Democrats may be protesting the policy behind a Republican amendment to override the administration’s contraception compromise with the Catholic Church, but they also are embracing the political fallout.
In a press call today, a group of Democratic Senators attacked a “conscience clause” amendment from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as part of “a concerted Republican effort” to restrict women’s access to health care. But in doing so, Democrats painted the difference between the parties as one based in election-year politics — politics they clearly think they can win, especially with women voters.
“It’s clearly a concerted Republican effort to attack women’s health care in an election year,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the Senate leadership team. “It’s strategy.”
Murray added that she believed Republicans think their path to electoral gains “runs right through the women’s health clinic.”
But the political coin has two sides, and it is Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who ultimately decides which amendments get votes. A vote on the Blunt language is expected as soon as next week, when the Senate moves forward with a larger transportation bill. By including the Blunt amendment on the list of measures the Senate will consider, Democrats have lengthened their campaign on women’s health care issues — opening the door for more press availabilities, statements and floor speeches.
Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — who controls the caucus’s messaging — called the GOP offering co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) “an election-year ploy.”
Schumer and Murray, in addition to Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), warned that the Blunt amendment as drafted would allow employers to opt out of providing a variety of health care services, not just family planning, based on moral objections.
“It’s not about birth control coverage; it’s about access to any kind of coverage,” Boxer said. Shaheen then posed a rhetorical situation in which employers could deny services to employees in interracial marriages if employers were morally opposed to them.
The Blunt amendment stipulates that “a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits” if “providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan or [if] such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.”
Though the scope of the amendment appears broad, Blunt has said that the language merely enforces a status quo that Republicans believe Democrats changed by passing the 2010 health care law.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.