I've requested interviews with many Republican members of the House and the Senate. Thus far, however, only Congressman Ron Paul and, now, Congressman Cao have obliged.
GOP Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-LA) is the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress and the first Republican to represent Louisiana's Second District since 1890. Cao is also a lawyer who's a devoted, Jesuit-trained Roman Catholic.
Kathleen Wells: Now that you've heard the President's recent speech to the joint session of Congress, what are your thoughts on his health care plan?
Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao: Basically, I do agree with the President that we need some kind of health care reform. Now, what kind of reform are we going to get? That is the question. I support his position for no federal funding for abortions as well as his position concerning benefits to the elderly.
There are some other aspects that concern me with respect to the health care bill in the House. For example, some of the provisions seek to impose somewhat of a burden on businesses, especially small businesses. Even though there is a provision that would exempt businesses from the employer responsibility requirement, a lot of the small businesses in New Orleans would not qualify for that exemption. They have conveyed to me their concerns with respect to how this bill will impact them and will impact their ability to keep their employees.
Along those same lines, I also have concerns with respect to some of the proposed cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. As you know, they are proposing to cut 500 billion dollars to Medicaid and Medicare and that is of concern to me.
Kathleen Wells: When the bill comes to the House floor, do you know how you will vote?
Congressman Cao: At this point, no, because I don't have the final version of the bill. I believe that the Speaker will release a combined bill [soon]. At this point, we don't really know how the final bill is going to look. But at the end of the day, one of my greatest concerns is will there be strong language prohibiting federally funding for abortion? That's my main concern.
Kathleen Wells: What is your position on the public option?
Congressman Cao: I'm not ideologically opposed to the public option, if the public option works as we want it to work. For example, [if it will] provide higher quality care at lower cost, then I don't see why we can't support it. The question here is will the public option work as intended? Will it provide higher quality care and bring down costs? Depending on whom you speak to, you get mixed messages. So, at this juncture, I have no idea with respect to the benefits of the public option. But if it works, I have no problem supporting it.
Kathleen Wells: One of the things the President wants is a bipartisan bill. Do you feel your party has been sincerely engaged in the debate on health care?
Congressman Cao: Your question is "have we been engaged from the Democratic leadership?"
Kathleen Wells: As a Republican, do you believe your party has come to the table with clean hands?
Congressman Cao: I cannot speak for [the] leadership. I can only say what I have observed. Based on what I've seen so far, I don't believe we have been adequately engaged by the Democratic leadership with respect to this health care reform bill.
As you know, people have strong convictions from both parties and I'm pretty sure that there are Republican members who have strong positions with respect to how this reform bill should look. So, when you are talking about coming to the table with clean hands, I don't really know what that is suppose to mean, but they come to the table with good intentions.
Kathleen Wells: You feel the Democrats haven't engaged the Republicans in the process?
Congressman Cao: Not to my knowledge.
Kathleen Wells: Do you feel that the health care reform bill will impact the deficit in a negative way?
Congressman Cao: At this point, again, I'm hearing mixed messages from different people - from different agencies, depending on whom you talk to and, again, it depends on what version of the bill you are talking about. If you are looking at H.R. 3200, even though the White House is saying it is deficit neutral, the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) has it at about a 250 billion dollar increase in deficit spending.
Still, I believe -- not only am I concerned, but the majority of the people are concerned with the increase in deficit spending. Even the President himself is concerned because of the economic impact on inflation.
Kathleen Wells: What will it take to determine your vote on the health care bill that comes to the House floor? What would be necessary for you to cast a favorable vote?
Congressman Cao: I have one necessary condition -- that the bill must have strong language prohibiting federal funding of abortion.
Kathleen Wells: You don't believe the bill currently includes that provision?
Congressman Cao: That's absolutely correct. That is one necessity. Everything else, for me, is negotiable.
Kathleen Wells: The intention of the President is that federal funds will not be used to support abortions.
Congressman Cao: Well, that is the intent of the President and he expressed that quite clearly to the joint session in Congress. But whether or not that language is put into the respective bills right now is a question that we have because presently H.R. 3200 still has the Capps amendment.
Kathleen Wells: What exactly is the Capps amendment?
Congressman Cao: The Capps amendment basically controls the issue of federal funding in connection with abortion in H.R. 3200. I believe that particular amendment is not sufficiently strong. Even the White House or at least when I had a conversation with the White House Medical Czar, they also agreed with me that the amendment is somewhat unclear in regards to federal funding for abortions. If an amendment leads to unclarity, [sic] then, for me, it is not sufficiently strong. If it is sufficiently strong, then we have a very clear understanding of whether or not federal funding should go to abortions.
Kathleen Wells: You take this position because you are pro-life, correct?
Congressman Cao: No. I take this position because I'm a former ethics professor and I believe the issue of abortion is one of the most important moral issues of our time. I believe that Roe v. Wade is bad law. And I hope one day Roe v. Wade can be overturned. For me, it is a moral issue that we have to contend with. For me, I stand to defend the life of the unborn.
Kathleen Wells: You are a lawyer. Roe v Wade is the law. How do you reconcile that?
Congressman Cao: Roe v. Wade is the law, but the question here is whether it is good or bad law. We can say the same thing about slavery or segregation. Even though those issues were law before, that didn't stop people from challenging them and eventually overturning those laws.
As a conscientious human being, I, among many others, believe that Roe v. Wade is bad law. Even though it is the law of the land, it should not prevent people from continuing to challenge the law and, hopefully, overturning it one day.
Kathleen Wells: I've heard reports that many health care professionals in your state, have had to abandon their practice because of Katrina - the onslaught of those effects. Are you going to be addressing this issue?
Congressman Cao: The lack of health care providers?
Kathleen Wells: Exactly. The fact that due to Katrina, you have fewer health care professional in Louisiana?
Congressman Cao: Correct. We have brought that up with the White House and some of the other people we've spoken to in connection with the health care reform bill. Our district is already burdened with the lack of medical care providers and with this health care reform bill, which will bring in an additional influx, who knows how many people in our district will be added. We already have a system that is under stress and now we are imposing additional stress onto the system, which I believe will be quite problematic for the people of the Second District.
Kathleen Wells: One last question. It's been reported that the President is very fond of you. Would you elaborate on your relationship with the President?
Congressman Cao: As you know, we are the first. He is the first African - American [President]. I am the first Vietnamese - American to be elected to Congress. I believe both he and I have the same position in that we are trying to reach real, true solutions to the problems that we have. He sees me as a person he can work with, even though at times, I will not agree with him on all issues. But I know that he has a good heart and I know that he knows that I have a good heart and we understand that his duty is to make decisions for the country and my duty is to make decisions for the people of my district. Oftentimes, what he wants at the national level might not be something that we need at the district level.
So, we will disagree on issues, but at the end of day, we know that our heart is [committed] to serve the people and we are trying to do that job the best that we can, even though, at times, as you know, it gets quite difficult.