WASHINGTON -- The Senate will vote Thursday on a contentious Republican measure that would allow any employer to refuse to insure birth control or any other health service for any moral reason. And for the most part, Democrats couldn't be happier.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he has agreed to attach Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) amendment to an unrelated transportation bill when that measure comes to a vote on Thursday. Reid said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "insisted" on tying the amendment to the legislation if Democrats wanted to advance the bill, which Reid said is "extremely important" because it would save or create 1.8 million jobs.
"It's hard to understand why my Republican colleagues think this topic deserves to be debated in the first place," Reid told reporters. "Once we put this extreme, distracting proposal behind us, I'm hoping my Republican colleagues will stop living in the past and join us this year, 2012, and help us create jobs."
Blunt applauded Reid for bringing forward his amendment, which he has argued includes the same conscience protection language that has been part of law for almost 40 years.
"Glad Sen Reid is going to allow a vote on my bipartisan amdt to protect religious freedom this Thursday. #HHSMandate," Blunt tweeted Tuesday.
Senate Democrats have railed against the proposed amendment because it would water down or nullify many of the landmark reforms they voted in with the Affordable Care Act. They have also charged Republicans with playing politics with women's health.
"Every woman has the right to make decisions about her own health and for her family," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said on the Senate floor. "We've seen proposal after proposal that would inject politics into the decisions women make with their doctors. Now we're seeing an all-out attack on a woman's right to protect her health by buying contraceptives."
"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?"
But for all their outrage, most can't wait to cast their votes on a women's health issue that continues to fire up their base and bring in more money for their party.
Democrats are "literally thrilled," said a senior Senate Democratic aide. "Reid said three weeks ago that he'd be happy to vote on it at a time of [Republicans'] choosing."
In fact, in recent days, Democrats have done anything but shy away from a chance keep the issue in the spotlight ahead of the November elections. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been circulating a petition that calls on supporters to reject the Blunt amendment "and its assault on health care reform." Over in the House, Rep. Diane DeGette (D-Colo.) is just the latest Democratic lawmaker to send out an email, via the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, urging supporters to give money to help combat Republicans' "war on women."
"Never in my lifetime have I seen Republicans in Congress so determined to silence women and deny us access to basic preventative health care. The most powerful and important thing we can do is hold them accountable and defeat them," DeGette wrote in a Tuesday email.
"With the critical February Federal Election Commission deadline approaching, we are still $148,000 short of our $1 million grassroots goal. Will you help put us over the top?"