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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Ladies interfering in men's business

by digby

What's wrong with this picture?
The White House has been skittish from the start about the new rule, which was announced last month only after internal debates at the White House that, to some extent, pitted women - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is Catholic; Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the deputy chief of staff, on one side, arguing forcefully in favor of the rule, administration officials said.

On the other side, cautioning that the administration tread carefully and look for ways to minimize another major break with the church, they said, were several Catholic men who are close advisers to Mr. Obama: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and William M. Daley, the chief of staff at the time. Also weighing in, administration officials said, was Denis R. McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, whose purview does not naturally extend to health issues, but who is a Catholic.

"I can't tell you how many times we went over this," one administration official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
The article says that Obama himself made the decision to go with public health rather than Catholic men's sensitivities. That's good to know because frankly I can't imagine why anyone in government should give a flying fandango about a bunch of elite Catholic men's sensitivities when it comes to birth control. Of course, the skuttlebut is that someone with "power" forced the poor man to do the wrong thing:
DAVID BROOKS: I hear conspiracy theories. Who switched the president's mind? Who would have the power to change his mind after he had made these vows? I don't know. I really think they should come out and address it a little more, because not getting some of the front -page covers that I think it deserves. But it is out there.
I thought for sure Brooks was talking about Michelle Obama, the shrieking harpy wife. But maybe he was just talking about the shrieking harpy female staffers. Or both, who knows? What we do know is that when you let the bitches weigh in on something like birth control policy, they're going to give the wrong advice.

Thank goodness sanity has prevailed and the men have taken back the reins of this thing. All yesterday we heard word of the White House seeking a "nuanced" compromise" with the bishops. And lo and behold, it's true. Unfortunately, the Bishops aren't impressed by the opening White House proposal. Imagine that?

Here's Sarah Posner:

[T]he primary compromise proposed, known as the Hawaii compromise, has been declared unacceptable by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The National Catholic Register reports:

[A] key official in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says the Hawaii bill — repeatedly cited in media commentary — would not resolve the conference's concerns and would, in any case, be overridden by the federal rule.

"I've reviewed the Hawaii law, and it's not much of a compromise," said Richard Doerflinger of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and the bishops' chief lobbyist on life issues in the nation's capital. "The Hawaii contraceptive mandate has many of the same features as the new federal mandate."

Like the federal rule, he said, the Hawaii bill "covers all FDA-approved 'contraceptives' (including drugs that can cause an abortion); and the religious exemption is very narrow (though it does not include the requirement that the religious organization serve only people of its own faith to be eligible).

"It adds an extra feature — the requirement that any religious organization that is exempt must still tell all enrollees how they may directly access contraceptive services and supplies in an expeditious manner."

In other words, the Catholic Church must directly send women to drugs and devices that are morally wrong and can do harm to them.
The Hawaii compromise was first proposed in October by Melissa Rogers, the former chair of Obama's Advisory Council to his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She described the Hawaii law, and a similar one in New York, as allowing religious employers that refuse to cover contraceptives to "provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services." However, Rogers also noted that "these state laws are far from perfect. Further, we need more information about how they have worked in practice for all concerned."

Reproductive health advocates say in practice the laws are problematic. Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, says a law like Hawaii's or New York's "isn't something that works well when it comes to women getting services they need." Such a law, he told me yesterday, "puts the onus on employees to jump through hoops" to get the coverage they need.
That's because they've violated their employer's conscience by insisting on having sex at home. You know how that goes. So, I guess it's back to the drawing board. What will appease the all-important elite Catholic men on this?

I don't know if the White House is going to cave on this, but I'm guessing that the current flare-up of the culture war has them spooked. (Santorum's wins last night probably sent a chill down their spines) Democrats are deathly afraid they will lose any campaign where icky lady parts are discussed. But then they also believe they will lose on economics --- which leaves National Security, another weakness. (Gee, how do they ever win?)

If this keeps up, I'll be surprised if they don't do the big el-foldo and try to move on. They obviously do not have their minds wrapped around the idea that these issues are going to be in play. Why, I don't know. They are always in play --- because the right is savvy about when they have an opening and they are always ready to walk through it. And since they the economy seems to be improving a bit and they know they are probably going to nominate someone whose bonafides are very suspect in this area (which will dampen turnout for their congressional true believers) they need to put something on the menu that will get their wingnuts to vote. This stuff works for them.

A lot of people feel very sure that the administration will stick because they know that the voters are on their sides. And they are. Aside from the exceedingly important elite Catholic male vote, it's doubtful that any of the president's potential voters are going to be scared off by the government mandating that birth control be part of the health care law. (As Maddow pointed out last night, these right wingers couldn't get fetal personhood passed in Mississippi.) But that's no guarantee they won't back off anyway. The Republican Catholic Bishops rightly sense weakness and they're going to push it.

Skepticism is the best position in any case, but history shows that when it comes to women's issues in particular, the Democrats have just not been willing to hold the line. It's death by a thousand cuts and the GOP is more than willing to play it out one little betrayal at a time.

Update: Contrary to the article in the NY Times, this WaPo post at Ezra's place by Sarah Kliff says this is a fight the administration is eager to wage and they are waging it to woo Independents. That would be smart. I hope it's true.