Updated at 5:35 p.m. ET
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is voting in favor of the Democrats' health care package, he announced today, even though he stands by his criticisms that the legislation does not go far enough.
"Even though I don't like this bill, I've made the decision to support it," he told reporters, "in the hopes that we can move towards a more comprehensive approach once this legislation is done."
Moreover, the health care debate has become about more than just this legislation, the liberal congressman said -- he said the extreme, prolonged debate threatens to destroy the legitimacy of Barack Obama's presidency.
"I have many differences with him on policy," Kucinich said, "but there's something much bigger at stake here for America."
Despite Kucinich's switch, it's unknown how close Democrats are to securing the 216 votes needed for passage of the bill. With so much at stake, lawmakers, lobbyists and voters are all giving a final push either for or against reform in the final hours before the House puts the bill up for a vote.Republicans Have Used "Slaughter Solution" Many Times
As many as 38 votes could still be in play, according to the New York Times' helpful graphic explaining the House votes, while CNN concluded this morning opponents of reform are just 11 votes away from blocking the measure.
Democrats received some good news today when leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns said they found the Senate bill's abortion language acceptable. The abortion language has been a concern for a number of House Democrats, but a few today said they now feel confident the Senate language effectively keeps federal dollars from funding abortion.
Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar will now support the bill, Politico reports, after learning more about the Senate bill's abortion language. Michigan Rep. Dale Kildee also says he'll vote for the bill, according to the Associated Press, after being reassured about the Senate language.
Meanwhile, the lobbying continues. About a dozen key House districts are being deluged with health care ads from all sides this week, Politico reports. Both advocates for the bill and opponents have reportedly spent a total of $185 million in the past year, with the two sides essentially going head to head in spending. The final push for action includes grassroots lobbying from progressives still calling for a public option and conservatives holding "Code Red" rallies in opposition to the whole reform package.
Democratic leaders are making personal appeals to undecided lawmakers as well, as President Obama's meetings with Kucinich demonstrate.
The president met with Kucinich four times to discuss the health care legislation, the congressman said today, adding that Mr. Obama's final visit with him in Strongsville, Ohio finally convinced him to support the bill's passage.
"I may be in a position of casting the deciding vote," he said. "The president's visit to my district... underscored the urgency of this moment."
Mr. Obama explained "what he felt was at stake for the nation," Kucinich said, which "gave me more to think about."
The president was asked about Kucinich's announcement following a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen. "That's a good sign," he said.
Kucinich throughout his career has consistently pushed for a single-payer health care system and voted against the House health care bill last year because it did not include a public option, a compromise solution Kucinich and other liberals saw as a way to keep the private insurance industry in check without creating a single-payer system like expanding Medicare for all.
Up until today, Kucinich appeared ready to vote against the Senate bill this time around, as well.
"I have taken this fight further than many in Congress cared to carry it," he said, because of his desire to help his economically hard-hit constituents. "I take my responsibility to the people of my district personally," he said.
Yet while his constituents are burdened by the poor economy and insufficient health care, Kucinich said they kept telling him, "Something's better than nothing."
"That's what I kept hearing from my constituents... and at the same time, a real desire for our president to succeed," he said.
Given his history of disagreeing with the Obama administration on a number of issues, Kucinich said his invitation to join the president on Air Force One to Strongsville prompted him to think "that proper attire would include a parachute." Still, he said, he joined Mr. Obama ready to listen.
"In Washington, the big mistake that we get into here is that we become so intractable we forget to talk to each other," he said. "When the President of the United States wants to have a conversation with you, you take that seriously."
Attempts to undermine the president have bothered Kucinich, he said, adding that it "hurts the nation." That, in part, prompted his decision today, he said.
"If we stay riveted on this health care debate and don't get out of it at all, we've created a prison of our own making, and I don't want to be a part of that," he said.
When asked today when the House will vote on the bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said they were still waiting for a cost estimate of the legislation from the Congressional Budget Office.
"We're doing it as soon as it's ready," he said.
More Coverage of the Health Care Reform Fight:
Countdown to Health Care Vote Spurs Final Push from Dems, Opponents
Door Closed on Health Care Protesters
Cloudy Skies Start Clearing For Dems
GOP Tries to Block "Slaughter Solution" in Health Care Vote
Explainer: How the House Could Pass Health Care Reform with One Vote
Liberal Groups Turn on Dems to Pass Health Care Reform
Groups Seek to Influence Health Care Debate Without Disclosing Donors