Democrats plan on making Hobby Lobby their midterm message

So says Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn, but color me skeptical. Not of Haberkorn’s reporting on the subject, which accurately takes the temperature of the rhetoric from the Left, but of the bravado coming from Capitol Hill Democrats in the dog days of July. Democrats claim they want to make a midterm fight over a relatively narrow Supreme Court decision that doesn’t restrict access to contraception in any way as a means to fire up their “war on women” rhetoric and turn out their base in what looks like a dismal election cycle:

With an eye on the November elections, congressional Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby contraception decision.

Democrats and women’s health groups believe they have a powerful campaign weapon in pushing back on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that Hobby Lobby and other closely held for-profit companies don’t have to comply with the health law’s contraceptive coverage requirement if it violates the owners’ religious beliefs.

The bill was drafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a longtime women’s health advocate, and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who is up for reelection this year. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat up for reelection in Alaska, joined them at the press conference to release the bill. …

They’re framing it as the court allowing gender discrimination and putting bosses in charge of personal health decisions to use contraception, even when medicine is prescribed for nonreproductive reasons, such as to treat endometriosis. And they want to make sure Republicans have to answer whether they support it.

Well, that should be a pretty easy answer, for reasons which I’ll get to in a moment. First, Gabriel Malor points out a huge dose of hypocrisy in this effort by reminding readers that Democrats in Congress refused to address the RFRA issue during the ObamaCare debate. At that time, Democrats scoffed at suggestions that the ACA would infringe on religious expression, and avoided including goals like the contraception mandate in the statutes to maintain that illusion:

This is what Democrats were too scared to include in the original Obamacare bill. Remember, they didn’t want the Obamacare bill to be an “abortion” bill or a bill trampling religious rights, so they left this stuff out, leaving it up to HHS to implement the contraception and abortifacient coverage via regulation. Obviously, that doesn’t fly anymore because the Supreme Court has recognized that neither Obamacare nor the HHS regulations implementing it were exempt from RFRA.

Democrats got a lot more comfortable with the “War on Women” meme during the Romney campaign. They’ll be plenty happy to push this loser of a bill during election season.

Actually, I’d say they’re happy to talk about it now, as long as it’s only talk and only for a limited period of time. Gabriel gives a hint as to why as he explains that Democrats really are amending and partially repealing the very popular RFRA, even while they claim not to be doing so:

Also, while I’m covering things that are misleading, the Democrats proposing this bill insist that it does not amend RFRA. (See also my conversation with Sahil Kapur). But, of course it does.

The legislation, according to Kapur “clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the basis for the Supreme Court’s ruling against the mandate, doesn’t permit businesses to opt out of laws they may object to.”

I know that words are hard for Democrats (see the subsidies lawsuits), but by “clarifying” that RFRA does not apply to businesses they are altering RFRA, which at the moment does apply to businesses. By which I mean, of course they’re “amending RFRA.” They just don’t want to admit it because the other way of putting it would be to say Democrats are trying to repeal part of RFRA. “Senator, please explain your vote against religious freedom,” is not something even Democrats are comfortable being asked.

Exactly. This bill will end up looking like a new endorsement of ObamaCare, and even more an endorsement of mandates that will conflict with individual liberties in a profound manner — as even the Supreme Court found. That may play well in deep-blue states, but that’s not the problem facing Senate Democrats in November. In my column for The Fiscal Times, I ask just how far Senate Democrats are willing to go in walking even farther into the ObamaCare/big government trap in the midterm cycle:

It attempts to restore a mandate that actually wasn’t included in the law itself, but was created as a regulation without any vote in Congress. Where the RFRA was a highly popular attempt to protect and expand the ability to defend religious expression – it passed unanimously in the House and 97-3 in the Senate, both controlled at the time by Democrats – the effect of this amendment will be to limit religious expression, which won’t endear Democrats to voters of faith in any sense.

Democratic incumbents in the Senate already face long odds in the upcoming midterm elections, largely because of ObamaCare and the unintended consequences of its rollout and control of the health-insurance market. Reid now wants them to cast a vote to limit religious conscience objections for products that are so widely available that the CDC couldn’t detect any access issues, in what will be seen as another endorsement of the unpopular ACA.

That will come either just before a new round of price hikes gets announced, or at the same time, just weeks ahead of the midterms – price hikes that have the White House so worried that their team has already begun the spin effort to deflect attention. On top of all this, Reid wants them to expose themselves to considerable voter backlash in purple and red states for a bill that has zero chance of becoming law.

Perhaps Harry Reid might convince these vulnerable Senate Democrats to go all in on a futile endorsement of Obamacare, bureaucratic arrogance, and restrictions on religious expression ahead of facing the voters. They may instead think back to what motivated the RFRA twenty-one years ago, and wonder what Harry Reid is smoking.

Good luck with that strategy, red-state Democrats.