Kucinich drops opposition to health-care bill
Perry Bacon Jr. and Garance Franke-Ruta | March 17, 2010
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), often a proponent of very liberal, unlikely ideas such as the creation of a "Department of Peace" and the impeachment of then-Vice President Cheney, has found his pragmatic streak.
Under pressure from both President Obama and liberal groups, the Ohio congressman announced Wednesday morning he would back the health-care bill Democrats are trying to push through Congress this week. Long an advocate of a Medicare-for-all health care system, Kucinich in November voted against the House version of the legislation, arguing it "incentivizes the perpetuation, indeed the strengthening, of the for-profit health insurance industry, the very source of the problem."
"I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see, it but on the bill as it is," the longtime congressman said in a 30-minute press conference on Capitol Hill where he detailed his vote change. "I have doubts about this bill," he said. "...This is not the bill I wanted to support."
"However, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife Elizabeth and close friends, I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation," he said.
Obama called Kucinich's decision to vote yes on health care "a good sign" and said that he had thanked him for the switch.
Kucinich, who had declared himself opposed to the president's health care bills because they did not contain a public option, was the subject of some airborne arm-twisting this week as he flew with Obama on Air Force One.
"I told him thank you," Obama said to reporters as he hosted the Taoiseach of Ireland, Brian Cowen, for a St. Patrick's Day conversation at the White House.
Obama, wearing a light green tie, also thanked Congress for passing the jobs bill, calling it "he first of what
I hope will be a series of jobs packages that help to continue to put people back to work."
The decision makes Kucinich the first Democrat who opposed the legislation in the House in November to change his vote, moving the party closer to the 216 votes it will need by this weekend. But his vote change, while illustrating that even the most liberal of Democrats are now conceding the death of the government insurance option and backing the bill, won't move the vote count beyond Kucinich himself. The vast majority of Democrats who opposed the initial bill or who backed it then but are on the fence now are more moderate Democrats. Only Kucinich and Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), who has since resigned in the wake of a ethics scandal, opposed the bill from the left.
Kucinich cast himself as being torn for days over the decision, hearing from constituents who implored him "something is better than nothing" and discussing his vote four times over the last several weeks with Obama.
"Every criticism I made, I maintain," he said. "The bill is flawed, it's not the bill I want and I've been pretty vocal about it. So I had to ask myself am I going to just rest on my philosophical position, which I remain committed to and look at the American people and say, 'You know, I'm not going to do this.' There is a moment of decision you have to make."
His decision came under unusual pressure for a lawmaker known mainly for leading liberal causes such as calling for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and opposing the war in Iraq. With Democrats struggling to get the votes needed to pass the bill, the founder of the liberal blog Daily Kos threatened to back a primary challenge if the health-care legislation failed and Kucinich was in the opposition.
And on Monday, as Obama spoke at a rally in Strongville, Ohio, in the congressman's suburban Cleveland district, someone in the audience called out, "Vote yes."
Obama turned to Kucinich, who was on stage for the rally and said, "Did you hear that, Dennis?"
By Tuesday, the usually chatty lawmaker was ducking reporters' questions in the Capitol. But on Wednesday morning, he seemed to bask in the kind of attention he rarely got during his presidential runs in 2004 and 2008.
He bragged of his single-payer stance, saying "I have taken the debate farther than anyone else has taken it."
"This is a defining moment for if we will have any opportunity to move off square one on health care," he said.