WASHINGTON – Longtime political foes Newt Gingrich (search) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) joined cheerfully Wednesday to promote legislation on health care changes, joking that some might view it as a sign of a soon-to-come doomsday.
Clinton, D-N.Y., and Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker, appeared outside the Capitol to promote a bill that would modernize medical record-keeping.
The senator joked that their joint effort has raised plenty of eyebrows since they began working together behind closed doors on a panel examining ways to improve military effectiveness.
"At our first meeting when we were agreeing so much with each other I think people thought: "The End is Near,"' she said.
As first lady, Clinton spearheaded a White House health care reform effort that failed in Congress. The resistance to her effort helped fuel Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" and his rise to the speaker position in 1995.
A decade later, they sound downright chummy.
"I find he and I have a lot in common in the way we see the problems that we're going to have to deal with in order to have a 21st century health care system," said the senator.
Gingrich was equally effusive, saying he was "thrilled" to be part of the bipartisan effort to reduce the amount of paperwork the health care industry creates.
"I'm confident there are things like votes in the Senate and judges where there would be dramatic differences, but I think we're both mature enough as adults that we can separate this argument," said Gingrich.
"We're at the stage in our lives where getting some good things done for the country strikes us as a pretty important way to spend your time," he said.
The former House speaker told a meeting of newspaper editors last month that he expects Clinton to win re-election next year, then capture her party's presidential nomination in 2008 and have a good chance to win.
"Any Republican who thinks she will be easy to beat has total amnesia about the Clintons," Gingrich said. He also said she has the added benefit of her husband, "the smartest American politician as her adviser."
Standing next to the senator Wednesday, Gingrich argued that both parties should agree to move health care records from the realm of scribbled doctors' notes to electronic record-keeping.
Proponents of the measure being offered in the House by Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. and Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., say the bill would greatly reduce the 98,000 estimated U.S. deaths a year caused by preventable medical errors such as misreading a prescription.
"Paper kills," said Gingrich. "This is not complicated. If you see paper in the health system, it risks killing people."
The 21st Century Health Information Act (search) would create regional health information networks to help transfer health data quickly between doctors, hospitals and nurses, and ensure that different hospitals adopt technologies that are compatible.
The bill is H.R. 2234.