Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blocked Republicans today from offering a proposal to repeal an Obama administration rule that requires religious-affiliated institutions to offer employees health insurance that covers birth control.
Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.) attempted to bring to the floor an amendment to a highway funding bill that would eliminate the proposed regulation, which was written by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Reid objected, charging that the Republicans were trying to upend passage of the transportation bill that might otherwise have broad bipartisan support.
“Listen to this,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “They’re talking about First Amendment rights, the Constitution, and I appreciate that. But ... that is so senseless. This debate that’s going on dealing with this issue dealing with contraception is a rule that hasn’t been made final yet. There’s no final rule. Let’s wait until there’s at least a rule that we can talk about.
“Everybody should calm down,” Reid continued. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Senate Republicans made clear they would continue legislative efforts to repeal the regulation, which also is opposed by some Democrats and has inflamed Catholic groups. Congressional Republicans and conservative activists have cast the debate as one over religious freedom, and they appear to have gained traction with that argument, although progressives and some Democrats on Capitol Hill have come to the administration’s defense.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, responding to Reid’s objection, expressed surprise that the Majority Leader would block the amendment.
“Frankly, this is a day I was not inclined to think I would ever see,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in my life defending the First Amendment, but I never thought I’d see a day when the elected representatives of the people of this country would be blocked by the majority party in Congress to even express their support for it regardless of the ultimate outcome.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.