Democrats gained a very significant vote in favor of health care this morning, and it will come from Dennis Kucinich.
The Ohio Democrat held a press conference this morning to announce his support, even as he still believes a single-payer system is ideal.
"This is what I have tirelessly advocated. I carried the banner of national health care in two presidential campaigns," Kucinich said.
But the former presidential hopeful will vote "yes" on the health care plan supported by President Obama, he announced today: "If my vote is counted now, let it count for passage of this bill," Kucinich said.
This is a significant leap forward for Democrats. No one knows exactly what the final vote tally will be, and discrepancy has reigned over the past few days as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged last week that Democrats had needed votes, then House Majority Whip James Clyburn said over the weekend that Democrats didn't.
Media entities have kept their own whip tallies based on public indications of support or opposition, but there's no telling if public statements now will translate into concrete "yes" or "no" votes later. There are public whip tallies, and there are potential votes to be won or lost when the vote really happens.
The National Republican Congressional Committee maintains its own list, which places Democrats 21 votes shy of the needed 216. Most other prognosticators think Democrats are much closer than that.
But Kucinich's flip changes the health care storyline for Democrats: yesterday, it was all about procedure, and how they had shot themselves in the foot by bungling the roll-out of a "deem and pass" maneuver that would let House members vote on reconciliation fixes with the Senate bill "deemed" as passed. (Procedure, by the way, is a top reason why poll respondents say they don't like the health care proposals in Congress.)
Now, it's about the votes and the actual support that Obama's supported health care proposal does and doesn't enjoy.
Kucinich has prided himself on being the odd man out on numerous issues in his career. He ran for president twice as the only Democratic candidate to have voted against the Iraq war; in 2007, he forced a House vote on impeachment of President Bush, against the wishes of Pelosi and Democratic leaders who saw the move as unrealistic and politically unpopular.
His idealism did not fade as the health care debate unfolded. Kucinich joined with House progressives to pledge opposition to any health care bill that did not include a public option, and he voted against the House health care bill--which did include a public option, and which progressives supported--in November, because the bill didn't go far enough.
Evidently, even Kucinich is not immune to the personal lobbying of Obama: the two have met privately to discuss health care, and Kucinich traveled with the president on Air Force One to Obama's appearance in Ohio Monday.
It's unclear how close this brings Democrats to having the votes they need, but it appears they're close. And, perhaps as importantly, it shows that Obama's personal push has yielded results.
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