WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's rule requiring most employers' insurance plans to pay for birth control with no co-pay for employees has infuriated conservatives at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, renewing the calls for repealing health care reform.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told The Huffington Post that Congress needs to try to reverse Obama's decision, which has caused a firestorm among many conservatives because religiously affiliated groups are not exempt from the rule. King suggested killing it by attaching a measure to a piece of must-pass legislation, such as the upcoming Surface Transportation Bill.
"If the president vetoes it, then we're back to square one," he said. "So if it goes on a piece of must-pass legislation like maybe a Surface Transportation Bill, there's a chance that the president will sign a bill like that. I'm going to let others push on that strategy -- Surface Transportation Bill or some other must-pass piece of legislation."
The new rule stems from the Affordable Care Act. Most women employed in the U.S. will have the cost of their birth control covered with no co-pay, effective Aug. 1.
The rule exempted employers, including churches and other places of worship whose primary purpose is imparting religious beliefs. But many religious groups argued it was too narrow and should apply to religious-affiliated organizations as well. The Obama administration disagreed, but gave these employers an extra year to comply with the new law.
Ultimately, King added, Congress needs to push for the repeal of health care reform, where the new rule originated.
"This is the president's decision, made by Kathleen Sebelius," said King, referring to the secretary of Health and Human Services. "This decision was not made at HHS. It was made in the White House. Barack Obama made this decision or approved this decision and the way to rectify it is to repeal Obamacare."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has already put forward a bill that would allow religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and other organizations that morally oppose contraception to refuse to cover it for their employees. He said no decision has been made on the timing of bringing legislation to the floor. Asked if he sees any middle ground with the White House, he proposed letting individual churches choose whether to pay for contraception for their employees.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House Energy and Commerce Committee is taking the lead "through appropriate legislative channels."
The Senate's $109 billion Surface Transportation Bill moved to the floor on Thursday. It reauthorizes federal public transportation programs at current levels for two more fiscal years. The broader House bill would cover five years of transportation spending. The House GOP leadership has planned on a Feb. 17 vote.
UPDATE -- 7:54 p.m.: The Huffington Post's Mike McAuliff reports that Senate Republicans did end up going with the strategy King mentioned, offering an amendment to the transportation bill aimed at countering birth control regulations under the health care law. They attempted to block the rule before it even took effect by amending the Surface Transportation Bill that the Senate had voted 85 to 11 to start debating.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took umbrage at the move, saying, "Here is a bipartisan bill to create and save jobs. Every state in the union is desperate for these dollars. But to show how the Republicans never lose an opportunity to mess up a good piece of legislation, listen to this: They're talking about First Amendment rights, the Constitution."