The Senate will vote Thursday on the controversial repeal of the administration's birth-control mandate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today.
"After discussing it with numerous senators, I decided we should set up a vote on contraception and women's health," the Nevada Democrat said. "Once we've put this extreme and distracting proposal behind us, I hope my Republican colleagues will stop living in the past and join us this year, 2012."
The Republican amendment, offered by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is a response to the White House's contraception mandate and if passed would permit employers to exclude health care services that they find immoral from their insurance plans.
Blunt has called the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate and the subsequent White House's updated contraception rule "unconstitutional."
"Just because you can come up with an accounting gimmick and pretend like religious institutions do not have to pay for the mandate, does not mean that you've satisfied the fundamental constitutional freedoms that all Americans are guaranteed," Blunt said after the White House tweaked the original proposal in early February to reflect that religious-affiliated institutions will not be mandated to cover birth control for their employees.
"I'll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that we reverse this unconstitutional mandate in its entirety," he promised then.
Since then, Republicans have been pushing for a vote for the amendment, attempting to no avail to get a vote within non germane bills. At least once before, a vote on the repeal amendment was blocked by Reid.
But now the amendment will get a vote - in an unrelated bill, as an amendment to the surface transportation bill that is making its way through the Senate.
Reid said today he's allowing the vote on the Blunt amendment because Republicans have made it clear the transportation bill won't move forward without one.
"What's standing in the way is Republicans' insistence on having a vote on a measure that would deny women access to health services like contraception and even prenatal screenings," Reid said. "The Republican leader and others on the Republican side of the aisle made it very clear the Senate is not going to be able to move forward on this important surface transportation bill unless we vote on contraception and women's health."
Senate Democrats argue that the Blunt amendment is a "radical departure" that gives employers "broad discretion" to deny employees coverage for services including contraception, mammograms, pre-natal screenings, cervical cancer screenings, and potentially even flu shots, which could put women's health at risk.
They argue that it is not a religious issue, as Republicans say, and is a women's health issue.
The announcement today that Reid would allow a vote on the repeal amendment did not go over well among Democrats, even though they admitted that a vote must happen to move forward with the transportation bill.
"We're in a situation in the 21st century where in order to move forward on a highway bill that funds our highways, our roads, our bridges, our transit systems, in order to move forward on that jobs bill, where 2.8 million jobs are at stake in this great nation, we have to have a vote on birth control," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said on the Senate floor. "I just want to say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, what are you thinking?"
While the amendment is not expected to pass this sets up a politically tricky vote for some Senate Democrats like Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who were either against or expressed reservations about the original and updated mandate.