One of the current hot topics in politics is the about-face of Rep. Dennis Kucinich on the issue of healthcare reform. With Democrats down to the wire on their legislation, they need the support of as many members of the House of Representatives as possible. The entire Republican delegation is steadfastly opposed, and many Democrats in swing districts are worried about their prospects for re-election. Here are answers to some common questions about Kucinich and health insurance reform:
Who is Dennis Kucinich? He is a Democratic representative from Ohio. Kucinich has ran for President several times, including in 2008. However, his attempts have not been very successful. His left-of-center views have not generally connected with the American public in most instances, although some analysts also believe that his unconventional appearance has played a factor in his failure to reach higher office.
Why did Kucinich initially oppose healthcare reform? As a liberal, he would be expected to support the Obama administration’s attempts at expanding access to affordable health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans. Instead, he was against the legislation because it didn’t go far enough Kucinich’s ideal is a full-fledged single-payer health care system, similar to those in Canada and Western Europe. That was obviously a non-starter in the United States.
How did he feel about the current Senate bill, specifically? As recently as December, Kucinich referred to the less-comprehensive Senate bill as a “boondoggle” and a giveaway to private health insurers. Unlike the House’s bill, which he was also wary of, it did not include a government-run public option.
Why did he change his mind? His vote-flipping has to do with both a newfound pragmatism and personalized attention from party leadership. With the vote so close, Kucinich feels that passing the bill through the reconciliation process is the first step to further reform. In other words, it’s the best he can get right now. Incremental progress is better than none at all, which he fears will happen if healthcare reform again fails to pass. After all, the climate for liberal priorities only deteriorated between President Bill Clinton’s attempt: some of the aspects of the current Democratic-written legislation are reminiscent of proposals from 1994 Republicans, which 2010 Republicans are dead-set against.
In addition, President Barack Obama himself visited Kucinich a whopping four times to discuss his concerns. One of those visits included a ride on Air Force One, and another involved a rally in his district that highlighted the struggles of some of his constituents involving their health insurance or lack thereof.
Are there any other reasons for his change of heart? Yes. Kucinich agrees with many political analysts, who believe that failure to pass healthcare reform will irrevocably harm the Obama administration’s initiatives on other issues. Kucinich wants unrelated legislation, such as cap-and-trade climate change and jobs bills, to have a chance. A weakened Obama will not have the political capital to have transformative impact in other areas, which is what Republicans want. Granted, using budget reconciliation to get the bill through without any support from the opposing party may endanger bipartisan cooperation in the future on other issues. However, Kucinich appears willing to take that risk.
What impact will Kucinich’s shift of opinion have on healthcare reform’s prospects? It will likely shore up support for the bill among progressives, many of whom have been similarly lukewarm about the legislation due to its apparent conservatism. With a significant majority, Kucinich and other liberals could make a stand and vote against it only on principle. They can no longer afford to do so. There are still a handful of Democratic representatives pushing for more, but Kucinich’s approval decreases their chances further. Liberal activists will put increased pressure on their representatives to vote in favor of it. President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have both publicly thanked Kucinich for changing his vote, which highlights his influence. Kucinich’s view is that health care–and in this system, that involves health insurance plans–is a civil right.
How will his “yes” vote affect Kucinich’s re-election chances? Like all members of the House, Kucinich is up for re-election this fall. Despite that, his seat is relatively safe. He has been re-elected for several terms, even though his liberal policy views are widely known. He has always been to the far left of most of his fellow representatives, and his constituents have always known what they were getting. Democrats who were elected during the past few election cycles in conservative districts are more likely to be afraid of political blowback.
(Image: DonkeyHotey under CC 3.0)
Yamileth Medina is an up and coming expert on Health Insurance and Healthcare Reform. She aims to help people realize that they can find quality medical insurance right now. Yamileth lives in Miami, FL.
During a special full-length primetime broadcast, President Barack Obama addressed the US Congress in order to tackle concerns over the ongoing legislation and debates over health care reform.
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