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Blunt Amendment Offers Clash of Ideologies

We’re going to have that rare moment this week in Congress, a vote which both sides anticipate with a certain glee. The transportation bill is on the floor of the Senate this week, and Democrats can’t wait to have their rivals initiate a vote on the Blunt amendment, which responds to the President’s birth control universal access rules by allowing any employer to opt out of any health insurance mandate on religious grounds. But Republicans are all too happy to bring the vote to the floor as well:

The GOP proposal — expected to be offered as an amendment sometime this week to a transportation bill currently being considered by the Senate — would “give employers an unprecedented license to dictate what women and men can have covered,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on a conference call with reporters Friday.

“It’s extreme, it’s dangerous and it puts employers smack between women and their health care and politics between women and their health care,” said Murray, who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee […]

Republicans said Friday that Democrats have stooped to scaring voters by spreading misinformation. They charge that the modified rule still does not take into account the conscience of religious employers, such as the Catholic Church, that opposes contraception.

“I agree that politics don’t belong in this debate and that’s why these blatant attempts to frighten and mislead Americans about this bipartisan bill are simply shameful,” said Blunt, who is the Republican Conference vice chairman.

In fact, Blunt wrote an op-ed in his hometown newspaper arguing that his amendment merely preserves religious freedom, and that he means only to uphold the Constitution through the legislation. Of course, to those employees of religious universities or hospitals that happen to not follow the same religious beliefs, they would find themselves the object of discrimination under the Blunt amendment. They would be unable to access the same health benefits as their colleagues at other companies merely by virtue of their employer’s religious objection. And under the Blunt amendment, that could easily be true of any employer in the nation. An employer who happens to be a Christian scientist could have a moral objection to medical care generally, and could legally opt out of providing insurance to his or her employees. This is the slippery slope here.

As I said, you don’t often see Democrats and Republicans simultaneously giddy to hold a vote. With Democrats seemingly united against the amendment, it’s not going to pass. But it will be interesting to see how the numbers break down, and who wins the battle in the country over the intent of the legislation and the parties’ attitudes toward women’s health and religious freedom.

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David Dayen

David Dayen