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Rand Paul Wages One-Man Culture War on Senate Floor

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In March, Senate Republicans offered an amendment to transportation legislation that would have allowed companies and insurance providers to opt out of a proposed rule on access to contraception.

The amendment — which was defeated despite heated rhetoric from Democrats that it should not get a vote — came in response to a rule proposed by the Obama administration that would require insurance companies to provide and pay for contraception services in accordance with the 2010 health care law.

Republicans sought to frame the issue as one of religious freedom, because some religious institutions would be forced to offer insurance coverage for something with which they disagree.

But momentum shifted in Democrats’ favor after a House committee held a hearing on the issue that Democrats said was dominated by men. Momentum shifted further when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” after she testified before a Democratic panel that was called in response to the GOP hearing.

Seeing an opportunity, Democrats then claimed Republicans were conducting a “war on women,” and said the amendment showed that Republicans were willing to trample on women’s right to contraception, which they said is standard health care.

Since then, Republican leaders have attempted to stay focused on the economy and the need to create jobs.

“Since the contraception debate, Republicans’ standing with women has dropped; it’s still dragging [presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt] Romney’s numbers down,” the Senate Democratic aide said.

A Senate GOP aide said “no one in the country is buying the Democrats’ [war on women] argument.” The aide said Democrats are seeking to distract from the state of the economy, which is what the election will be about.

Republicans also argue that Paul’s efforts are the result of general GOP frustration with the amendment process, which under the recently passed farm bill saw the Senate vote on more than 70 amendments, including non-germane amendments.

“We thought we started a trend with the farm bill last week that was going to be more of a pattern,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.) who is also the Senate Republican Conference chairman. “This is kind of back to the way things were done before, which is unfortunate.”

Reid tried to pressure Paul to reconsider pushing for the amendment and spoke about the issue three times this week.

But Democrats did not go all out to highlight the issue, as they did not want to destabilize negotiations on the transportation bill nor legislation to avert a doubling of interest rates on student loans.

The Senate Democratic aide noted that Paul has a history of offering high-profile, typically non-germane amendments, which the aide acknowledged is every Senator’s right.

“It shows he’s not interested in legislating,” the aide continued. “The way the rules are designed, you can’t legislate if every Senator does what he’s doing.”

The criticism doesn’t bother Paul, who believes in the issues he pursues, including the personhood amendment.

“This is so important to the Senator,” said a spokeswoman, who added that he introduced it as a standalone bill in January.

“It would only take about 30 minutes of Senate time” to debate and vote on, the spokeswoman said.

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