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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Medicare Muddle.

TERRI PEPE (MEDICARE BENEFICIARY): (From videotape.) It's like gunfire. It comes at you from all directions -- so many books and pamphlets. And it's just too confusing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The gunfire raining down on this woman is the overwhelming details of the Bush Medicare prescription drug plan. Enrollment in Medicare's multitude of complex prescription drug options began earlier this month, and the drug coverage kicks in on January 1st, 2006.

Here's an abbreviated outline of how it works. The enrollee pays the first $250 out of pocket for drugs. Then Medicare pays 75 percent. When the enrollee's drug payout hits $2,250, beyond that Medicare pays nothing. That's right -- nothing. But after the enrollee's drug costs hit $5,100, Medicare pays 95 percent.

Confused? Try figuring it out when you have to choose from a dizzying array of some 40 different plans -- different plans covering different drugs, with different co-pays, different premiums, differing in price range, from $2 to $105 per month.

SHIRLEY SCHOOLEY (MEDICARE BENEFICIARY): (From videotape.) It's terrible. And I think all they're doing is confusing senior citizens. I'm very confused, and I don't like it. And right now I'm not going to sign up for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shirley's not alone. Only one out of five eligibles intend to enroll, and that's before they've even seen the jigsaw puzzle of options.

Question: On this Thanksgiving weekend, should we be thankful for the Medicare prescription drug plan? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, John, it is extraordinarily complex. But worse than that, I just don't think the country can afford this right now, that the younger generation and the generation just coming into its own has got to foot an enormous bill on Medicare, which is fundamentally bankrupt already.

I think it was a bridge too far. I don't think the president and the Republicans should have taken it. And I don't think young people should be paying for your Lipitor, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you feel about it, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's bad public policy. It was basically written by the HMOs and the drug companies. And the fact that the government is banned from negotiating lower prices for drugs, the way they do through the Veterans' Administration, actually tells you who this drug plan benefits.

I understand the impulse to try to get competition involved. But at this point, the way this bill is written, the competition benefits the insurance companies and the drug companies, and seniors are going to get shortchanged.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's why there are so many plans, to accommodate so many different insurance companies with their political interests.

MS. CLIFT: Right. But if you look up, you know, apparently what drug you take and you want to see if it's covered and you opt into that plan, there's nothing that says that that plan can't discontinue that particular kind of drug. And so -- and you're stuck in the plan until the narrow period when you can change. And there's an element of coercion about this. If seniors don't join now, they pay more as the months go by.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that competition will weed out the winners and losers among these plans and everything will be rosy?

MR. BLANKLEY: Things are already quite rosy. As a matter of fact, when this was enacted, the theory was that the competition, the market forces, and it would bring down the cost of this service. In fact, now they know it's brought it down by an average of 15 percent.

People complain about choice. The alternative to choice is one government-issued plan. The argument that Pat makes that we can't afford it now is a false analysis, because when you provide for prescription drugs, if you subsidize the buying of $100 of drug thinner, then you save the $100,000 it costs to cut off the leg when the diabetes gets bad enough. Medicare covers the huge cost, but without the prescription drug subsidies, it doesn't cover the preventive care that is vastly cheaper that avoids the long-term costs.

Forty percent of Medicare costs are diabetes-related. They can be treated cheaply by prescription drugs, or vastly expensively and painfully and damagingly to the person later on when they're thick into the disease. This is a false dichotomy. And the argument against choice is a contemptuous argument to the American people's intelligence. People are making these kind of choices in their health-care services for years, and they're going to be better off for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you improve on Dr. Blankley? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: Right -- the paid political announcement.

MR. CARNEY: Let's just address the issue of --

MR. BLANKLEY: And yours wasn't.

MR. CARNEY: Let's just address the issue of whether or not choice is a good thing or a bad thing. Obviously, ideally, for the senior for whom this is not complicated, who can sort through it, who can get help from family members, people who understand the complexities, this is a positive because it helps them pay for prescription drug costs, which are escalating very highly.

But the truth is, there are so many seniors out there who are so easily confused by this. And it's not contemptuous to say that; my mother is an extremely wise, smart woman who is befuddled by this.

MR. BLANKLEY: And you can't help her on it?

