The Senate voted to table the Blunt amendment to the highway transportation bill today after a Republican senator who often breaks party ranks said she would vote for the bill.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) made the motion to table the amendment, which provides conscience protections for religious employers in the HHS contraception coverage mandate, after a string of Democrats said the bill could impede access to everything from HIV testing to childhood vaccinations.
The narrow vote that killed the bill was 51-48.
Before Murray’s motion, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on the Senate floor that, though conflicted, she would have to vote yes on Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment.
“I believe that such a mandate poses a threat to our religious freedom,” Collins said.
Noting that she has been a longtime supporter of family planning, the senator said she had sought assurances from the Obama administration that religious institutions would be protected in the compromise mandate the White House announced after the initial furor. She never got them.
“The administration cannot assure me that religious freedoms are protected,” Collins said, stressing that “a very important issue” not clarified is how employers who self-insure are treated under the mandate.
“I feel that I have to vote for Sen. Blunt’s amendment in hope that it will be narrowed further and defined,” she said. “I do this with a lot of conflict …I feel that I have no choice.”
Yesterday, West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he would vote for the Blunt amendment.
“Well-intentioned people on both sides of this issue can respectfully disagree, but for me this comes down to our religious liberties,” Manchin said. “I truly believe that we must safeguard Americans’ right to exercise their sincerely held religious views, and I support this measure to protect that freedom of conscience.”
Senate Democrats characterized the amendment as “indefensible” and too broadly written. “We were not born yesterday … the facts are just not with you,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said.
“Let me add my strong belief that if the United States Senate had 83 women and 17 men rather than 83 men and 17 women, my strong guess is that a bill like this would never even make it to the floor,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said after the amendment was tabled that the fight over the contraception mandate is not over.
“This is not a partisan issue; it is not a matter of politics; it is about upholding one of the bedrock principles upon which our great country was established,” Cornyn said. “This mandate violates a fundamental right that for centuries has made America a beacon of freedom in the world’s eye. It is an affront to the very fabric of our country, and I will keep fighting until it is fully revoked.”