Reform Update: Hobby Lobby bills fuel Dems stance that GOP wars against women

Congressional Democrats' efforts to essentially negate the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling via new legislation are almost certainly dead on arrival in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican-controlled chamber has no interest in trying to restore the contraceptive coverage mandate for closely held companies that was struck down in the controversial 5-4 decision.

But that doesn't mean legislation introduced by Democratic lawmakers this week is without purpose. It's just that, like much of what goes on in Congress these days, its utility is more political than legislative.

Democrats have sought to build the narrative of a Republican “war on women” in recent campaign cycles, with Republican attacks on reproductive rights as a central proof. The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling potentially feeds into that narrative, which will be repeated in races across the country this fall. Liberal candidates and causes already have seized on the ruling as a fundraising catalyst.

A Senate bill to restore contraceptive coverage has 40 co-sponsors, including Democrats facing tough reelection fights such as Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska and Al Franken of Minnesota. The House version of the Hobby Lobby-inspired legislation enjoys similarly robust support from Democrats, with 142 co-sponsors.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is among the legislators backing the ''Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014,” which would essentially re-instate the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. DeLauro suggested that the reasoning employed by the conservative justices in the 5-4 Hobby Lobby decision could lead to companies attempting to flout other federal laws, such as the 40-hour work week or the minimum wage, on grounds that they have religious objections to them.

“The preventive measures that were in the Affordable Care Act were put together by the Institute of Medicine,” DeLauro noted. “This was not a group of political people going into a room and doing whatever they wanted to do.”

But while the stated intent of Democrats may be to negate the Supreme Court ruling, it's not clear that the legislation introduced would actually succeed in doing so, even if they could get it passed.

“I see this legislation as saying, 'Supreme Court, we disagree, so we're just going to throw the contraceptive mandate back on the table,'” said Amy Gordon, a partner with the law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

Conspicuously missing from the bills are the names of any Republican backers. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hailed the Hobby Lobby ruling as a “victory for religious freedom.” That suggests its prospects for advancement in the GOP-controlled chamber are exceedingly remote.

DeLauro concedes the point. “I'm not foolish,” she said. “The chances of passage in this chamber don't look good.”

But she insists that the legislation is more than simply red meat for the Democratic base. “These are important issues,” she said. “You don't sit on the sidelines.”

House preps lawsuit over ACA employer mandate delay

House Republicans are preparing to sue President Barack Obama over delayed implementation of the employer mandate. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner's office released a draft of a resolution that would authorize the House to sue on the grounds that the president is failing to uphold the laws of the country. The Obama administration has put off the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employers with more than 50 workers offer affordable insurance coverage or face a financial penalty.

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko



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