Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) opposed an earlier version of the bill that the House passed in November.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) opposed an earlier version of the bill that the House passed in November. Harry Hamburg/AP
Rep. Dennis Kucinich reluctantly fell into the "yes" column on health care overhaul Wednesday, bringing the White House and Democratic leaders a step closer to the magic 216-vote threshold needed to pass their hard-fought bill.
The Ohio Democrat called a Capitol Hill news conference to announce his decision to vote for the legislation — but not before making clear his reluctance to "detour" from the option of universal, government-provided health care that he had long worked to make a reality.
"This is not the bill I wanted to support," Kucinich said, acknowledging that he nonetheless needed to make a decision about the measure as written.
"I have doubts about this bill," he said. "I do not think it is a step toward anything I have worked for."
Make-Or-Break Vote Looms
Kucinich opposed an earlier version of the bill that the House passed in November. But with a likely make-or-break vote looming later this week, the White House and Democratic leaders stepped up their lobbying of him and of other party holdouts to try to push the nearly $1 trillion health care package across the finish line.
Getting Democrats to fall in line is crucial because GOP lawmakers are expected to vote in lockstep against the measure, which they say is too costly, too restrictive and unpopular with the public.
If passed, the health overhaul bill would immediately bar insurance companies from canceling coverage except in cases of fraud and from imposing lifetime dollar limits on coverage. Children would be covered under their parents' policies until age 26.
But many of the legislation's changes would take years to unfold — such as requiring those who are self-employed or employed but uninsured to get coverage, which would not kick in until 2014.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer would not say Wednesday whether Democrats had pinned down the necessary 216 votes, but he told ABC's Good Morning America that he was sure that would happen by the time bill comes up, which is expected on Friday or Saturday.
"We think we'll have the votes when the roll is called," Hoyer said.
GOP House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, appearing on the same program, said he doubted Democrats could drum up enough support.
"Obviously, they don't have the votes yet," Cantor said. "I know they're working very hard. The problem is, I think, there's a lot of uncertainty still surrounding this bill."
House Democrats could turn to a quirky parliamentary procedure that would fast-track the process by structuring a vote that would "deem" the Senate version approved at the same time lawmakers agree to bring to the floor a package of fixes to that bill.
Although the procedure has been used dozens of times in the past by both parties when they controlled the House, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of turning to the "cooked up" procedure he described as "scheme and deem."
"You think the public is angry about this now, they're going to be truly outraged when the House, with a straight face, tries to argue that somehow the Senate bill cleared the House and no one ever voted for it," McConnell said.
If the bill passes the House, it would go back to the Senate for final changes. Senate Democrats are ginning up their own procedural workaround that would allow them to approve health care with a simple 51-vote majority instead of the 60 votes normally needed to forestall a Republican filibuster.
Ad Blitz Targets 'Blue Dogs'
The 11th-hour fight over health care has spurred a remarkable advertising blitz by groups both for and against the health care bill that has targeted key lawmakers. Most of the money has been aimed at dissident Blue Dog Democrats in states such as Arkansas.
In that state alone, $10 million has been shoveled into ads aimed at swaying a total of five House Democrats as well as Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of whom have come out against the measure.
One pro-overhaul group, Health Care for America, said Wednesday that it had added six new districts to its $1.7 million campaign.
The group said districts belonging to Reps. Gary Peters of Michigan, Melissa Bean of Illinois, Dina Titus of Nevada, Chris Carney of Pennsylvania, Betsy Markey of Colorado and Zach Space of Ohio are now part of its nationwide campaign, which kicked off Tuesday.
Material from The Associated Press was also used in this report