MR. CARNEY: And I can help her. But -- MR. BLANKLEY: Good. Okay, there's one case solved.

MR. CARNEY: But if I weren't around -- and there are certainly plenty of seniors who don't have people who can help them -- I can understand why, as the set-up said, only one out of five seniors want to do it.

And part of the problem with this plan is not just that it was designed in part to benefit the pharmaceuticals and the insurance companies; it was designed to benefit George W. Bush politically and the Republican Party. And it failed to do that. It didn't help them particularly in last year's election. It may hurt the Republicans in the midterm because of all this confusion and anger.

And it hurts the Republican Party because of that element of the party that Pat is representing here that's furious about the enormous cost, and the fact that the White House lied about the cost when it forced the vote.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If only 20 percent now intend to look into signing up and are positive towards the idea, that will probably be (weeded out?). So what's going to be the upshot if this thing reductively falls flat on its face?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, John --

MS. CLIFT: The --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it be recalled? Will it be amended?

MR. BUCHANAN: No. Short-term -- remember, they had Danny Rostenkowski; they had the seniors, the Gray Panthers, chasing him down the streets of Chicago. The complexity of it in the short term is liable to get a real backlash and an angry reaction, which can only, I think, hurt Republicans in this coming election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is any plan better than none? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think we should have done it. I don't think we can afford it right now. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: If not enough seniors enroll, the insurance companies will decide it's not profitable and they'll pull out, and the whole thing will flop, until we get a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Congress and they will fix it. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The price tag on this is, what, $430 billion over 10 years? Is that correct?

MR. BLANKLEY: It's higher than that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Higher than that?

MR. BLANKLEY: That was original --

MS. CLIFT: It's twice that.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's probably somewhere between --

MR. CARNEY: That was the voting price.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's probably somewhere between $500 billion and $800 billion, probably is the best guess. No, look, the only reason we got -- the main reason we have this confusion is because the Democrats and the opponents of this plan have been bad-mouthing it to the seniors for a couple of years.

And the other side of it is that Republicans have not been intelligent enough to defend the plan that is eminently a good plan and will be seen so. And as individual retired people who do enroll in the program like it, they'll be telling their friends and neighbors, and it's going to be a success.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Jay?

MR. CARNEY: I think Medicare -- I mean, I think prescription drug costs needed to be addressed. I think this is a flawed plan with political costs. But in the end, it won't go away, and what Tony just described will happen, but at great political cost and financial cost.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forty-five million Americans have no insurance coverage, and therefore no drug coverage, as things now stand. This 40-plans-plus will be whittled down before long to about five. So the answer is, keep your eye on the ball, and the ball is that a plan is better than no plan under the current circumstances. It's better to have some relief on this matter than no relief. And there are some good plans in there.

Issue Two: I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This week, it becomes official. Angela Merkel takes over as chancellor of Germany, the first female chancellor of Germany ever. Merkel leads a nation of 82 million people, with the largest economy in Europe and the third-largest in the world.

Besides Merkel, women heads of state and heads of government are popping up everywhere worldwide: Bangladesh, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Mozambique. And in the past, women have led Argentina, Canada, India, Israel, Nicaragua, Panama, Pakistan, Turkey, the U.K. and many others.

So, is there a U.S. female politician who will hear the call, one with the stature who can stride the world stage, who would inspire and motivate? You be the judge.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape.) There's a lot of talk going on about building democracy elsewhere. I want to make sure that we are building and preserving our democracy right here at home. (Applause.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Will woman power make Hillary a president of the United States? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Actually, women are probably her toughest constituency to win over. I think being a woman on the ticket, especially running for president, is enough of a novelty that it'll certainly get you a second look. But she's going to have to sell herself on her credentials and her ability. And frankly, right now she is the nominee in waiting.

She's one of the rare women in politics who does not have to prove she's tough enough for the job. People accept that. The concern is that she can't relate to red America. But she's going to win in New York next year, probably with better than 60 percent, maybe better than 65 percent of the vote. Upstate New York is not that different from much of red America. And so she's won a lot of people over, based on her ability and her views on issues.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think that soccer moms will think that Hillary can be tough enough on terrorism?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think that women who have succeeded at national leadership, whether it's Thatcher or Indira Gandhi or Golda Meir or Elizabeth I or Catherine of Aragon -- I mean, whenever it's been -- have the same attributes that men who succeed do. They're shrewd, they're aggressive and they're ruthless, among other things. And if a woman displays those attributes, then she's going to be competitive. She's got other assets.

