By Elise Viebeck - 07/10/12 09:14 PM EDT
A new Republican bill would remove the teeth from a contentious Obama administration health mandate by barring the federal government from penalizing employers that do not comply.
The measure was written in response to the Affordable Care Act, which requires that most employers cover birth control without a co-pay for employees. Under the GOP bill, employers that object to birth control for religious reasons can refuse to cover it without facing financial penalties from the government.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), an author of the new bill, argued that the mandate's current penalty for non-compliance would sink many religious groups.
"If these taxes are levied and they are enforced, there will be no religious-affiliated institutions left in this country," he said at a press conference Tuesday.
Republicans argue that the mandate violates the religious freedom of people who object to birth control, and have voiced support for the many Catholic and other groups now suing the administration on those grounds.
The Catholic Association, which calls itself a "faithful Catholic voice" in the public arena, has vowed to "fully engage the Catholic grassroots" in support of the bill.
Sensenbrenner's bill would erase the taxes faced by employers who choose not to cover certain healthcare benefits "by reason of adherence to a religious belief or moral conviction."
The Wisconsin Republican estimated Monday that a 50-person religious institution would pay $1.8 million annually for flouting the mandate — an argument heard frequently from Catholic leaders.
"Religious-affiliated institutions have been one of the ways that there has been diversity provided in education, in healthcare, and in various types of social services," Sensenbrenner said. "I don’t think they should be taxed out of business, and neither do my co-sponsors."
Churches and houses of worship are exempt from the mandate altogether. Religious-affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and schools, don’t have to pay for the coverage through their own plans — their employees will instead get contraception directly from the insurer, still without a co-pay.
The measure from Sensenbrenner and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) is called the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act, and will be introduced Tuesday night.
—This story was updated at 5:43 p.m.