Rep. Dingell takes gavel as House debates health

AP News
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Posted: Nov 07, 2009 2:05 PM

Democrats gave the gavel Saturday to the longest-serving House member ever as the chamber began debating legislation overhauling the country's health care system.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., was given the honor of presiding at the start of what was expected to be a lengthy, contentious debate. Dingell joined the House in 1955, replacing his late father, and has introduced his father's national health insurance bill every year since.

After Dingell banged the gavel for the first time, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said he "has had reform of health care in his blood."

Dingell, 83, said many lawmakers have worked on the issue and added, "the nation will be grateful to us all."

With Dingell overseeing the proceedings, it took three hours of raucous debate for Democrats to prevail on an initial procedural vote as Republicans repeatedly interrupted Democratic speakers with parliamentary objections.

Tempers eventually cooled, and after the procedural vote, members of both parties gave Dingell a standing ovation as his turn to preside came to an end.

(This version CORRECTS that Dingell is from Michigan, not Maryland.)