May 23, 2013
Kucinich: ‘I’m Just Trying to Do the Best I Can’
Posted on Mar 20, 2010
Rep. Dennis Kucinich was interviewed by Truthdig Managing Editor Peter Z. Scheer and podcast producer Joshua Scheer.
Peter Scheer: This is Peter Scheer, I’m with Joshua Scheer and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Dennis, you’re very much in the news this week for your switch on health care. But before we get to that, you’ve just come from a big meeting about the health care bill. Are you in the Capitol now?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I am. Well, I just am back in my office, but I’m in the Capitol complex in the Rayburn Building.
P.S.: And so how is the vote going?
P.S.: And has the president been addressing the caucus?
D.K.: He did and he made a very powerful presentation to the caucus just moments ago, where he outlined what he felt are some of the major benefits of the bill, and he also talked about the moment that we have here. And I think that tomorrow, at this time, we should be on our way to seeing the bill passed.
P.S.: Have you been working to turn other members of the House who might have voted against the bill in favor of it?
D.K.: Yes. The moment I made my decision I knew I would be helpful with other members who have struggled with the contradictions of the bill, with other members who knew how badly flawed the bill is, and still wanted to see if there was any way they could justify voting for it, and so I’ve had many discussions with members throughout the Democratic caucus about the bill.
P.S.: Can you give us an example of something you said?
D.K.: Generally that my support for the bill wasn’t because I was celebrating its merits. I was not able to make the changes that I tried to make, and yet when it comes down to the vote, I understood that any opportunity we have to impact health care policy after this bill is really going to depend on whether the bill passes or not. If the bill goes down, we may not see another opportunity in our lifetime to have any serious discussion about expanding health care, about redefining it, about transforming it, making it more comprehensive. There are so many issues that are not addressed in this bill, and the whole debate occurs in the context of a for-profit health care system. And so there’s a lot of flaws here. But to get past the flaws ,you have to make it possible to show that you can make some progress on health care even on a bill that’s flawed.
P.S.: So the big question, congressman, a week and a half ago or so you told us that you didn’t think there was much they could do to earn your vote on this bill, and now you’re voting for the bill. And more than that, working to get other representatives to vote for it. How did you come to this decision?
D.K.: Well, I don’t retract or recant any of the criticisms I’ve made of the bill. In the end they really didn’t provide any kind of a compromise that I was looking for. I couldn’t get a public option in the bill, and I was literally the last person standing on that issue. I could not get legal protection that would free the states to pursue single-payer. And when I saw that there was absolutely no way that I was going to get anything out of the White House or anything out of the congressional leaders, specifically with respect to the two critical items that I felt were necessary in order to make this bill worth voting for, then I had to come to the conclusion, well, either the bill is going to rise or sink on my vote, and then do I want to be responsible for killing the only approach to health care that’s been offered. No matter how far [off] I think it is, do I just want to stop the discussion? And that called for some very serious thinking. And so I’m aware of all the criticisms I’ve made. I’ve been one of the foremost advocates of single-payer health care in this country in terms of anyone in Congress for the last 14 years. And I’m the co-author of the bill, H.R. 676. I ran twice for president on a single-payer platform. I carried single-payer proposals to national platform committee meanings. I’ve been on the floor to get, one time we had 92 members supporting it. I think now there are 87. The thing is, I knew this bill wasn’t single-payer. Single-payer was taken off the table. I fought for a compromise in the public option; it was so weak, but nevertheless it opened the door away from, there was opening away from the for-profit system. But this for-profit system has basically been sealed off and protected by this bill, as one of the flaws. However, when I understood that there was nothing I could do to change it, it goes back to having to make a decision whether or I wanted to be the one who would kill it, and in process stop any discussion about broader health care reform issues that must occur. I’m in a singular position here. Because if I were voting no, and I basically said, “Look, it doesn’t have what I want. It’s not the bill I want. I’m not going to vote for it,” and the bill dies, why would anyone want to hear anything I have to say about health care if I was the deciding vote against it? But why would anyone want to work with me. Why would anyone want to hear about the needs about my constituents if I had taken it upon myself to kill the bill? You can’t always get what you want and when you can’t get what you want, you have to reflect maturely as to whether or not something is better than nothing. At first I was offended of that kind of truism, but in fact many of my constituents who were calling supporting the bill began to tell me that, and in the end I’m hoping that’s true. But I’m taking another responsibility now on my shoulders now, and that is if the bill passes to fight again for expanding the meaning of health care to addressing the issues of diet, nutrition, complementary alternative medicine, and continuing to fight to allow states to have a legal right to a single-payer plan.
Joshua Scheer: Do the insurance companies then win?
D.K.: They have been successful in the sense that there’s no public option. Do they win? Those who have crafted this bill would argue that the insurance companies are, for the first time, being made responsible by having to cover people with a pre-existing condition, and having to extend coverage to families who have young people to age 26 in the household or have them on the policy. There are some reforms here, but I didn’t come at the conclusion because I said, well, there are some reforms and I’m rethinking that proposition. I have to look at it from the standpoint, if the vote goes down, there’s not hope for after to do anything that I want to do. Who’s going to pay attention?
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