One day before a critical Senate vote that could loom large as a 2012 election issue, Mitt Romney came out for a congressional Republican measure designed to roll back the Obama administration’s requirement that employer health plans cover birth control.
“Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith,” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul told TPM.
The Blunt amendment, which is scheduled for a Senate vote on Thursday, would permit employers to deny coverage of birth control or other services they deem morally objectionable.
Romney’s position had been brought into doubt after tweets from a local TV station reporter suggested the candidate had objected to the proposed bill. The candidate’s campaign released a statement saying, “Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing.”
To clear up any confusion, Romney himself weighed in, telling radio host Howie Carr, “I didn’t understand the question. Of course, I support the Blunt amendment. I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception.”
But team Obama didn’t buy his explanation, accusing him of a “flip-flop” and fiercely denouncing his ultimate position.
“In one hour, Mitt Romney showed why women don’t trust him for one minute. It took little more than an hour for him to commit his latest flip-flop. Even worse, he ended up on the wrong side of an issue of critical importance to women,” said Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager of Obama For America.
Cutter said Romney is “in a race to the bottom with Rick Santorum to see who can pander most to the far right-wing.”
Backing the Blunt bill is an important move for Romney as he’ll likely have to defend his position if he wins the Republican nomination. Romney has strongly criticized President Obama’s requirement that employers who provide health insurance cover birth control, and has stuck closely with the Republican Party line on this issue like many others.
The issue is an awkward one because, as Dems have pointed out, as governor of Massachusetts Romney embraced a similar mandate in his health care plan that’s arguably even less lenient on religious employers than the Obama rule.
The amendment isn’t expected to pass the Senate or President Obama’s veto pen. And Democrats are determined to paint it as an effort to restrict access to contraception for women. If Republicans are unable to counter that effectively, Romney’s position on the Blunt amendment could come back to haunt him.
Benjy Sarlin contributed reporting.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.