The only Republican to vote for the House Democrats' health care reform bill said he voted his conscience, putting aside concerns about the cost in hopes of providing health care access to all Americans.
Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana said he cast "a very difficult vote" on Saturday, when the House passed the bill 220-215, just over the 218 required for passage.
"But at the end of the day I have to vote on the needs of my district down here in New Orleans and vote according to my conscience," Mr. Cao said in an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times' morning radio show, "America's Morning News."
Now that the House has passed its bill, the action moves back to the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Tuesday that he expects to have a reform bill ready for the Senate floor next week.
Democrats may be hoping to land a Republican vote in the Senate, as well. But that's unlikely to happen as all 40 minority-party senators say they can't vote for a bill that contains the public insurance plan.
Mr. Cao represents a traditionally Democratic district in New Orleans, a seat last held by William J. Jefferson, a Democrat who was found guilty in August of soliciting bribes and on other corruption charges.
All of the 176 other Republicans in the House voted against the bill, arguing that it was too costly, would increase the deficit and would put the government between doctors and patients. Mr. Cao said health care is more important than the cost.
"I believe the health care issue is important enough for us to do what we have to do," he said. "We must look at cutting costs in other areas that might not have the same priority - that might not have the same, to me, life-and-death questions. We might just have to tighten our belts in other areas."
Mr. Cao said he does not anticipate backlash from the Republican National Committee or fellow House Republicans, who shortly before the vote pledged that none of the GOP lawmakers would vote for the bill.
"If the [RNC] chairman believes I am not conservative enough for the GOP, well, that's his prerogative to make the decision, but I hope that he would continue to work with me to do whatever we can in order to arrive at good solutions for the country," Mr. Cao said. "I believe at this point in time, to cause a rift between moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans would not be good for the Republican Party."
Mr. Cao, a Roman Catholic, said he was initially concerned that the bill would allow federal funds to finance abortions, but once an amendment barring funding sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, passed, he was able to put aside those concerns. Democrats who support abortion rights, however, have said the Stupak amendment goes further than existing law.
"Once the [Stupak]-Pitts amendment was passed, then for the Catholic bishops it was no longer an issue to them, so we were able to satisfy both our Catholic conscious and also to push for health care reform," he said.