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Obama wins critic over to health overhaul

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A fierce Democratic foe of the White House’s historic health care overhaul said Wednesday he would vote for the bill, citing a fear that defeating the measure would destroy Barack Obama’s presidency.

After an ardent courtship by Obama, including a ride Monday to his home district aboard the presidential Air Force One airplane, Representative Dennis Kucinich announced he would vote for the sweeping legislation. “We have to be very careful that the potential of president Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate,” Kucinich, who represents a district in Ohio, told reporters.

“Even though I have many differences with him on policy, there’s something much bigger at stake here for America,” said the lawmaker, who has voted “no” on other major Obama initiatives, including his plan to fight climate change. Kucinich’s change of heart was a significant symbolic win for the White House as it courted wavering Democrats needed to pass the bill in a make-or-break House of Representative vote expected this week.

“That’s a good sign,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office after talks with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen. “I told him ‘thank you.’ “Kucinich — who favours a universal health care plan in line with most major rich democracies — made no secret of his concerns, repeatedly saying “this is not the bill I wanted to support.” But, he said, “I have to make a decision not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is.”

Asked whether his shift might sway others on the left flank of the Democratic party, the lawmaker replied: “Well, if I can vote for this bill, there’s not many people who shouldn’t be able to support it.” Kucinich quipped that he climbed aboard Air Force One as such a confirmed critic of top presidential initiatives that “I thought that proper attire would include a parachute.” And asked when he notified the president of his vote switch, he said the White House had learned “just now” in the press conference.

“I’ve decided to cast a vote in favour of the legislation. If my vote is to be counted, let it count now for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform,” he said. The bill aims to extend health coverage to at least 31 million Americans who currently lack it, end abusive insurance company practices, and curb soaring health care costs that already run double those of other rich countries.

Washington, March 17, 2010 (AFP)