Rep. Kucinich to vote yes on healthcare bill, giving needed boost to Democrats

Maverick liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich announced Wednesday he will vote in favor of healthcare reform, handing Democrats a crucial vote.

The Ohio lawmaker and perennial left-wing presidential candidate made the announcement at a Wednesday morning press conference two days after President Barack Obama personally lobbied him during a flight to Ohio on Air Force One to switch his vote.

Kucinich voted no on the 2009 House healthcare bill and has lambasted the Senate’s healthcare bill as worse than the lower chamber's version.

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But he said he would vote yes at this final stage of the healthcare debate despite serious misgivings about the legislation. He cast his decision as not wanting to be the deciding vote against healthcare reform.

"In the past week, it's been clear that the next vote on healthare will be quite close," said Kucinich. He said he would cast his vote "not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is."

Kucinich also said Obama's visit to his district had underscored "the urgency of this moment."

Democrats are preparing for a possible weekend vote on the Senate bill along with a package of changes to that legislation that would then have to be approved by the Senate.

Kucinich is the first “no” vote from November to commit publicly to voting yes on the final measure. Given his stature on the left, his decision could provide some political cover for other skeptical progressives to vote with their leadership.

He would also give cover for a centrist Democrat in a tough election to vote against healthcare. Kucinich does not face a tough race.

The Hill’s running whip count had included Kucinich as a firm "no" vote given his statements about the Senate healthcare bill. His plan to vote yes means there are 36 lawmakers in The Hill’s tally who are firm “no” votes, or who are leaning no or likely to vote no.

Democratic leaders also received a boost on Tuesday when freshman Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) announced he would support the bill. Maffei previously had been undecided.

Obama’s success with Kucinich came after the president delayed an overseas trip until Sunday to give the House more time to finish its work on healthcare.

Kucinich and other Democrats met with Obama at the White House earlier this month, but afterward, Kucinich said he was still a no.

During a speech in Ohio this week, Obama publicly called on Kucinich to back the bill after giving him and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) a ride to the event on Air Force One. Fudge is also undecided on healthcare.

Given Kucinich’s change of heart, Obama is likely to use those extra days for more lobbying of House members.

Obama recently met privately with Reps. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) and Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) in the Oval Office. Both members voted no on healthcare in November, but Murphy has told local media that he might vote yes on the new measure.

During the nearly 20-minute press conference, packed with reporters and carried live on cable television, Kucinich emphasized that he did not secure sweeteners resembling the "Cornhusker Kickback" or "Louisiana Purchase" that senators from those two states received in exchange for their support of the Senate bill.

"There's no Nebraska- or Louisiana-type deal. This wasn't about the kind of dealmaking that is self-defeating toward the goal and that undermines confidence in a bill," Kucinich said.

Kucinich had been severely critical of the Senate bill and will likely need to continue to explain his change of position.

The 2008 presidential candidate wrote an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer on Sunday that claimed the pending bill is a giveaway to the insurance industry.

Other statements he has made this month in print and on television follow:

* "This bill doesn't change the fact that the insurance companies are going to keep socking it to the consumer."

* "This  bill privatizes healthcare, [has no] public option ... and doesn't protect states that want to create a single-payer system."

* "I haven't been convinced yet that this bill is the solution. And as a matter of fact, I think it's a step in the wrong direction because it's a step toward privatization."

* “I cannot be intimidated by those who are trying to force this insurance industry givewaway down our throats.”

* “The insurance companies are the problem and we're giving them a version of a bailout."

Ian Swanson contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 10:22 a.m. and 11:05 a.m.