Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is attacking his challenger Denny Rehberg for the Montana congressman’s role in reviving the contraception wars from earlier this spring, seeking to make it a campaign issue.
Rehberg, the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on health, voted to advance legislation Wednesday that includes a provision repealing President Obama’s requirement that employer-provided health insurance plans offer birth control to female employees without co-pays. It passed the Rehberg-led panel on a party line vote.
“All women should have access to basic health care services, but Congressman Dennis Rehberg keeps trying to take it away,” Dayna Swanson, Tester’s deputy campaign manager, told TPM in a statement. “His priority is to protect tax breaks for fellow millionaires instead. Montana women cannot afford Congressman Rehberg’s irresponsible decisions in the Senate.”
A Rehberg campaign spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
The GOP congressman had previously defended the bill in a statement Tuesday, saying, “This bill is about making tough choices, setting priorities and doing the right thing. By reining in spending and controlling over-regulation, this bill supports job creation and economic recovery.” Like other Republicans, he has dismissed the notion of a “war on women.”
The two candidates are running virtually neck and neck, with Rehberg currently leading Tester by 2 percentage points, according to the TPM PollTracker Average. Republicans view the one-term senator’s seat in the conservative state as a prime pick-up opportunity.
Republican leaders backed away from the contraception wars after Democrats seized on the issue to paint the GOP as anti-women. But conservative rank and rile members feel strongly that the rule violates religious liberty, and appear to have gotten the better of leadership for now. A government shutdown standoff when funding expires Sept. 30 could be avoided if the two parties agree to temporarily set aside their differences and continue the status quo until after the election. Republican leaders are under pressure to accept that proposition.
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.