Rep. Dingell: ‘Desperate Need’ for Health Care Bill, but Prospects Uncertain

ABC News’ Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl report: The renewed optimism voiced by some Democrats over the prospects of passing a health care bill may be just a little premature. Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is saying she thinks she can pass the Senate version of the health care bill if the House and Senate can agree on changes by using the budget process, the price tag for those changes could approach $300 billion, Democratic sources tell ABC News. That’s a figure that’s likely to give moderate Democrats sticker shock. On ABC’s “Top Line” today, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who has championed universal health care over his 54-year career in the House of Representatives, told us that differences remain between Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Asked about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s recent statement that there’s “no rush” to pass health care, Dingell said: “Remember that the longest couple hundred yards in the world is the distance between the House of Representatives in Washington and the United States Senate,” Dingell said. “I’m not sure I agree or disagree with Harry Reid; he’s got the Senate to contend with and I’d rather let him judge what’s going to happen. My personal feeling is that there’s a great urgency to all of this business. But there’s one good rule legislatively, and that is make haste slowly, but continuously and vigorously.”

Watch the interview with Sen. Dingell HERE .

As for the prospects of passing a bill, Dingell said: “You would have me be a prophet -- that I am not. I could give you some good informed speculation, but I could say that there’s a desperate need for this, that it was Republican strategy that they would kill the health care bill in 1994 and see to it that no other legislation passed. And to the great misfortune of the country it was a tactic which worked. We lost health care, we didn’t have a good record in that Congress and the Republicans took over in the next election.” Dingell praised President Obama for offering a “very conciliatory” State of the Union address Wednesday -- and he has some basis for comparison. His attended his first State of the Union in 1933 -- when he was six, and his father was a congressman. Asked about how the tone in the House chamber has changed for such events, Dingell said: “Washington has gotten more and more and more partisan. You heard the president’s comments last night, about how the nation has gone to kind of ‘gotcha’ politics. That’s true in the media, its true on the part of members, and we’re looking less to the well-being of the country than we are to the next election and who’s scoring brownie points at a particular time. “It’s always been my feeling this is a very bad situation,” he added. “I will simply observe that the first speech I attended there was a much more sedate and a much more uniform and gracious response. Now remember this was 1933 and I was six years of age. I have to point out to you that the world has changed significantly, and we’re vastly more partisan today than we ever were before.”

We also got Sen. John McCain’s thoughts on how a State of the Union would have looked (and sounded) different in a McCain presidency.

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