Like tens of millions of Americans, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich does not believe that the health care reform legislation proposed by President Obama and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate goes far enough.
On this, Kucinich is, unquestionably, correct.
Real reform would take the shape of a single-payer "Medicare for All" program, which would provide health care to every American at an affordable rate — for consumers and for taxpayers.
Kucinich’s frustration with the compromises made by Obama — a former single-payer backer — and most of his fellow Democrats caused him to question whether he could vote for the bill that did not include a public option to counter the abuses of private insurers.
But as it became clear that the former Cleveland mayor’s vote could be critical in getting Democrats to the 216 majority they need in the House, he came under pressure from the White House.
Obama knows Kucinich well. When both were bidding for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, the pair maintained a steady conversation on their personal cell phones, regularly joking with one another and comparing notes from the campaign trail. With Kucinich’s encouragement, his backers provided Obama with critical support in the Iowa caucuses.
So there is mutual regard and respect between the two men.
Obama understood that he could not merely demand Kucinich’s vote and get it; he recognized that the Ohioan was serious about the flaws in the bill as it is now written.
The case Obama needed to make was a specific one, which acknowledged that the current legislation is imperfect and portrayed it as a foundation for developing a more equitable and fiscally-sound health care system.
Obama flew to the Cleveland area to make that case earlier this week, telling a crowd at a senior citizens center in Kucinich’s district that the legislation is a necessary step on the road to any sort of broad reform.
At the rally, someone in the crowd shouted, "Vote yes!"
Obama asked Kucinich if he heard the call.
"I have doubts about this bill," the congressman acknowledged Wednesday morning. "This is not the bill I wanted to support."
"However, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife Elisabeth and close friends I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation," said the congressman, who added, "If my vote is to be counted, let it count now."
That said, Kucinich has already signed on as a co-sponsor of Florida Congressman Alan Grayson’s legislation proposing an expansion of Medicare to provide the public option that progressives thought needed to be in the health-care legislation.
In other words, Kucinich will vote "yes" for some a reform that he finds insufficient and then fight for more.
Here are his prepared remarks from Wednesday morning’s press conference:
Each generation has had to take up the question of how to provide for the health of the people of our nation. And each generation has grappled with difficult questions of how to meet the needs of our people. I believe health care is a civil right. Each time as a nation we have reached to expand our basic rights, we have witnessed a slow and painful unfolding of a democratic pageant of striving, of resistance, of breakthroughs, of opposition, of unrelenting efforts and of eventual triumph.