As the Senate prepared to take up the latest version of H.J. 59, the continuing resolution (CR) passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in the wee hours of Sunday morning, women senators called a press conference to decry a measure in the bill that would delay, by more than a year, implementation of coverage for preventive care for women, including but not limited to no-copay coverage for contraception.
Unless the CR—a measure needed to keep government running in absence of a budget—is passed by both chambers of Congress on Monday, the government will be forced to shut down operation on Tuesday, October 1. (Operations and personnel deemed “essential,” such as certain defense and emergency response entities, will still be working.) The measure is yet another attempt by the Republican majority in the House to tie the funding of the government to a poison pill that would damage or stop the full implementation Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“[T]he latest Republican shutdown plan continues their war on women,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who called the House bill “a budget buster” for its repeal of a medical device tax that would account for an estimated $39 billion on revenues, and a danger to the economy, since government workers will receive no pay during the shutdown, and small businesses that depend on the functioning of government institutions and parks will see reduced income.
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“But now they’ve added a new target, the Republicans have, a group they frequently punish—a group called women,” Boxer said. “Follow this: They keep all other benefits of Obamacare that have gone into effect already … but they do single out only one existing benefit to stop, and that benefit is known as the Women’s Health Amendment.”
Boxer was joined at the podium by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee’s health-care subcommittee.
The delay in the implementation of that amendment was prompted by a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) late last week by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), and signed by 72 members of Congress, which urged the speaker to include in the CR language from a bill being pushed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that would allow a so-called “conscience” exemption for employers from the ACA’s coverage mandate for prescription contraception in plans they offer to employees.
By using the Women’s Health Amendment as the mechanism for delaying the contraception provision, the House bill would also withhold mandated coverage for human papillomavirus (HPV) screenings, domestic violence counseling, breast-feeding counseling and supplies, and narrow the coverage offered for breast and cervical cancer screenings, as well as screening for domestic violence.
With its poison-pill provision on Obamacare, the House CR has no chance at passage in the Senate, ensuring a government shutdown.
Although most government employees will be placed on furlough once the shutdown goes into effect, members of Congress will continue to receive paychecks. Boxer is sponsoring a bill, S. 55, that would put senators and representatives on the same footing as other government employees, making them forfeit their paychecks for the duration of the shutdown.
That likely has about as much chance of passing the House as the anti-contraception CR has of passing the Senate.