Sen. Murkowski: Focus should be energy, not on contraception

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) isn’t saying how she’ll vote Thursday on allowing employers to deny contraceptive coverage if it violates their religious views — and she would rather see the Senate focused on energy.

“I am not going to answer that one,” Murkowski told reporters when asked about her vote on Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment to highway funding legislation.

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“I am focused on energy,” she said in the Capitol. “You need to come to Alaska with me and talk about the issues that people are talking about, because it is all about energy and they are saying ‘you are talking about contraception on a transportation bill? Where is the energy?’”

Murkowski is the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

She spoke to reporters after a GOP press conference that featured lawmakers attacking the White House over rising gas prices, and calling for a major expansion of U.S. oil-and-gas leasing and approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Blunt’s amendment would let employers opt out of federal benefit mandates that violate their religious or moral beliefs. 

It would apply to all of the requirements created by President Obama’s healthcare reform law.

But it’s coming up for a vote now because of the controversy around a specific new mandate requiring employers to cover contraception in their employees’ insurance plans without a co-pay.

The Obama administration this month announced a compromise in which women who work for religious-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic universities and hospitals, will be able to get birth control from their insurance company without a co-pay without their employers having to offer the coverage directly.