Remember the charge of the light brigade last week after the defeat on the Blunt amendment vote? Conservative lawmakers said they would not retreat, would not rest until all women had to get permission slips from their employers to access legal medical services, and possibly before protected having sex. The fact that health care is part of the compensation package, and that this amounted to giving employers a say over what women could do with the money they earned, wasn’t relevant. Conservatives, in thrall to those who want to control your bedroom behavior, would fight on.
Flash forward to a week later and they’re not fighting on. In the Senate, Roy Blunt, author of the amendment giving employers a say over health care decisions, basically pronounced “mission accomplished” today:
“You know, I think we’ve got as many votes as I think there were to get on that,” Senate GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt told TPM Tuesday afternoon after a weekly Capitol briefing. “I think the House side may take some further action. That debate will go on for a long time, though I don’t know that there’s anything else to happen in the Senate in the near future.” [...]
These concessions delight Democrats, who plan to revisit the events of the last several weeks, and the vote on the Blunt amendment, as the election nears.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who devised the Democrats’ legislative and messaging strategy in this fight, told TPM, “I think Republicans know that it hasn’t served them well.”
As for the bravely bold claim by Blunt that the House would take up the fight, that’s not happening either:
House Republican leaders are taking their foot off the gas, slowing down plans to pass legislation taking aim at the Obama administration’s contraception coverage requirement, according to sources close to leadership.
“I think the Senate already took action and we’ve got a lot else on our plate,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is running for Senate.
The vehicle for this in the House, the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, already has 219 co-sponsors in the House. In other words, passage would be assured. But Republicans are slinking away.
It’s definitely not a time to pronounce victory on women’s rights in America. They have been successfully chipped away at the state level to such a degree over the last few years that it will take a monumental effort just to return to the status quo of, say, the year 2000. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that conservatives overplayed their hand here. The fact that Rush Limbaugh is losing advertisers far faster than he ever lost pounds is another indicator. A new, younger breed of women activists have kept the pressure on and successfully navigated a few fights on crucial women’s health issues, to the degree that the GOP doesn’t want to touch them anymore.
There was definitely damage to making contraception subject for debate. But there was also a benefit to raising awareness about the preventive services benefits in the Affordable Care Act, including birth control without a co-pay. This plants a flag on women’s health that needs to expand and not just be maintained. But with the surge of support on the issue, that path is actually possible in a way it wasn’t before. That’s especially true if the activists can make this an electoral issue going forward.