Kevin Drum has a sensible piece today at Mother Jones about the whole thing. I agree with all his points, and it’s worth a quick read. When I heard the Obama administration was caving/compromising this morning, my heart sunk. Both because it is wrong and because the only people fighting hard against it are the Republicans in congress (simply because they thought it was a good political fight to have) and the Catholic hierarchy. That’s it. It’s not the Catholic parishioners, the vast majority of whom use birth control. As has been widely reported, the change isn’t even that much of a change, and very similar rules had already been in place in 28 states, and guess what, the Catholic Church didn’t shut down in those states. And what this is really about is forcing employees to be subject to the narrow religious beliefs of their employers. To hear the screeching on the Right, you’d think the new law was going to force every Catholic in the country to have sex, whether they wanted to or not, and to use birth control, even if they didn’t want to. But no, no individual in this whole thing is ever going to be forced to do anything. However, if the administration truly caves on it, then millions of women who are not Catholic yet work for Catholic hospitals will see their health care costs increase, often significantly. What if the Catholics next say they don’t believe African-Americans deserve health coverage at all and want an exemption for that? Do we grant it? Because that is really the issue. The Obama administration has been so good and so strong lately, and has been helped so much by the Republican candidates destroying themselves. So it kind of actually breaks my heart to see them backtrack to their position of weakness and capitulation. Rather than go out and make the case, explain what is really happening and diffuse the situation, they let the Right go ballistic. This debate has been had and had been won by the Democrats. This was in the health care bill. Why did they let it rise again? The Republicans are the whack-a-mole party. You can’t defeat them just once. Reject Keystone? They wait a week and then put new bills forward. Facts and majority opinion don’t matter to the Right.
If the Right really cared about the issue, they would have raised this fight when it happened, when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Instead, they wanted the fight for political purposes in an election season, so they waited.
The mass of public opinion was behind Obama on this one. So why has he caved? Maybe he wants a close election in the fall, and it was looking like he would win to easy. Yeah, that’s cynical and over the top, yet it’s hard to make better sense of it.
Granted, I’m writing all this before hearing Obama speak and lay out his “compromise.” He speaks in a few minutes. I’ll listen and then finish the post.
Obama starts out making a great case for the law. And I’m glad to see him mention that it is already law in 28 states (all of which, by the way, have Catholic hospitals, most of whose employee insurance coverage includes contraceptive services). Obama explains that he has spoken to Catholic leaders throughout and that there already was an exemption for Catholic Churches. And Obama does acknowledge that some have been making the fight for political purposes, so he wanted to act now rather than spend a year negotiating. He is requiring the insurance companies to offer women contraceptive coverage if the employers object. Employees will still have access to the coverage at no cost. Okay, now get to how it will really work. How do you make the insurance companies comply?
He is at least taking the wind of the sails of those who were screeching (not that it’ll quiet Rick Santorum; after all, this is his whole and only game). Well, that’s the end of his statement, taking no questions, giving no details on how it will work.
Unfortunately, in the end all that matters is how it all plays out politically. And we know the Right will be up in arms absolutely no matter what Obama does or says.
The talking heads are arguing whether it would have been better if he’d made this statement a few weeks ago. I think maybe it was calculated to do now. To the majority of the country it exposed the Right for the extremists and hypocrites (because they never complained at such volume about the state laws) for what they are. Though maybe not; his tone was such that it didn’t seem like he wanted to have to make this statement. In the end, of course, the whole thing will be unlikely to actually change anyone’s position on anything.
In my dream world what would come out of this whole thing (and it’s not entirely impossible, but will take a long time) is a national discussion about health care and a national decision that employer provided health care is the dumbest way to do health care (which is why we’re the only developed country that does it that way).