Thursday, March 1, 2012

GOP Struggles To Contain Birth Control Fallout

Top Republicans are working overtime to mask palpable concern within their party over a Thursday Senate vote to roll back an Obama administration rule requiring most employers to provide workers with contraceptive coverage in their health benefits.

Yet despite a growing sense that the GOP has veered into politically dangerous territory, a full-scale retreat would embarrass the party, and alienate a powerful segment of its conservative base. And that’s left Republicans little choice but to press ahead, illustrating the dangers they’ll face if election year politicking turns further from the economy toward culture war fights that voters thought were settled decades ago.

The measure in question was authored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) — a member of the GOP’s leadership team — and would allow employers who provide health benefits to deny coverage of particular services — including contraception — for reasons of conscience. Blunt introduced the legislation at the height of the contretemps over the Obama administration’s contraception rule, and Republicans pushed hard to secure a vote for it as an amendment to an unrelated transportation bill. But according to a top Democratic aide briefed on negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders, something changed in recent days — and in the end Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took it upon himself to force the issue.

“They were pushing for it, but once they realized what a disaster it was turning into they started trying to walk it back,” the aide said. “They started making rumblings that they wanted to change and moderate it, which is why Reid went ahead and filed it as is.”

Late Wednesady, on the Senate floor, Reid hinted at the GOP’s dilemma. “Yesterday I had to bring up a Republican amendment that they didn’t even bother to file, they just wanted to talk about it and hold press conferences on this issue.”