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Obama wins support for health bill from Kucinich

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's health care legislation won precious support Wednesday from a longtime liberal holdout in the House and from Catholic nuns representing dozens of religious orders, gaining fresh traction in the run-up to a climactic weekend vote.

"It's a good sign," said Obama, two weeks after taking personal command of a campaign to enact legislation in what has become a virtual vote of confidence in his presidency.

The long-anticipated measure is actually the second of two bills that Obama hopes lawmakers will send him in coming days, more than a year after he urged Congress to remake the nation's health care system. The first cleared the Senate late last year but went no further because House Democrats demanded changes.

Together, the measures are designed to extend coverage to more than 30 million who now lack it and ban the insurance industry from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich's announcement in the Capitol made him the first Democrat to declare he would vote in favor after voting against an earlier version, and he stressed he was still dissatisfied with key parts.

"I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is," said the Ohio lawmaker, who twice ran for president advocating national health care. "If my vote is to be counted, let it now count for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform."

Referring to the political struggle under way, Kucinich said, "You do have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama's presidency not be destroyed by this debate."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Kucinich's switch was important not only for itself, "but also on the outside," with liberal groups still unhappy the bill doesn't create a government-run insurance option.

Republicans argue that the legislation still amounts to a government takeover of health care, largely paid for through higher taxes and deep cuts in Medicare that will harm seniors. In recent days, they have also turned their criticism on Pelosi, who says the House may approve the Senate-passed bill without casting a separate vote on it. Instead, under a rule that would itself be subject to a vote, it would be considered passed automatically if the second fix-it bill passed.

"The only way to stop this madness is for a few courageous Democrats to step forward and stop it," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate GOP leader.

Meanwhile, after weeks of the White House belittling Fox News, Obama appeared Wednesday on the cable network to sell his embattled health care overhaul. During an interview with Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier, punctuated by interruptions and chiding, Obama defended his health care plan and the process by which it is heading toward becoming law.

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