The battle over birth control that has enveloped Washington is widely seen as a revival of culture-war politics. But if Elizabeth Warren has her way, it will become an economic issue — and it will help drive the Massachusetts Senate race.
In the first prominent example of a high-profile Democratic candidate unabashedly seizing on the birth control and health care battle to hammer a GOP opponent, Warren just launched a sharp attack on GOP Senator Scott Brown over his embrace of the Blunt amendment. The measure would empower employers and insurers to deny coverage for birth control and other services they find morally objectionable, and it has the support of the Senate GOP leadership.
In so doing, Warren separated herself from other prominent Democrats, who have approached the politics of birth control with a caution bordering on skittishness.
“I am shocked that Senator Brown jumped in to support such an extreme measure,” Warren told me by phone just now. “This is an all new attack on health care. Any insurance company could leave anyone without health care, just when they need it most.”
The measure — sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio — would “ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions” in the Affordable Care Act. Warren said the measure would “open the door to discrimination.”
“This is an extreme attack on every one of us,” Warren said. “It opens the door to outright discrimination. It would let insurance companies and corporations cut off pregnant women, overweight guys, older Americans, or anyone — because some executive claims it’s part of his moral code. Maybe that wouldn’t happen, but I don’t want to take the chance.”
Warren: Health care is about economics.
Some Republicans think the politics of birth control are not necessarily a winner for Dems in Massachusetts, because of the state’s large number of working class Catholic swing voters.
“It’s elitist for Elizabeth Warren to dictate to religious people about what they should believe and how they should act. She wants to use the power of government to force Catholics to violate the teachings of their faith,” Brown spokesman Colin Reed emailed. “That is wrong. This issue deals with one of our most fundamental rights as a people — the freedom of religion. Like Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown supports a religious conscience exemption in health care.”
But Warren was undaunted, insisting the issue “should” be front and center. Asked whether it would really gain traction in a campaign dominated by econmic issues, Warren pushed back, arguing that this is an economic issue.
“This election is about whose side you stand on,” she said. “Here’s an example of giving power to insurance companies and corporations to undercut basic health care coverage. I’m going to fight for families to keep that coverage. The economics around health care are huge for families.”
“I don’t think this will go over well in Massachusetts,” she said. “I think the people of Massachusetts will want to hear about it.”
Much of the commentary on this issue has focused on the political vulnerability of Obama and Dems, given the crucial role Catholic swing voters play in national elections, with few noting that the politics of it are also potentially bad for Republicans. But Warren’s unapologetic and aggressive use of it in perhaps the most closely watched Senate race in the country could begin to shift that storyline.