Bishops: Make HHS Mandate a Bargaining Point in Fiscal Cliff Debates

The suggestion is late to the party, but it is about time it finally came.

The Roman Catholic Bishops here in America have finally asked Congressional supporters of religious freedom to do what they should have done in the first place: Make the HHS Mandate a bargaining chip in political “cliff” negotiations.

I’ve maintained all along that if the House Republicans had made the HHS Mandate the bargaining chip in the 2012 cliff fight over extending the debt limit, the HHS Mandate would never have gone into effect. It was one of those rare opportunities when political brinksmanship might have been about something besides the egos of the players and the wishes of the moneyed interests who control them.

What they did instead was engage in their usual fight to get more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

The bishops have finally decided to call for such action directly. They sent a letter to members of Congress, asking them to make the HHS Mandate a bargaining point in the next found of fiscal cliff stand-offs.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

In fact, it’s past time.

It’s not easy for political outsiders to see through the smoke and mirrors of political maneuvering. But it appears that the bishops are beginning to figure it out.

As usual, I support the bishops in this 100%.

A Reuters article describing the bishops’ letter says in part:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Roman Catholic bishops stepped up their battle against President Obama’s contraceptives policy on Friday by urging Congress to use its fiscal debate to free religious employers from a mandate requiring insurance coverage for birth control.

In a letter to all 535 members of Congress, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore suggested two provisions to extend existing federal conscience protections to the contraceptives mandate and strengthen the ability of opponents to seek vindication in federal court.

“The federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives,” wrote Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I urge you in the strongest terms possible to incorporate the provisions … in the upcoming legislative proposals to fund the federal government,” Lori added.

The conference also plans to send out an action alert via email and text message calling on supporters across the country to visit local congressional offices next week when lawmakers are home on break.

Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide health insurance coverage through group coverage plans for all contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including the so-called “morning after” pill.

The archbishop’s letter underscored a growing sense of urgency among church leaders over the birth control coverage rules that are due to take effect on August 1 for religiously affiliated employers including universities, hospitals and charities.

The bishops have tried several times to get Congress to act over the past year, amid numerous protests and more than 40 lawsuits by religious groups and employers. But Lori’s letter marks their first attempt to use the debates over deficit reduction, the debt limit and government funding.

“To many people, this looks like the main must-pass vehicle going through Congress this year,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the conference’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. (Read more here.)


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