After an intense debate and rhetorical bombast on both sides, the Senate voted, 51-48, to kill a GOP amendment that would allow companies and insurance providers to opt out of mandated birth control coverage for religious reasons.
Of the 51 that voted to kill the bill, only one was a Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. Three Democrats joined Republicans in favor of the amendment: Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Senate Democrats agreed to hold a vote on the amendment despite complaints that it was not related to the underlying transportation bill. But they charged that the proposal is far-reaching and would result in women losing access to a vital health care service.
"Today the Senate will vote on an extreme, ideological amendment to the bipartisan transportation bill," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said before the vote. "It would allow any employer or insurer to deny coverage for virtually any treatment for virtually any reason."
Reid continued: "To make matters worse, Republicans have held up progress on an important jobs bill to extract this political vote. This amendment has no place on a transportation bill."
Reid hopes that by getting the amendment out of way, Democrats and Republicans will be able to agree to vote on a list of amendments and finish the transportation measure as soon as possible. Other potential amendments include a proposal to green-light the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline and an amendment to delay and alter boiler pollution regulations.
After the vote, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), at a press conference with Democratic leaders, appeared to single out Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) for his vote in favor of the amendment. He also referenced the recent announcement that Snowe plans to retire and charged that Republicans were driving moderates from the ranks.
"I don't envy the rank-and-file Republicans who walked the plank on this vote," said Schumer, who also heads the Senate Democrats policy and communications arm.
"I think it's going to be awfully hard to defend it back home, especially in places like New England," Schumer said.
Brown's office released a letter supporting his vote from Democratic Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who also served as ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton administration. Brown is in a tough fight for re-election this year against Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
Members of the GOP argue that the amendment — which was sponsored by Republican Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) — would not result in the denial of health care services to women and would merely allow religious institutions to exercise their religious freedom. Republicans also said the amendment would mirror previous laws that were in effect before the 2010 health care law was passed.