- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

UPDATED:

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich gave the White House’s health care overhaul drive a boost on Wednesday when he announced he would reverse his long-standing opposition to the plan and said he would cast a vote in support of the Senate’s legislation.

Mr. Kucinich, a liberal Ohio Democrat who has opposed many of President Obama’s policy initiatives, said he is taking a “historic, long-term” view of the legislation and supporting it because it is a small step toward changes he would like to see and because failure would hurt the Obama presidency.

“I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but the bill as it is,” he said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “If my vote is to be counted, let it now count for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform.”

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Mr. Kucinich voted against the House’s health care overhaul in November and had been saying he would oppose the more moderate Senate bill because it didn’t do enough to curb the private insurance industry’s hold on the health system.

He favors a single-payer, government-run program and a public insurance plan, both popular with the Democratic left. He said Wednesday that he was not retracting his criticisms of the bill, but acknowledged that he could be a deciding vote.

House Democratic leaders hope to schedule a vote on the Senate’s health care bill and an accompanying package of changes by Sunday, when Mr. Obama leaves on an international trip. But they’re still shy of the 216 votes they need.

Mr. Obama has had four conversation with Mr. Kucinich about the health bill, Mr. Kucinich told reporters on Wednesday. The last was aboard Air Force One while traveling to a speech Mr. Obama gave in Mr. Kucinich’s Cleveland district on Monday.

Mr. Kucinich is the first Democrat who voted against the House health care bill to announce that he would support the Senate bill, a decision he said he struggled with. House leaders and Mr. Obama have been furiously lobbying Mr. Kucinich and the more than 30 others to flip.

Mr. Kucinich said he hopes that other Democrats can do the same.

“If I can vote for this, there’s not many people who shouldn’t be able to support it,” he told reporters.

But many of the Democratic holdouts are moderates concerned about the cost and scope of the bill, not progressives who say it does not go far enough.

Mr. Kucinich, one of the most liberal members of the House, has been a long-time thorn in the White House’s side. In addition to the House’s health bill, he opposed the budget and the bank bailout program. He joked with reporters that he thought about packing a parachute when Mr. Obama invited him aboard Air Force One this week.

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