Yesterday’s debate on the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act introduced by Senator Ray Blunt (R-Mo.) didn’t take long to heat up. Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah), said, “Obamacare is what brought us here today… Our Bill of Rights has been subordinated to the president’s desire to micromanage the nation’s health care system.” Hatch added: “Those of you who vote against this amendment are playing with fire.”
The so-called Blunt Amendment, which would have given employers the right to deny health coverage to their employees for religious or moral reasons, was itself denied in a tight 51-48 vote.
Four senators crossed party lines: Dems Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) voted in favor; Republican Olympia Snowe voted against. Snowe announced earlier this week that she would not run for re-election in part because she was so frustrated by the “polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies” that have become so pervasive in Washington.
Senators vehemently argued about what they were arguing about. Republicans contended it’s about religious freedom — an effort to correct an overreach by the Obama administration that was “precisely the kind of thing the founders feared” (McConnell, R-Ky.). Democrats saw it as a women’s health issue, complaining that the bill was too broad in its language and is part of “a systematic war against women” (Mikulski, D-Md.).
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a statement that summed up the Obama Administration’s position succinctly: “[D]ecisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.”
And a study released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that the American public sides with the Democrats. Reuters reported “nearly two-thirds of Americans favored Obama’s policy, including clear majorities of Catholics and evangelicals.” Also, twice as many respondents said they feel the debate is “driven by election year politics as [those who] believe it would have been a major debate in any other year.” (50 percent to 24 percent).
Undeterred, House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic conservative, pledged to continue the fight: “I’ve been trying to take this out of the political realm and get it into a position where we can continue to protect the American people’s right to their own religious views,” he said. “And there are a lot of ways to do that. There’s one in the Senate. We have a couple in the House. It’s matter of how we proceed.”