By Kevin McGill
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Republican Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao says he will consider voting for Democrat-backed health care reform legislation — but only if it includes language explicitly forbidding federal money for abortions.
Even then, Cao told about 100 people at a town hall meeting Aug. 13 that he is worried about the cost of the bill, its possible effects on Medicare, and a proposal that would put a government plan in competition with private insurance companies.
The meeting at a church in a racially and economically mixed New Orleans neighborhood, known as the Irish Channel, was at times contentious but largely civil compared to other meetings around the nation.
The most dramatic moment came early when a woman who identified herself as Sally Stevens was recognized for a question. She approached Cao holding a handful of window envelopes with the return address of a local hospital. She said they were medical bills totaling $8,000 that she was having trouble paying. She then tossed them on a table behind the congressman, saying she would let “you and your insurance lobbyist buddies” handle them. Then she walked out while some in the crowd applauded.
Later, when another questioner asked whether he would accept campaign donations from medical interests, Cao said he has taken little money from such interests.
Another questioner accused Cao, a Jesuit and former seminarian, of putting his religious views ahead of the wishes of his constituents because of his opposition to federal abortion funding. Cao stood his ground, saying opposition to abortion is a moral view shared by many different religions.
Cao is an attorney who defeated disgraced nine-term incumbent Democrat William Jefferson in December to become the nation’s first Vietnamese American congressman. Jefferson, recently convicted of corruption, was under indictment at the time, but Cao’s victory was still a surprise in the mostly Black, mostly Democratic New Orleans-based district.
He drew political heat soon after taking office because he voted against President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill, but he has broken away with the GOP on other issues, including funding for children’s health insurance and recent war funding legislation — votes he took pains to note as he told the crowd that he strives to be nonpartisan.
The crowd appeared to lean toward favoring Democratic health care proposals, although opponents of the proposals and of abortion received strong applause at times.
Aside from his insistence that reform legislation include a prohibition on federal abortion funding, Cao was reluctant to take strong positions on most aspects of the proposals before Congress. “It’s very complex,” he said, standing next to a table piled with loose-leaf binders containing pages from the bills.
“I’m not taking it lightly, the president is not taking it lightly, and no member of Congress is taking it lightly,” Cao said. ♦