Published March 17, 2010
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, announced Wednesday that he would vote for the Senate health care bill, becoming the most prominent House Democrat to reverse his opposition.
With Kucinich's switch, Democrats now have 212 votes in favor of the bill, four shy of the 216-threshold needed for passage.
"This is not the bill I wanted to support even as I continued efforts into the last minute to try and modify the bill," he said at a news conference. "However, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife Elizabeth and close friends, I've decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Kucinich's support shows that the bill expands government-run health care.
"I like Dennis but if you had any doubt that this was a liberal bill, now any doubt is removed. I don't think Dennis would be voting for this bill if he didn't think it accomplished a lot of the liberal goals of expanding health care and giving the government a bigger role in health care," Graham told Fox News.
Kucinich voted against the House bill in November and has opposed the Senate bill because it doesn't include a government-run insurance plan.
But Kucinich has been under enormous pressure in recent weeks to lend his support to the bill, especially from Obama, who visited Kucinich's district on Monday.
Kucinich flew with Obama on Air Force One to a rally where members of the audience chanted at Kucinich to support the bill.
His announcement came one day after U.S. News and World Report reported that Kucinich's wife, Elizabeth, will help first lady Michelle Obama promote an effort to urge school cafeterias to replace junk food with vegetables.
Democratic leaders want the House to pass the Senate-approved version of the bill before moving on to a package of changes. That package would be taken up in the Senate as a "reconciliation" bill, meaning the Senate would be able to approve it with just 51 votes -- Democrats turned to the legislative tactic after Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate election in January, breaking the party's 60-vote filibuster-proof majority.
Kucinich was one of 39 Democrats who opposed the House bill in November. Since then, at least five Democrats who voted for the bill have indicated they will vote against it.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., has led the charge of Democrats opposed to abortion to include tougher language in the bill to prohibit federal funding for ending pregnancies. And Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., is leading Hispanic lawmakers to remove provisions that he says excludes illegal immigrants from receiving benefits.
But Democratic leaders have maintained confidence that they will secure enough votes to pass the bill. The Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its cost estimate of the bill Wednesday.
A complicated procedure is being contemplated for the House floor, too, one that would shield lawmakers from having to vote directly on the Senate bill, allowing them to instead approve a rule for debate that would deem the Senate bill passed once the fix-it bill has passed.
Rep. John Larson, D-Conn. defended the procedure, saying it was used often by Republicans when they controlled Congress.
"The important thing here is that the process that the American people are concerned about is the process that hikes their insurance rates and the process that finds their insurance policies rescinded from them once they've got coverage," he told Fox News.