Whether it was down on the Senate floor or out on the presidential campaign trial, it seems everyone had something to say about the polarizing Blunt Amendment.
The measure was killed--barely--in Senate yesterday. It would have allowed employers and insurance companies to abstain from covering contraceptive healthcare due to religious or moral objections.
Interestingly, politicians on both sides of the aisle were eager to make this a very public battle. Republicans framed the debate in terms of religious freedom, a perennially popular value with the conservative base. And Democrats saw this as a battle for women's rights, which earns them points with both females and young voters.
The fight was close, and the arguments were loud. Here are some standout quotes from the days leading up to the final 51-48 vote.
Sen. Barbara Boxer Quotes Jon Stewart
Having trouble telling political discourse apart from a media circus? It doesn't help when senators quote comedians in order to make a salient point. In Congress on Tuesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer butchered Jon Stewart's comic timing when she referenced his on-air joke. Jon Stewart took this issue on and said 'Well, I'll tell you something. I love the Blunt amendment because,' he says, 'I'm an employer and I believe that humor is the best medicine,' she said.
Stewart subsequently accused her of taking the comment of context, claiming that was his job.
The TV host's own take on the legislation? It's called the Blunt amendment after how high you have to be in order to think you're going to pass this thing, he said in a Thursday night broadcast of The Daily Show. What are you thinking?
Two Main Opponents Define the Debate
It's not easy to make a point when you're arguing about different things. Two quotes, from the man who sponsored the bill and the woman who leads House Democrats, illustrate a divergence of approach.
On Wednesday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi released a fundraising letter for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It's time to end Republicans' unrelenting war on women, she wrote. For her, the Blunt Amendment amounted to a governmental attempt to restrict women's options and limit their healthcare choices.
But on the same day, Sen. Roy Blunt put his foot down. Freedom of religion defines who we are and has defined who we are since the very beginning of constitutional government. I understand the fundraising ability to make it about something else. I understand the PR ability to make it about something else. But it's not about anything else, he said.
A Presidential Hopeful Forgets his Stance
On Wednesday, the Ohio News Network asked Mitt Romney whether he supported the Blunt Amendment.
A guy who's trying to convince Republicans that he's a dyed-in-the-wool conservative ought to answer with an immediate yes, but Romney had a momentary slip-up. I'm not for the bill, he said. But look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there.
Later, he backtracked. Of course, I support the Blunt Amendment, he said, adding that he'd misunderstood the question. On Thursday, Rick Santorum jumped on the incident as proof that Romney's gut instincts are off track.
A Senate Democrat Criticizes Congress
Here's a fun fact about the Blunt Amendment: it was attached to a completely unrelated piece of transportation legislation. The highway funding bill, in its initial form, was basically an easy pass with bipartisan support. That was until Blunt and other Republicans tacked on the contraceptive insurance amendment.
This spurred criticism from Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett on Thursday. He called out his colleagues for using a hot-button social issue to garner attention, while larger concerns like the economy, infrastructure and unemployment were ignored.
How is this conversation relevant to job creation or infrastructure? he said. It's not. I've held hundreds of town hall meetings in red parts of [my] state and blue parts of the state and I don't remember a single time this issue, the issue that's of concern with this amendment, has been raised by anybody--by anybody!--in three years. We sit here and wonder why the United States Congress is stuck at an approval rating of 11 percent. Maybe it's because we're talking about contraception in the context of a transportation bill!