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STEPHANOPOULOS: Is this the endgame on health reform? Will anyone win the battle between the White House and Fox News? And has the attorney general effectively ended an era of prohibition with his announcement this week on medical marijuana? The roundtable's right here to tackle all that and more today, including some breaking news out of Baghdad. More than 100 killed and 500 injured in twin suicide bombings aimed at government buildings right in the heart of the Iraqi capital.
But let's begin with by checking with both sides in the Senate. We have Democrat Claire McCaskill and the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell.
And Senator McConnell, let me begin with you. Your counterpart, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, has been working the phones for the last several days. He believes he's a day or two away from getting the 60 votes he needs to break any Republican filibuster of health care reform. Is he right, and does this mean that health care is going to pass this year?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think we'll have to wait and see. We do know that we had the first vote in the health care debate last week, and it was a bipartisan majority, 100 percent of Republicans and 13 Democrats agreeing that we should not borrow a quarter of a trillion dollars at the outset. In other words, not send a bill to our grandchildren, in the very first vote of the health care debate. So we'll see how it unfolds.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So much of this is centered right now, so much of the debate is centered right now on this issue of the public option. The latest iteration that Senator Reid is working on is that he would set up a national program, but states would have the ability to opt out of the program, and it comes as the New York Times is reporting this morning that small businesses are going to face an increase in their health insurance premiums of 15 percent next year, 15 percent on average for small businesses. Given that, doesn't it make sense that there be a public health insurance option to compete with the private insurers?
MCCONNELL: No, it doesn't make any sense at all. In fact, I think 100 percent of Republicans have indicated they don't think having the government in the insurance business is a good idea.
What we do know about this bill, though, George, aside from whether or not there's a government insurance company in it or not, we do know it's half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts. We know it's $400 billion in tax increases on individuals and businesses. And we know the CBO says that insurance premiums for everybody will go up, that's 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance.
So, wholly aside from the debate over whether the government gets into the insurance business, the core of the proposal is a bill that the American public clearly does not like.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It comes, though, at a time when also it appears that your party is facing more political trouble that you have had in years. We had a new poll out of ABC News this week showing that only 20 percent of Americans now call themselves Republicans. When we asked the question, who do you trust to take the country in the right direction? 49 percent of the country said President Obama. Only 19 percent said they trust congressional Republicans to take the country in the right direction. If only 19 percent of the country believes that you can take them in the right direction, isn't that a sign you're doing something wrong?
MCCONNELL: Look, the Gallup poll, which is out there every day, the oldest poll and the most respected poll in America, asked the question that really makes a difference, and that is the question, if the election were held tomorrow, who would you be more likely to vote for, the Republican candidate for Congress or the Democratic candidate for Congress? Last November, not surprisingly, my party was down 12. Two weeks ago, we were down 2. So the issue is not so much whether they're identifying with Republicans or Democrats, but how would they vote. And I think you sense over in Virginia, for example, the candidate for governor on the Democratic ticket in Virginia is complaining about the atmosphere in Washington causing him problems.
MCCONNELL: I think if you just want to talk about the politics of all of this, George, I think it is clearly not working for the administration or for the Democratic majority.
STEPHANOPOULOS: At a time when only 19 percent of the country believes that congressional Republicans are taking the country in the right direction?
MCCONNELL: I think something like 22 percent like Congress, and it's run by the Democrats. I think people are disaffected right now. But the fundamental question, George, is not whether they are disaffected. It's how will they vote, and we'll have an early test case of that over in the Virginia governor's race here in just a couple of weeks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't believe that the Republican Party in Congress has to make any course corrections right now?
MCCONNELL: Well, we're going to offer alternatives. We have been all year. We're going to offer alternatives on the health care debate. The American people will have a chance to see that there is a choice, and that will be important going into next year's election.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And finally, do you believe in the end that you're going to be successful, or is the president going to get what he wants this year?
MCCONNELL: Well, look, I'm not going to predict the outcome. What I do know is that all the nervousness is on the Democratic side. You saw that last week, and with 13 Democratic defections on this effort, to do this Medicare reimbursement issue without paying for it, by sending the bill to our grandchildren, we know there is nervousness among Democrats over this increasing view that Congress is acting like a teenager with their parents' credit card, not worried about who's going to have to pay the bill.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Before I let you go, let me ask you a question about the swine flu. The president declared late Friday night a national emergency to give the federal government more power to deal with the spread of the H1N1 virus. Are you comfortable with that declaration? And is there anything more Congress can or should be doing?
MCCONNELL: Well, the administration tells us that we've given them all the authority and all the money they need. So if they need anything additionally from Congress, I know we'll be happy to provide it, on a totally bipartisan basis.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Senator McConnell, thanks very much for your time this morning. Let me now bring in Democrat Claire McCaskill from Missouri. Senator McCaskill, I knew the second that swine flu came out of my mouth instead of H1N1, you'd be down -- you'd be jumping down my throat, so I apologize in advance for that...
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