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On health care, Sen. Clinton and Gingrich find common ground

WASHINGTON—Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich got together Thursday to settle a quarrel that started back in 1993—and to get their picture taken together.

The event, sponsored by the New York-based drug company Pfizer Inc., was billed as a Cease-Fire on Health Care. And it did underscore points of agreement between a leading liberal and a once-leading conservative, such as the need for health insurance and to curb obesity.

They also appeared to agree on the need for another thing: repositioning themselves to get ahead.

"I have spent enough of my life fighting and I'd like to spend some of it constructively," Gingrich said Thursday. A relentless political combatant in the last century, who reportedly once told his mother that Clinton was a bitch, Gingrich is newly active on the pundit circuit and appears to be aiming at statesmanship.

Clinton, who's expected to run for president in 2008, seems to seek opportunities these days that evince moderation or at least demonstrate her ability to work with just about anyone.

Gingrich went into political exile in 1998 after his party's loss of five seats in the House of Representatives when he'd predicted a gain of 20, coupled with a messy affair.

Former Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, a moderate Democrat whom President Bush once considered for a Cabinet post, emceed the cease-fire Thursday, joking at one point that Clinton and Gingrich were joining him in the "mushy middle." Breaux is now senior counsel at the Patton Boggs law firm, which specializes in lobbying.

"I'm not quite sure I'm ready to join the mushy middle," Gingrich responded.

He and Clinton first appeared together on health-related issues in May.

"People had their mouths drop when they saw us together," Clinton said. Shocked calls and e-mails from supporters followed.

Gingrich was, after all, the man who once rejected her stillborn universal health-care plan as "washed-over old-time bureaucratic liberalism, or centralized bureaucratic socialism."

A more subdued Gingrich on Thursday cited the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He said the government could learn from the advocacy group's aggressive approach and pressure schools into removing unhealthy foods.

He and Clinton also agreed on the importance of a unified and fully digital medical-records system and the need to provide incentives to companies and individuals so they'll seek health insurance and healthier lifestyles.

Their efforts to reconcile with old political foes may be working.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., for example, recently praised Gingrich for his views on the need for anti-corruption measures and bureaucratic restructuring at the United Nations. Biden called Gingrich "the single most articulate voice on the right."

Clinton, who hasn't been among the Iraq war's critics, worked with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on increasing health benefits for National Guardsmen. Graham was a manager of her husband's impeachment.

Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, predicted that Gingrich's views will have little effect on health-care legislation.

"He has no institution from which to work," Black said. "It would be a story if we would be able to persuade Republican legislators to work on health care."

Gingrich and Clinton seemed to enjoy appearing together.

But one woman whispered disappointedly afterward: "They didn't disagree on anything."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): HILLARYNEWT

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