Rep. John Dingell: Health Care Bill Will Impose New Tax on Wealthy; Dems Can’t Afford ‘Judgmental Errors’

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

With House leaders introducing their version of a sweeping health care reform bill this afternoon, we got a bit of a preview on today’s “Top Line” on from Rep. John Dingell -- one of the bill’s architects, and a voice on behalf of universal health coverage for more than half a century.

Dingell, D-Mich., said the House bill will include “modest increases in taxes on persons in the upper income brackets,” as part of a new surtax House leaders are seeking to impose of couples making $350,000 or more.

While that concept is provoking opposition among conservative Democrats -- and appears unlikely to be embraced by the Senate -- Dingell downplayed the divisions inside the Democratic Party.

“I want to make it clear: Everybody in the Democratic caucus wants a bill on this point,” he said. “There’s very little difference on the need, but there’s enormous support for the idea that it must be done. Clearly there are going to be some large costs. The question is not so much sticker shock as it is how the health care changes that we’re going to make are going to have to be financed.”

The answer, according to Dingell and his fellow House Democratic leaders: A combination of tax increases, cost savings, and spending cuts elsewhere in the health care system.

And if health care reform doesn’t happen this year, to Dingell -- the longest-serving House member in American history; he’s been in office since December 1955 -- history suggests there won’t be another opportunity like this any time soon.

“I won’t say it isn’t going to happen. But it will be awhile before the stars are in proper constellation again,” Dingell said. “Remember, we have a large Democratic majority in the House, we have 60 votes in the Senate, and we have a Democratic president who is supportive of this. That is a extraordinary set of circumstances that I can’t recall back to the days -- except back to the days of President Clinton. And there were certain mistakes that were made that prevented it from happening. I hope we will not make those same judgmental errors this time.”

Dingell also addressed the state of the economy in his native Michigan, with President Obama slated for a visit later there this afternoon.

Michigan’s unemployment rate has topped 14 percent, and Dingell said it’s too soon to tell whether the stimulus package is having its desired effect -- and whether a second stimulus may be necessary.

“This is one of the questions we don’t know. So we’re watching very closely where this is happening,” Dingell said. “Remember we’ve put into the economy $86.9 billion. That’s an awful lot of money. Michigan got $18 billion. . . . So having said that, the money is there, the money is flowing through the system.”

“Now it may well be that we find that we’ve made mistakes,” he added. “It may well be as we go forward that we will find that we should have spent more money. It may be that we will find that everything went just right. But about four months after we passed legislation is too soon quite frankly to make a judgment as to how this is going to impact the United States.”

Click HERE to see the full interview with Rep. John Dingell.

Also today, we spoke with Republican consultant Kevin Madden about the latest from the confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, and Gov. Sarah Palin’s latest role as an op-ed writer.

Madden’s take: The first burst of questioning was a bit more “wobbly” than Democrats may have wanted -- and Sotomayor probably didn’t win herself any GOP votes today.

Click HERE to see the interview with Kevin Madden.

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