The trouble for women has been that the pool of potential people going to the top has been smaller than for men, so they have a smaller chance. But if they get into that pool, as Hillary Clinton is now in that pool, then she's going to be competitive. I don't think gender is going to be much of a factor for women who are in the pool and are otherwise qualified with leadership skills. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jay Carney.

MR. CARNEY: I think there is a segment of the population still, a shrinking segment, that would be reluctant to vote for a woman, any woman. And I think that it has been something of an accepted truism that it is probably easier for a woman to rise to the top from the right end of the political spectrum than the left, because by being a conservative, as Margaret Thatcher was, it's easier to answer the question, "Is she tough enough?" because you're from, you know, the daddy party.

And I think that poses a problem for Hillary Clinton. I think it would be easier, if everything else remains the same, for the Republicans to nominate and elect a woman than from the Democrats.

MS. CLIFT: I don't think toughness is an issue.

MR. CARNEY: However, the Republicans --

MS. CLIFT: I don't think toughness is an issue with Hillary.

MR. CARNEY: Toughness is an issue --

MS. CLIFT: Her likability is a bigger issue for her.

MR. CARNEY: Well, it is a bigger issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the final point, Jay? Tough is what?

MR. CARNEY: Is she tough enough? Is that the question?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, you were just going to make a point about tough.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think -- no, she's still a Democrat and she's still from the party that has lost certainly the last election largely on national-security issues. And just because you vote for the war, that doesn't mean that you're going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've had a president who has been macho-in- chief on terrorism. Do you think when we reach 2008, we will be suffering from testosterone fatigue?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, John. Let me --

MR. CARNEY: I think there's some of that.

MR. BUCHANAN: One of your problems you're liable to have by 2008 is we're liable to have a losing war on our hands and have a very angry, bitter, divided electorate. Hillary's problem is this. Look, she's done an excellent job of de-demonizing herself, and she did a great job in New York. But the problem is, Hillary -- nobody's going after Hillary now. They're leaving her alone. They admire what she's doing. But the closer she rides toward power and the presidency, the whole vast right-wing group will be out there. And I think when they start working on her, she bumps her head at about 47 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: The whole vast right-wing group will be after whoever is --

MR. BUCHANAN: But I think they've got a case to build on with Hillary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but it's a lot of old news.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's move on. The best thing Hillary has going for her, by the way, is that her negatives are all out there.

Exit question: Eleven presidential elections will occur between now and mid-century, 2050. On a probability scale, zero to 10, zero meaning zero probability, 10 meaning metaphysical certitude, how probable is it that one of those elections will be won by a woman? Pat Buchanan, quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: A one or two.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, I'm up at nine or 10.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think, statistically, probably about a 3.5.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleven elections.

MS. CLIFT: Eleven elections?

MR. BLANKLEY: But the next few elections, women are still a smaller percentage of that pool. Until they become more senators and governors, they don't get into that pool.

MS. CLIFT: You only need one. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jay, quickly.

MR. CARNEY: Seven.



MR. CARNEY: I just think it's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- having been elevated to bureau chief of Time Magazine has given you sage wisdom beyond your usual performance.

MR. CARNEY: Did I steal your number, John?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You stole my number. It's exactly a seven.

Issue Three: Homeland Insecurity.

NEW YORK MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R): (From videotape.) The FBI has recently shared with us a specific threat to our subway system. We have done and will continue to do everything we can to protect the city. We will spare no resource. We will spare no expense.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Six weeks ago, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put out this warning of possible terror strikes against New York's subway. Almost as soon as he had done so, Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, dismissed the threat as, quote/unquote, "non-credible."

One day later, Bloomberg struck back.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: (From videotape.) It is very different being an analyst in Washington looking at data, as opposed to being here in New York, where you have to take responsibility to protect people's lives.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The central point here is that Bloomberg bypassed the Homeland Security Department in Washington. Other localities are doing the same thing. The reason: The lack of trust between federal and local officials. So says 9/11 commission chairman Tom Kean.

