The Future is Cao

THE FUTURE IS CAO…. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Tea Party protestors this week, “I will guarantee you that we are committed to making sure that not one Republican will vote for this bill.”

That didn’t quite go according to plan.

House Democrats were thrilled by the passage of their major health care legislation, but perhaps no development on Saturday tickled them more than winning the vote of a single Republican: Representative Ahn “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana.

Mr. Cao, a freshman from New Orleans, was elected last year in an upset victory over Representative William J. Jefferson, a Democrat who was under indictment on federal corruption charges at the time and has since been convicted. (Mr. Cao’s name is pronounced g-OW).

“Tonight, I voted to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion and to deliver access to affordable health care to the people of Louisiana,” Mr. Cao said in a statement posted on his Web site.

“I read the versions of the House bill. I listened to the countless stories of Orleans and Jefferson Parish citizens whose health care costs are exploding — if they are able to obtain health care at all. Louisianans needs real options for primary care, for mental health care, and for expanded health care for seniors and children.”

And you know what this means: health care reform enjoyed bipartisan support in the House. If Cao ends up voting for final, post-conference passage, President Obama will no doubt take some pride in announcing that health care reform was the result of “Democratic, Republican, and Independent votes.”

Rumor has it that Cao is severely unpopular in conservative circles right now, but the context of his particular predicament matters. Cao barely won his election in a district that President Obama won with 75% support. Realistically, the only reason Cao was successful was that the Democratic incumbent was under criminal indictment, was on video accepting bribes, and had cash found in his freezer when FBI agents raided his home. Running for re-election next year, after voting against President Obama’s health care reform package, would have proven exceedingly difficult.

Cao’s voting record makes him the single most moderate House GOP member, and yesterday, rumor has it that Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Ann DeParle both personally leaned on him to support the bill, especially after it won the backing of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (Cao is a former Jesuit priest).

Nevertheless, Cao’s vote does bring to mind a memo Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) published in December. The subject line read, “The Future is Cao,” and it argued, “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, and work aggressively to earn the trust of the American people.”

I can only assume Boehner would prefer we disregard the memo from now on.

Post Script: Here’s hoping Cao’s vote, at a minimum, sends a signal to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). After all, if a House Republican from Louisiana can vote for health care reform, the least a Senate Democrat from Louisiana can do is let the bill have an up-or-down vote.