This is big. Huge. Gigantic. A firestorm.
And Republicans would be idiots for not seizing upon it.
Barack Obama has made the biggest blunder of his political life.
The president’s health-care regulation expanding access to birth control, including abortion pills, impinges on churches that oppose abortion, especially Catholic ones, by narrowly defining their religious activity to teaching only. Government must be wary of determining where the works of faith end.
Reaction came quickly:
President Obama’s decision to force employers, including religious institutions, to provide health insurance coverage for contraception is becoming a big problem for his reelection campaign.
GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney launched a petition on Monday against the mandate, arguing it was an attack by Obama on “religious liberty.”
Conservatives, including Catholics such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), are attacking the administration for the decision. And now, nine months before the presidential election, the backlash is growing even among Obama supporters, who say the move was politically tone-deaf.
U.S. Catholic bishops have slammed the Obama administration for a regulation finalized on January 20 that would require health insurance to include birth control and other preventative health services for women. The leaders contend that the policy infringes on religious liberty because the Church does not condone birth control of any kind.
Over the weekend, Catholic clergy across the country called for congregations to protest the rule and pressure Obama to back down.
“To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement last month.
Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University in Florida, who also served in the administration of President George W. Bush, said Tuesday he would fight the provision using “all lawful means at our disposal.”
“Our non-Catholic employees and students understand fully that the University must adhere to Catholic teaching and they do not expect us to provide such services,” he said in a statement.
The White House sensed the rising storm:
The White House struggled Wednesday to contain the growing uproar over its birth-control mandate, with Democrats peeling off one by one in what has become an increasingly divisive election-year controversy.
Pressure to roll back the new contraception policy mounted quickly as the day wore on, driven by divisions among Democrats, mixed messages from President Obama’s advisers and a constant drumbeat from the GOP.
“It’s becoming a thorny problem for the White House and it appears to only be getting worse,” said one Democratic strategist. “The politically astute move would be to modify this thing, and quick.”
Asked if the administration should shift course, a former senior administration official said, “I don’t see how they couldn’t. It’s pretty bad.”
Leon Panetta was incredulous
“What are we doing here?” asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, stepping outside his wheelhouse to ask about a rising storm involving the Obama administration and the Catholic Church. “What’s the point?”
It was the Fall of 2011 and Panetta had read about a proposed Obama administration rule that would require employers – excluding houses of worship but including religious organizations such as charities, hospitals, and schools – to offer health insurance that fully covered contraception.
Panetta – a Catholic, former U.S. Representative, and White House chief of staff – didn’t quite understand why the Obama administration would be stepping into this conflict.
Panetta’s fears have to a degree been realized as White House officials now find themselves taking heat on a policy debate about conscience and religious liberty; the Obama administration is working to find a way to allow religious organizations to not pay for services they find morally objectionable, while also ensuring that, say, the women nurses and doctors who work at Catholic hospitals have full access to birth control. Some officials are discussing a way to introduce something like the law in Hawaii, where religious organizations don’t have to pay for employee insurance that covers contraception, but they do have to inform employees how they can get it on their own.
Obama then dug his heels in
President Obama “reinforced” his stance on the controversial contraception mandate while speaking at the Democrats’ annual retreat at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. today, Senate Democrats said.
The retreat was closed to media.
Following President Obama’s speech at the retreat, a small group of Senate Democrats, mostly women, left the retreat early in order to hold a news conference on Capitol Hill to counter the Republicans’ news conference today at which they called for the mandate to be overturned.
Democrats said they will “fight strongly” to keep the mandate in place.
That may prove to be a precious gift for Republicans.
Obama is losing democrats
A handful of Senate Democrats have split with President Obama’s controversial birth-control mandate and slammed the administration’s requirement that church-affiliated employers cover contraceptives.
The five Democrats in the Senate expressing concern about some parts of the administration’s policy include, most recently, Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida, who have spoken publicly about their unhappiness with the mandate.
“This was a bone-headed decision by HHS,” Sen. Ben Nelson said of the new Health and Human Services mandates, according to the Nebraska Radio Network.
Nelson agreed with state Attorney General Job Bruning’s decision to file a legal challenge to the mandate.
Florida’s Nelson has also raised concerns. “My position is that church-affiliated organizations should be exempt, not just churches,” Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times Buzz Blog, adding that he has called the White House to express his concerns.
“It’s a matter of religious freedom,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told ABC News.
Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan says he was betrayed:
Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan says President Barack Obama hasn’t kept his promise, when it comes to the new White House policy on contraception.
Sources told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer that Archbishop Dolan feels betrayed after his meeting with the president on the issue late last year.
A Catholic group in Alabama filed the first lawsuit against the Obama administration’s new birth control regulations as the controversy got even more heated Thursday.
The president ducked questions about the contraception controversy that is bedeviling his administration. The reason may be the latest attack from Dolan, who, sources told CBS 2, feels he was stabbed in the back by the president after the two met to discuss the issue.
“He was worried about being at odds with the Church, especially when it came to health care and education and charitable outreach,” Dolan told Kramer.
That’s called “willing suspension of disbelief.”
John Boehner cried:
“The federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries. This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country must not stand and will not stand.”
As usual, too tepid and lacking heart.
But Marco Rubio got it right
The heat was getting so great that David Axelrod jumped in
David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser for the Obama reelection campaign, signaled Tuesday that the Obama administration may be open to a compromise on a new rule that requires many religious employers to provide contraception to their employees.
“I’m less concerned about the messaging of this than to find a resolution that makes sense,” said Axelrod on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
But the best news for Republicans? Joe Biden says he can fix it.
Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that he is “determined” to find a solution to the controversial birth control issue and that the administration is making “a significant attempt to work this out.”
Biden, who is Catholic, broke his silence on the Obama administration’s new contraception rule and said he is “determined to see that this gets worked out and I believe we can work it out.”
Let us not err as to what transpired here. This is a classic redistributionist action- make someone else pay for something Obama wants.
But it is also makes very clear Obama’s contempt for the Catholic Church. While Obama bows endlessly to Islamic leaders he has no qualms about trashing Catholicism. A so-called compromise has been announced. Drudge called it “caving” but it’s not caving at all. Obama has simply re-framed the debate to make people think it is something other than what it is. Someone else will pay for what Obama wants to give away and it will not be acceptable to the Catholic Church.
The episode is very important from a symbolic perspective. It makes clear what a lame duck Barack Obama would do to the country. Obama is already running roughshod over the Constitution. A second term would be a horror show.
UPDATE: Obama has offered a what some call a “compromise” but in reality is anything but a compromise. What Obama is basically proposing is that religious organizations simply lie.
Under the new policy, religious employers that don’t want to offer contraception could exclude it from their policies. Insurance companies instead would be required to provide access to contraception for plan participants who wanted it, without explicitly charging either the religious employer or worker.
Obama’s plan allows those providing insurance to say that aren’t actually providing contraception but the insurers themselves are. See how easy that was?
This has not gone over well:
Catholic bishops said Friday night that they would not support the Obama administration’s proposed compromise on a controversial rule that requires most employers to fully cover contraception in their workers’ health plans.
Over at Think Progress they believe that contraception is a critical to the fight against global warming:
Any morally acceptable pathway to prevent catastrophic global warming includes broad access to affordable birth control for the world’s women.