From Holding Out To Whipping Health Care — How Dennis Kucinich Is Helping Dems Pass Reform

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A few hours after Rep. Dennis Kucinich switched his support to become a critical vote for the health care bill, he took to the House floor to ask wavering colleagues to join him. Astonished colleagues pointed to Kucinich (D-OH) darting from member to member on the House floor yesterday, saying privately they’d never seen him get so involved in whipping a vote.

It’s not just progressives he’s targeting to keep in the fold, it’s everyone, a top Democratic aide told me. Members know that Kucinich – a staunch antiwar liberal long in favor of a single-payer system and often going out on a limb with his own agenda – is setting aside deep ideology to help get something passed. “It’s a totally new dynamic. People are realizing he’s doing it for history,” the aide said.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) told me last night in the House Speaker’s lobby that Kucinich’s support is “a sign of Democrats recognizing how important this is.”“If Kucinich can back this bill after the way he staked out a position against it, it does help show people they can come together too,” Frank said.

A twice-failed presidential candidate, Kucinich has not shied away from criticizing President Obama. But Obama worked on the progressive Democrat when they rode on Air Force One together Monday, and said yesterday that Kucinich’s support is “a good sign.”

A senior leadership aide argued to members in a memo that momentum is on their side thanks in part to Kucinich, but also as pro-life Democrats start to say they’ll vote for it despite reservations about the bill. In several cases they’ve made the decision after consulting with clergy, something that wavering Democrats have noticed and respect.

Aides say they think these convictions and compromises will help leadership secure the needed 216 votes to pass the legislation and send it to the Senate for the final vote.

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), who spent six years studying to be a priest, cited his faith in his statement yesterday announcing he’ll back the bill. Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) said he sought counsel from his priest, and clergy members have been spotted with members on Capitol Hill in recent days.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told me in an interview that he would give the final health care bill a grade of a B-minus or C-plus, there is still a feeling among Democrats that, “Wow. We’ve come farther than ever before.”

He added, “This is crunch time.”

It’s a similar message to what Sen. Daniel Akaka told me in an interview last week. Akaka (D-HI) said he knew the hurdles had been cleared when he saw his colleagues ease off their tough stances on the public option and other elements of health care. “It was seeing senators letting go,” he said.

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