By Sam Baker - 02/14/12 05:50 PM EST
Senate Democrats on Tuesday sharply criticized Republicans for trying to attach a contraception measure to a transportation bill.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and other Democrats blasted the proposal from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), which would broaden the exemption to the requirement that employers cover contraception in their healthcare plans.
Boxer said GOP leaders are simply trying to keep the controversy alive following President Obama’s revision of the rule last week.
“We shouldn’t have to consider or debate it,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said at a news conference.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week blocked the GOP’s attempt to offer the Blunt proposal as an amendment. Boxer said she’s confident the amendment will fail, but added that the debate is a distraction from a highway bill that would create jobs.
The White House on Friday announced a new policy under which employers with religious objections to birth control will not have to cover it, but their employees will still be able to obtain contraception directly from the insurance companies. The move has mollified some critics of the administration’s initial policy, which would have required all employers, other than churches, to provide the coverage directly.
But the changes did not win over Senate Republicans, who said the mandate is still an infringement on religious liberty.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said over the weekend that he wishes to quickly move a bill to repeal the coverage mandate, and that the controversy will last until Obama “backs down.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also opposes the revised mandate.
Opponents said the only acceptable solution is a proposal such as Blunt’s, which would let individual employers opt out of coverage mandates based on their personal beliefs, even if their businesses aren’t affiliated with a religious institution.
Blunt’s amendment could have dramatic consequences, Boxer and her Democratic colleagues said.
“It is extreme. It is dangerous,” said Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “It puts politics between women and their healthcare.”
— This story was updated at 1:30 p.m.