March 17, 2010— -- Even as he lambasted the Senate health care bill, Rep. Dennis Kucinich today said he woud vote "Yes" for the legislation in the House, becoming the first Democratic congressman who originally voted "No" to change course.
"I have doubts about the bill. I do not think it's a step toward anything I've supported in the past. This is not the bill I wanted to support," Kucinich, D-Ohio, said at a news conference today. "However, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, my wife Elizabeth and close friends, I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation."
President Obama today weighed in on Kucinich's switch after a press conference with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
"That's a good sign," the president said, when asked by reporters. "I told him 'thank you.'"
While 15 other Democratic members of Congress remain undecided, and 21 say they will vote "No" on the health care bill, Kucinich's vote is an important one for Democrats, signaling that even those who are staunchly opposed to the bill can be convinced to vote in its favor.
When asked if other skeptical Democrats will also reverse their decision, Kucinich replied: "If I can vote for this bill, there are not many other people who shouldn't be able to support it."
The former presidential candidate was one of the leading critics of the Senate health care bill, insisting that he wouldn't vote for it unless it included the option of a government-run health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. The public option was included in the bill that first passed the House but was taken out in the Senate health care bill.
On ABC News' "Top Line" last week, Kucinich called the current bill a "giveaway" to insurance companies and not "a bill for the American people.
"They know my position, and unless there's some dramatic change in the content of the bill, I think they can predict how I'm going to vote," Kucinich said then. His announcement today will likely come as a blow to liberal activists who are still lobbying for a public option.
Kucinich was invited by President Obama to travel with him to Ohio Monday on Air Force One. The liberal Democrat today said he had four separate meetings with the president to discuss the bill. Obama didn't commit to a public option in the future but promised to work with him on his "broad concerns."
As he ended the press conference, Kucinich said: "We have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama's presidency not be destroyed by this debate. I feel that even though I have many differences with him on policy, there's something much bigger at stake here for America and that's what I'd like people to think about."
Democrats continue to squabble amongst themselves about the contents of the health care bill but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today expressed confidence that there will be enough votes to pass the legislation.
"On every major piece of legislation we passed over the last year... we said we think we do [have the votes] and yes we did," Hoyer, D-Md., said on "Good Morning America." "We think we'll have the votes when the roll is called."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor predicted that Democrats are unlikely to garner the 216 votes they need to vote on the Senate health care bill in the House.
"Obviously, they don't have the votes yet. I know they're working very hard," Cantor, R-Va., said on "GMA." "The problem is I think there's a lot of uncertainty still surrounding this bill and frankly the American people, I think, think that there's a better way."
The White House wants the House to pass a bill by this Saturday, before President Obama departs for his international trip. If they are not able to garner enough votes, Democratic leaders have hinted they may employ a parliamentary maneuver dubbed as "deem and pass."
The controversial procedure would allow House members to vote on health care changes without ever voting directly on the Senate bill. In this case, the House would vote on a "fix it" measure that would make changes to the Senate health care bill and then automatically, in the process, pass the bill without actually having to vote on it.
The procedure has been used 20 times over the last 30 years by both Democrats and Republicans, often on technical or unpopular measures like raising the debt limit, but never on one as big as health care reform.
Health Care Debate Heats Up
Hoyer today defended the tactic as a "clean up or down vote," even as some question its constitutionality.
"We're going to have a clean up or down vote on the Senate bill, that will be on the rule," Hoyer said. "This is not an unusual procedure. We're going to vote on a rule."
"Unfortunately, the Republicans are a little bit like the boy who killed his two parents and then wants sympathy because they're an orphan. They've tried to stop the passage of this bill, slowed it up," he added. "We'll vote for the Senate bill in the rule, and then we will amend the Senate bill in the process."
Cantor said the House rules allow for the use of this "deeming" provision but charged that the move Democrats are pondering is an attempt to fool the public.
"Again, when you're dealing with a bill like this that will cost a trillion dollars and it will effect health care for every man, woman and child in this country, I don't think you can fool the public," Cantor said on "GMA." "This is an attempt to hide the vote. There's no doubt about it."
With time running out, Democratic leaders met until late into the night, gearing up for the final battle over health care.
On Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters she is waiting on numbers from the Congressional Budget Office analyzing the cost of Obama's health care bill, which proposes "fixes" to the Senate health care bill passed on Christmas Eve. But she reiterated that Democratic leaders will continue to fight for the health care bill despite objection from Republicans.
"We will do whatever is necessary to pass a health care bill," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
The opposition has stepped up the heat on lawmakers. On Tuesday, tea party protestors gathered once again on Capitol Hill to denounce the bill. Holding signs and chanting "Kill The Bill," the riled-up attendees took their protests into the halls of Congress, even though many lawmakers were not in their offices.
The Congressional switchboard was overloaded for most of the day after conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh gave out two toll-free numbers for the public to call and urge their lawmakers to vote against the bill.
Republicans are accusing Democrats of dirty tricks.
"Last year, they [Democrats] thought they could pass a bill without having to read it. This year they want us to pass a bill without having to vote on it," Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., charged at a rally Tuesday.
Obama continues to call skeptical lawmakers to urge them to vote for the bill. In an exclusive interview with ABC News on Monday, he expressed confidence there will be enough votes in the House to pass the health care legislation.
"I believe we are going to get the votes, we're going to make this happen," Obama said in an interview with ABC News' Jake Tapper.
ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.