When Republicans began pushing the Blunt Amendment a few weeks ago, GOP officials were working from a deliberate strategy: they thought they could go on the offensive over contraception access, pushing Democrats into a corner.
Three weeks later, it’s Republicans who appear to be stuck.
Far from being on the defensive, Democrats seem eager to fight over the proposal, which if passed, would allow all private-sector employers to deny any health services that businesses might find morally objectionable. Republicans, meanwhile, are looking for an escape hatch that doesn’t exist.
Blunt introduced the legislation at the height of the contretemps over the Obama administration’s contraception rule, and Republicans pushed hard to secure a vote for it as an amendment to an unrelated transportation bill. But according to a top Democratic aide briefed on negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders, something changed in recent days — and in the end Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took it upon himself to force the issue.
“They were pushing for it, but once they realized what a disaster it was turning into they started trying to walk it back,” the aide said. “They started making rumblings that they wanted to change and moderate it, which is why Reid went ahead and filed it as is.”
Late Wednesday, on the Senate floor, Reid hinted at the GOP’s dilemma. “Yesterday I had to bring up a Republican amendment that they didn’t even bother to file, they just wanted to talk about it and hold press conferences on this issue.”
Maybe picking an election-year fight over contraception wasn’t such a smart idea after all.
Consider this tidbit: a newly-released Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 63% of the public agrees with President Obama’s policy on access to birth control, and when asked which party is more trustworthy on the issue, Democrats led Republicans by 17 points.
What’s more, while the Romney campaign is struggling with the issue, the Obama campaign has begun pushing its opposition to the Blunt proposal with more enthusiasm, even putting together a mock “permission slip” American women might need if the Republican measure became law.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also weighed in yesterday, urging the Senate to “reject this cynical attempt to roll back decades of progress in women’s health.”
You can tell a lot about the salience of a political fight by which side is most eager to talk about it.