Unperturbed after Senate Democrats blocked their effort to let employer health plans refuse to cover birth control and other preventive services, Republican leaders are vowing to keep up the fight after the vote. And Democrats are more than happy to let them — all the way up until the November elections.
“This fight is not over,” said Senate GOP Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO), the author of the amendment that was tabled 51-48 on Thursday. “I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to protect the rights that make our nation great.”
Though many Republicans would like to give the issue a rest, fearing voter backlash, the GOP can’t easily soft-peddle in this culture war conflagration. And that was clear today on both sides of the Capitol.
“I think it’s important for us to win this issue,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters Thursday, echoing the party line that the Obama administration’s requirement that most employer health plans include contraceptive coverage violates religious liberty. Boehner did, however, demur on how exactly he’d like to proceed, even though the House’s version of Blunt’s bill has over 200 cosponsors.
The close Senate vote reflects a strong GOP effort to contain the political consequences of pushing the controversial amendment before the public had a chance to weigh in. After a concerted whip effort, only one Republican — Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) — defected. All other waffling GOPers, including Scott Brown (MA), Susan Collins (ME), and Dean Heller (NV) fell into line. Indeed more Democrats (three in total) crossed the aisle to vote for the Blunt amendment than vice versa. But there’s a good reason Dem leaders pushed anyway: on issues like contraception, they’re confident they’ll win the broader battle for public perception.
“Once again, Republicans have proposed a sweeping overreach into the lives, and health, of America’s women,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), calling the Blunt measure an “extreme amendment to a completely unrelated bill that would allow an employer or insurance company to claim a vague ‘moral conviction’ as an excuse to deny women health care coverage.”
There’s a reason Dems are confident: 63 percent of American adults support Obama’s contraception mandate, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
For Republicans, the goal is to obscure the contraception angle, even though that’s what ignited the debate, and frame the issue around President Obama squelching religious freedoms. Democrats, however, intend to make it about basic access to birth control and right-wing overreach into women’s health care decisions.
Mitt Romney, the GOP’s top presidential contender, weighed in to support the Blunt amendment Wednesday, and earned an immediate rebuke from Obama’s reelection campaign. Senate campaigns are firing off missives to the press trying to paint the issue in their favor. And outside groups from all walks of politics are rushing to weigh in on this battle. If Republicans stick to their guns, this fight is going all 12 rounds, until November.
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.