WASHINGTON - Conservatives said yesterday the flap surrounding President Obama’s birth control mandate was far from over, with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell saying he will push to overturn the requirement because it was another example of government meddling.
While a senior White House official shrugged off such remarks, declaring the issue resolved and new legislation unlikely, the heated rhetoric from Republicans suggested the GOP would try to keep the debate alive in an election year to rally conservatives and seize upon voter frustration with big government.
“It’s riddled with constitutional problems,’’ McConnell said of Obama’s broader health care plan. “And this is what happens when the government tries to take over health care and tries to interfere with your religious beliefs.’’
Last week, Obama backed down on a requirement that religious-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals and colleges cover birth control in their health insurance plans. In a tweak of the rule, those employees would be offered free coverage directly from their health insurer. But employers would not provide or pay for it.
The White House says the plan will not raise costs because birth control, similar to other preventive care measures, is less expensive than pregnancy. But opponents say that unless drug makers stop charging for contraception, the cost is likely to get passed on to employers regardless.
While some Catholic groups applauded the move, including the Catholic Health Association, the nation’s Catholic bishops said it continued the attack on religious freedoms - a theme quickly picked up by Republicans trying to wrest control of the White House this November.
“There’s no compromise here,’’ said Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic. “They are forcing religious organizations, either directly or indirectly, to pay for something that they find is a deeply, morally . . . wrong thing. And this is not what the government should be doing.’’
Santorum spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press,’’ and McConnell appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation.’’
In several TV interviews, White House chief of staff Jacob Lew defended the latest plan as the best possible compromise to provide women access to contraceptives and respect the religious freedoms of employers. Churches had always been exempt under Obama’s original plan, but religious-affiliated groups were not.
Lew shrugged off questions about Senate legislation, predicting that they would not “come to pass’’ and that the president planned to move ahead with implementing the current plan.