Not satisfied with President Obama’s new religious accommodation, Republicans will move forward with legislation by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that permits any employer to deny birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday.
“If we end up having to try to overcome the President’s opposition by legislation, of course I’d be happy to support it, and intend to support it,” McConnell said. “We’ll be voting on that in the Senate and you can anticipate that that would happen as soon as possible.”
The Blunt amendment he was specifically referring to would “ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions” under the Affordable Care Act. Similar legislation was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) before the White House announced Friday that it would allow religious nonprofits such as charities, hospitals and universities to opt out of paying for contraception coverage and force the insurance company to do so instead.
White House chief of staff Jack Lew, asked about the Blunt amendment after McConnell’s remarks, declined to delve into the issue but predicted that “it’s not going to come to pass.”
A debate over access to contraception could be politically problematic for Republicans as polls show Americans overwhelmingly support the use of birth control and want insurance plans to cover the service for free. Tellingly, McConnell was eager to keep the focus on religious freedom as opposed to contraception itself.
“The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion, it’s right there in the First Amendment. You can’t miss it — right there in the very first amendment to our Constitution,” McConnell said. “What the overall view on the issue of contraception is has nothing to do with an issue about religious freedom.”
McConnell went on to embellish the argument, claiming Obama is being “rigid in his view that he gets to decide what somebody else’s religion is.” He said that “this issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down.”
House GOP leaders also said Friday they will move forward with legislation to repeal the birth control rule in its entirety. Republicans from both chambers are aligning themselves with the Catholic Bishops who say the new policy remains unacceptable.
The push indicates either that Republicans believe there’s still an opportunity to score political points against Obama, or that they’ve simply calculated they cannot back down now. Regardless, the success of the strategy now rests on the gamble that Republicans will be able to continue framing the issue as one over religious liberty and not contraception, despite the new accommodation Obama carved out.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.