to the kids. It didn't connect.
Now, this president started off at the highest approval levels...
MALVEAUX: Tony, let's take a listen actually to former president George H. W. Bush's speech to schoolchildren back in 1991.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: OK. So that essentially was the same thing that initially President Obama was asking for schoolchildren to do.
What is the difference now?
BLANKLEY: Well, the difference is, obviously, the public, for whatever reason, is very responsive to nervous conditions, not just about this president, about the conditions generally in the country, but also about the president. And this is a president who started at a very high approval level, about 70 percent, and, you know, past politics.
So, he started off from a high level and he's let it slip. Now, whether it's his fault or whether it's everybody's fault, we can all decide. But the fact is he started at a high point and now he's back down there where presidents have traditionally been.
BRAZILE: Suzanne, from day one his critics have been raising their voices, hoping that this president fails. There's nothing terrible about the speech. It's a good speech.
I hope parents will read it tonight before their kids go to school tomorrow and encourage them to listen to the president, because education is too important of an issue for us to put it in this big partisan grab bag that we like to all feed off of. It's bad. It's poisonous to our democracy.
And more importantly, it's about our children's future. And if we don't care about our kids, I'll tell you, we don't have much of a future as a country.
MALVEAUX: We saw President Obama obviously speaking today. He is, some people say, getting his mojo back, if you will. He's going back to work.
One of the things that has dogged him the last couple of days, the Van Jones' resignation, one of his environmental advisers having to step down. A so-called czar, if you will, one who didn't have to go through this confirmation process through the Senate.
Is there a problem with the Obama administration in having folks that are not going through that process, who don't have the same vetting as some of these cabinet level positions?
BLANKLEY: Well, look, this is an institutional fight. Senator Byrd, the senior Democratic senator, has, for years, long before this administration, complained about not having Senate-confirmed people involved in the operations of agency activity.
Every president has had a few, but this is certainly more than just a few. These is, depending on your count, 30.
So, I think it's not just partisan, and it's not even particularly partisan. It will be somewhat ideological, as it was with Mr. Jones, who is a self-admitted communist. And it will be institutional, generally, and you'll see institutional Democratic senators defending the right of the Senate.
MALVEAUX: Donna, I'm going to let you wrap this.
BRAZILE: Well, let me just say that Van Jones is a very, very intelligent man, a Yale graduate, someone who came up from the public schools of Jackson, Tennessee, to make something of himself. People have a deep and abiding respect for his expertise on the environment.
And let me just say something about the so-called czars. And I don't know if it's 15 or 30. I don't care if it's five.
President Obama is assembling the best and the brightest to help transform our economy to ensure that we can adapt to the new conditions that face us each and every day. These are people with special expertise.
MALVEAUX: All right.
BRAZILE: I don't know the vetting process at the White House. All I know is that if you made a controversial statement, and you're a liberal, you're labeled as a radical. And that's wrong. Let me just say to conservatives, there's nothing wrong with liberals.
MALVEAUX: We've got to leave it at that. I'm sorry. We've run out of time here.
BRAZILE: Take a deep breath, Tony. There's nothing wrong with liberals.
MALVEAUX: Donna Brazile, Tony Blankley, we've got to leave it there. Got to leave it there. Sorry.
Well, she faced a whipping over what she was wearing. Now new developments in a case making worldwide headlines. A former United Nations worker jailed in Sudan.
Plus, for the first time ever, Great White sharks tag off the U.S. East Coast. We'll talk to an expert about what this milestone could reveal.
MALVEAUX: On our Political Ticker, a rousing welcome home for former Democratic Congressman James Traficant, released from a seven-year prison stint last week. The newspaper in his home town of Youngstown, Ohio, say that 1,200 people turned out for a dinner to honor him last night. Traficant reportedly told the crowd that he's been hounded by the government for a long time and that federal prosecutors had to cheat to convict him of racketeering and tax evasion.
Well, he is seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. So, is she. But Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty says that he sees Sarah Palin as a teammate, not the competition.
On yesterday's "STATE OF THE UNION," Pawlenty told CNN's John King that he considers the former Alaska governor a friend who was a remarkable leader under difficult circumstances. As for his recent travels to key states in the presidential race, Pawlenty says, well, it's part of his duty as vice chair of the Republican Governors Association.
Meanwhile, Palin is speaking out about the controversy over a battlefield photo of a dying Marine. The Associated Press decided to publish it over objections from the Marine's family, and her -- on her Facebook page, Palin condemned the decision as "heartless, selfish and an evil thing to do." She also accused the AP of exploiting the tragic death of an American hero.
And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.
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