Freshman Republican Rep. Ahn “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana was the only Republican member of the House to vote “yes” Saturday in the 220 to 215 approval of President Barack Obama’s sweeping overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system.
Cao and his staff had signaled in interviews with Newsmax that he was open to supporting health reform legislation, but his final vote would depend on language regarding funding for abortion because he didn't want to be in conflict with his Catholic background.
“There is political pressure on me to do well,” Cao told Newsmax. Earlier he had told reporters that voting against healthcare reform would “probably be the death of my political career.”
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Cao waited until 218 yes votes, the number needed to ensure passage, had been cast for the bill before voting.
On his Web site, Cao wrote: “Tonight, I voted to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion and to deliver access to affordable healthcare to the people of Louisiana. I read the versions of the House (health reform) bill. I listened to the countless stories of Orleans and Jefferson Parish citizens whose healthcare costs are exploding – if they are able to obtain healthcare at all. Louisianans needs real options for primary care, for mental healthcare, and for expanded healthcare for seniors and children.”
One year ago, Cao defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. William Jefferson to become the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. His was quickly proclaimed as a lesson in how the Republican Party could attract and captivate voters beyond its traditional white male supporters.
“As House Republicans look ahead to the next two years, the Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative,” Republican House leader John Boehner wrote in a memo he called “The Future is Cao.”
It had been reported – inaccurately – that Cao was set to vote against the healthcare package, a position his office strenuously disputed in an interview with Newsmax.
“It was not that he decided to vote again the healthcare plan, as many in the GOP did. It was his reasons for considering not voting, to see if he morally could not do it,” said Princella Smith, Cao’s press spokesperson.
Smith said the deal-breaker was what would happen to federal prohibitions against funding abortions. Unless such prohibitions were explicit, Cao would not support any legislation.
“It has nothing has to GOP party ideology,” Smith said. “He actually read the bill, all the pages. He is a proponent of prevention and wellness. He is not taking an ideology stand against it.”
The health legislation included the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which will keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections for healthcare providers.
“Before the Stupak-Pitts amendment was adopted as part of this health reform bill, the bill failed to explicitly include the longstanding policy prohibiting federal funding of elective abortion and plans which include elective abortion,” Cao wrote. “I have always said that I would put aside partisan wrangling to do the business of the people. My vote tonight was based on my priority of doing what is best for my constituents.”
Nevertheless, his vote may have been part of a deal. “Today, I obtained a commitment from President Obama that he and I will work together to address the critical healthcare issues of Louisiana including the FMAP crisis and community disaster loan forgiveness, as well as issues related to Charity and Methodist Hospitals,” Cao wrote.
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