Democrats' Doomed Anti-Hobby Lobby Bill Is A Valiant Attempt To Fight Back
Are you one of the countless Americans outraged by the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby , which exempted the arts and crafts chain from having to include contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans? Well, good n — Senate Democrats introduced a bill overriding the Hobby Lobby ruling Wednesday, bringing the fight over religious freedoms and closely-held corporations straight to the halls of Congress.
Authored by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the bill would require all for-profit companies to cover the full spate of services mandated by the Affordable Care Act, contraception included, in spite of whatever religious objections its owners might hold. It's a direct counter-punch to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the protections of which were expanded by the Supreme Court's ruling on July 30. Actual churches and non-profit religious organizations will still benefit from exemptions, however, if it goes through.
Sad to say, however, for anyone who fears the ruling's impact on America's female workforce, or possible threats posed by corporate religious freedom arguments writ large, this bill is not going to pass.
That's because the House of Representatives is, as it has been for nearly four years, firmly under Republican control. Led by Speaker John Boehner, a strong proponent of the Hobby Lobby ruling, and with the party still trumpeting the ruling as a victory for religious freedom (a victory that makes women's sex lives tougher, as well, which some right-wing voices have a morbid affinity for), there's precisely no chance that the House GOP is going to suddenly change course and back the bill.
Here's what would have to happen: Murray's bill would need to pass the Senate (not a sure thing in itself), be brought to the House floor for a vote, and then receive 218 votes in its favor. At present, the Democrats hold a mere 199 House seats, meaning they'd have to corral every single vote in the affirmative, then manage to flip another 19 GOP votes to their side. Votes like this have actually happened before, in recent memory even — it's how Boehner managed to pass an increase to the U.S. debt ceiling earlier this year, despite the opposition of an overwhelming majority of his own party's representatives.
But Boehner actively wanted that vote passed, and proactively sought Democratic help to get it done. There's no such motivation here — Boehner is happy with the ruling, as are Republicans, by and large. So unless the Democrats hold control of the Senate and seize the House in 2014, which is extremely improbable, it'd be best not to hold your breath on this.
It does have the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for what that's worth. As he said at a press conference Wednesday:
One thing we're going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women's lives are not determined by virtue of five white men. This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous, and we're going to do something about it. People are going to have to walk down here and vote, and if they vote with the five men on the Supreme Court, I think it's -- they're going to have -- be treated unfavorably come November with the elections.
Someone might want to correct Reid on that first talking point: Of the five men who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, only four were white. The court's fifth white man, Justice Breyer, sided with Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor.
But in the second half of Reid's remarks, the truer goal of the bill becomes clear — it's a way to keep this highly-controversial ruling in the mainstream news, to demonstrate that Democrats want to change it, and to whip up support at the polls come November.
While the issue are vastly different — bear with me — it's a similar strategy to the Republicans voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (that is, if they'd only done it once instead of an obsessive and jaw-dropping 50+ times). It has no practical leverage to succeed, but it keeps the issue bubbling in the minds of the party, and most importantly, its voters.
Which is sad for the women actually impacted by the ruling, and for any people whose employers are able to strip earned benefits under the banner of religious freedom. Because in real terms, there's feasibly no legislative solution here — not at least until the midterms, and likely a great deal longer.