TOM KEAN (9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN): (From videotape.) It's the secrecy, the lack of sharing of information, the lack of trust among agencies, the disconnect between local officials and the federal government. It's got to stop, because it's going to cost us lives.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To circumvent the feds and save lives, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Las Vegas, Seattle and Washington DC have all set up independent channels to communicate directly with cities abroad to better prepare for terror threats: Singapore, Tel Aviv, Toronto, London.

Police get intelligence directly from these cities' police departments. It's intelligence they would otherwise lack. The nation learned that from the 9/11 disaster, when the federal government underreacted to a threat that was all too credible. Question: In fighting terrorism, should the state and locals continue to circumvent the feds? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think, looking at the reaction to the Katrina hurricane, that the locals can't depend on the federal government. And I think it benefits us all if we get our first responders up to speed at every level of government.

But there is an element of CYA, cover your tush. And if every piece of intelligence (that) comes along causes local officials to go to high alert just in case something happens, then we're in trouble.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We learned from London, did we not, that the terrorists there were home-grown? They were British citizens. The local police know that situation better than anyone, so all the more reason for the locals to get into the act. Is that not obvious and true?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. It's not an either/or. There should be as close to a seamless web between the federal, state and local --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Dream on. Dream on.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me finish the thought -- with the locals obviously providing most of the law enforcement and first responders, the federal providing more of the intelligence, and a good connection between. You never get that perfectly. It's perfectly reasonable for major cities to have their own intelligence to assess the advice from above, and it's always going to be a little awkward. But this idea that it's one or the other is silly. It's got to be as close to a connection as possible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The other reason is, of course, there are hundreds of thousands of police and there are thousands of FBI, so those hundreds of thousands we need to press into service. What about that? Isn't that obvious, too?

MR. CARNEY: Right. But, John, you're really only talking about major, major cities and prime targets like New York. In fact, I think New York is unique in this situation in terms of the size of its first responders' force and the history of its own experience on 9/11 and its intelligence capacity, which I don't think many other cities can replicate.

But the problem you have, because you have a dysfunctional homeland security effort at the federal level, as we've seen, is that when cities like New York and Mayor Bloomberg go out on a limb and whip up alarm, it makes the federal authorities more reluctant to share information that they should be sharing, because they feel like every time they pass on a bit of intelligence, a mayor who's trying to protect himself is going to announce it to the public.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is pure conservative doctrine, right? Give the states more rights.

MR. BUCHANAN: Subsidiarity, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Subsidiarity.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, the locals, like Bloomberg, they have to retain the option to act on their own. However, I agree with Tony. They ought to be in constant communication and contact with the feds. But if a situation arises, like Bloomberg, he feels his city is in crisis, then he ought to move and act and take responsibility.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where is the truth more, on Chertoff's side or Bloomberg's side?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think nationally it's on Chertoff's.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MS. CLIFT: I'm going to go with Bloomberg. But I think he probably learned from this last experience that he shouldn't overreact at every piece of intelligence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One word --

MR. BLANKLEY: Bloomberg did the right thing, but basically the federal is going to provide more intelligence than the local.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. CARNEY: Chertoff.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bloomberg has it right.

Issue Four: Vatican Thanksgiving.

If Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito is confirmed, he will join Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Roberts, all with whom he has something in common: Religion. They are all Roman Catholic. This would be the first time ever that the U.S. Supreme Court would have a Catholic majority.

Question: Is there a precedent for a nominee's personal faith figuring prominently in Supreme Court confirmations? Pat. MR. BUCHANAN: Well, there certainly is. Justice Brandeis was a Jewish appointment to the Supreme Court. I believe it was made by Wilson. And it was considered to be a great breakthrough. It was followed up by the Jewish (seat?) Frankfurter and Abe Fortas on the court. And so there has been.

There's also been -- we wanted to put an Italian Catholic on the court in the Nixon era --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who was that?

