WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich waited until Democrats had won last November's health care reform vote before casting his ballot against it on the House of Representatives floor.
This time around -- pressured by everyone from President Obama to Moveon.org -- the Cleveland Democrat had no luxury to dawdle before taking a stance. He announced at a Capitol news conference this morning that he'll vote "yes" on the bill's latest draft.
"I have doubts about the bill," Kucinich 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've decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation."
Bill opponents pounced quickly. Said an e-mail alert from the National Republican Congressional Committee: "Left-wing icon flips from 'No,' exposes so-called moderates."
Kucinich's move came after months of insisting he'd oppose the bill because it doesn't do enough to curtail insurance company abuses. Kucinich advocates bolstering Medicare and expanding its coverage to include all Americans.
But he acknowledged this morning that his choice now is to either vote "no" on principle, and thereby possibly block the biggest (though imperfect) advance in health coverage in decades, or compromise for the good of the estimated 30 million more Americans who could gain insurance.
"I have taken this fight further" than many other Congress members, Kucinich said, citing his two presidential campaigns in which he advocated universal coverage and his bill introduction and other attempts in the House to get single-payer insurance.
He told reporters that if they want to see first-hand the tough economic and health-care choices that many Americans face, they should "come to the 10th District in Ohio and you'll understand."
Kucinich's field office on Cleveland's West Side routinely helps constituents with their social services needs, and that includes dealing with insurance matters, he said. He cited his own impoverished childhood, saying, "I grew up understanding what it meant to struggling families who did not get adequate care."
"I understand the connection between poverty and poor health care," he said.
As an adult, he has struggled with Crohn's Disease, and although he follows an alternative diet as one way of dealing with it, he also has had "access to the best" health care around.
"I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is," Kucinich said.
His recent criticism of the bill included a column he authored for last Sunday's Plain Dealer, in which he wrote:
"Even with the few modest improvements in the bill, the insurance companies will still have dozens of loopholes to deny care and continue to find ways to leave Americans with the unpayable bill."
But Democrats are struggling to round up the 216 votes they need to pass the bill amid heavy lobbying from its opponents and its supporters, and Kucinich''s arms were twisted.
President Obama personally lobbied for his vote Monday on a ride to Cleveland aboard Air Force One, and at a health care reform rally in Strongsville. Picketers descended on Kucinich's Lakewood office to register their displeasure with his announced opposition to the package slated for consideration this week.