Senate Tables Blunt Amendment

The contraception wars, fought on the campaign trail and in the Senate, may be headed for K Street.

On Thursday, Senate Republican leaders pushed for passage of the Blunt amendment, blocking President Obama’s mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives for women.

The amendment to the Transportation Authorization Bill, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), would have provided an exemption for employers and insurers with religious or moral objections to the coverage.

The Senate voted 51 to 48 to table the amendment.

Three Democrats – Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania – voted against the motion to table. The only Republican voting for the motion was Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

The pitch of the debate was certainly heightened by its timing in a presidential election year.

Backers described it as a defense of freedom of religion. Opponents viewed it as an attack on women’s access to birth control and health care.

Democrats opposing the measure won favor from women voters while Republicans supporting it solidified support from the religious right.

Critics also argued that the amendment was overly broad, and would enable insurers to avoid paying for medical needs that had nothing to do with birth control.

The issue has also drawn attention in the presidential race. Republican candidate Rick Santorum has spoken against abortion and contraception, describing the latter as “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney caused a dustup Wednesday when he initially expressed opposition to the Blunt Amendment, then said he had misunderstood the question. “of course I support the Blunt amendment,” he later said.

While arguments in the Senate were passionate, few expected the amendment to pass, because of the Democratic majority.

The showdown, however, will undoubtedly continue beyond the vote, with a likely impact on lobbying priorities in 2012.

To date, the only real lobby powerhouse in this sphere is Planned Parenthood, which is part of the reason the organization has come under fierce attack by the right.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America spent nearly $1.4 million on lobbying last year. Its advocacy arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, spent an additional $340,000.

No other group on either side of this issue has spent comparable amounts.

Planned Parenthood was among the 80 organizations signing a letter to the Senate opposing the amendment. Selected signers are shown below, with their total lobbying expenditures in 2011:

Organization 2011 lobbying expenditures
Center for Reproductive Rights $58,785
Feminist Majority $26,759
NARAL Pro-Choice America $110,000
Planned Parenthood Federation of America $1,398,819
National Organization for Women $0
National Women’s Law Center $190,000
Population Connection $120,000

On the other side, the National Right to Life Committee urged senators to support the amendment, warning that it would include the vote in its scorecard of pro-life issues in the 112th Congress.

Here are lobbying expenditures for conservative organizations that advocate for religious liberty and against such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Organization 2011 lobbying expenditures
Concerned Women for America $206,924
Family Research Council $107,000
National Right to Life Committee $408,073
Susan B Anthony List* $12,000
Traditional Values Coalition $101,200
* Ended lobby registration in 2011, after spending $12,000 in the second quarter

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