MR. BUCHANAN: -- and a southern conservative. Some of the folks -- I don't know; we didn't have one at the time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was it the ambassador to the Vatican from Massachusetts?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, but we were going to put a southern conservative; Nixon promised in the campaign. So it's not unusual to select people from regions or faiths, or something like that, to be representative on the court.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I have in mind Anthony Kennedy, who made quite a bit of news with his acknowledging and raising the fact that he was Catholic. And that helped swing one of the conservatives in the House behind him because he thought Kennedy would vote in favor of knocking out Roe v. Wade. And instead of that, Kennedy confounded everyone --

MS. CLIFT: I actually think Tony was involved in that nomination, working on the Reagan White House (side?), and that basically -- yeah, they did try to reassure conservatives by emphasizing his Catholic faith. And religion -- Catholicism becomes relevant if you're talking about abortion, if you're talking about the death penalty. So I think that --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The person I'm thinking of is Jesse Helms.

MS. CLIFT: Alito is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jesse Helms swung his vote behind Kennedy, the Catholic, because he thought Kennedy, as a Catholic, would overturn Roe v. Wade.

MR. BLANKLEY: This is a wrongheaded way of thinking, and it gets close to a religious test. The fact is that you can be a conservative or a liberal, a Catholic or a Jew, in your political views, and if you're a good judge, you remain a good judge and you keep that away from your political views.

And the idea that we're going to say -- the Washington Post ran a story a few weeks ago that sort of said -- virtually said, "Are too many Catholics going to be on the court?" I think that's pretty close to being bigoted kind of thinking.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that an editorial?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it was a big story --

MR. BUCHANAN: It was a story.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- very hot-breathed about too many Catholics. I think this is very close to bigotry.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, please. (Laughs.)

MR. CARNEY: I think you're hyperventilating unnecessarily about that story, because I think it is a remarkable fact, and in some ways a wonderful fact, that if --

MR. BLANKLEY: That wasn't the point of the article.


MR. CARNEY: -- if Judge Alito is confirmed. But it's remarkable, too, and noteworthy. And it's not bigoted to say, "My goodness, five out of nine members of the Supreme Court could be Catholic." And given that that is disproportionate representation of Catholics in America, that's an impressive stat, for better or worse.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's also important to remember that the Catholic vote now is identical to the generic American vote. It's no longer an ethnic vote, and therefore it doesn't mean anything as far as being predictive.

MR. BUCHANAN: Natural-law Catholics --

MS. CLIFT: They're almost --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Eleanor. Let him in here.

MR. BUCHANAN: Natural-law Catholics are providing a tremendous amount of the intellectual heft in the law for the conservative movement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's a natural-law Catholic?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, that's Thomas Aquinas. As you know, we were taught in college all this, John. And that's the basic argument of an awful lot of Catholics.

MS. CLIFT: There are almost 75 million Catholics in the country, voting Catholics, and it's no accident that Republican presidents have named the four sitting Catholic justices, and about to be five, and the Catholic vote is trending Republican in the last election. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, 75 million Catholics? Are you sure of that number?

MS. CLIFT: I saw it in Newsweek. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: No, there are 60 million. There's only 60 million. Both of Clinton's appointments, incidentally, were Jewish.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought there were 46 million.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, there's 60.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sixty million?

MR. BUCHANAN: Mmm-hmm. (Affirmative response.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of voting --

MS. CLIFT: Newsweek says 75.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eligible voters.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, you've got 10 million illegal immigrants, mostly from Central and South America, who are also Catholic.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do people realize --

MR. BLANKLEY: So it's not the same kind of Catholic vote you're talking about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that Catholics go the gamut between extreme liberals to extreme conservatives, and everything in between?

MR. CARNEY: Well, sure, they do, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Scooter will not be the last indictee.


MS. CLIFT: Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the standard- bearer for social conservatives on Capitol Hill, will be defeated in his bid for re-election to the Senate next year.

MR. BLANKLEY: Quite a coincidence. Rick Santorum, currently 15 to 20 percent down, has got a tremendous campaign. He traditionally runs from behind. And he's going to look a lot stronger by about Christmas to Easter than he does now.

MS. CLIFT: Does that mean he's going to win? (Laughter.) MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's a coin toss. I think it's a coin toss. If I had to bet, I'd bet he's going to win.

MS. CLIFT: Okay.

MR. CARNEY: We're going to see in the next several weeks and months a big debate in Washington over the use of the military to spy domestically.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well-stated, Jay. We're out of time. Happy Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble.