President Barack Obama has signaled he will not go to bat for birth control in the economic stimulus bill — a move likely to set off a firestorm among powerful forces in the Democratic Party.
Obama has asked House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to strip a plan to extend birth control coverage under Medicaid from the stimulus package, the Associated Press reports. The plea comes as Obama courts Republican support for the $825 billion package, for which he wants to see strong bi-partisan backing.
Republicans are up-in-arms over the family planning provision, calling it a wasteful giveaway that will not stimulate the economy. They claim it is an attempt by Democrats to push through their expansion of health care agenda — via an unrelated bill. Looking for an overwhelming victory out of the gates, Obama has tried to placate such GOPers by stripping provisions he would otherwise support — like bankruptcy reform, or in this case expanded health care coverage — to produce a bill Republicans will vote for en-masse.
Democrats argue the proposal is a smart fit for the plan to infuse Medicaid with $87 billion in federal money to shore up reeling state programs. The proposal could create health care jobs and thus offer the economy a boost, perhaps even faster than infrastructure spending. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says it is a money-saver in the long-term.
If Democrats concede to Republicans on the issue, which appears likely according to the AP, many Democratic powerhouses, like Planned Parenthood — which endorsed Obama — will feel betrayed. Women’s advocates and health groups lobbied aggressively to convince the White House and Congress to include money for expanded birth control coverage in the stimulus bill. The groups had early success last week when the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a version of the stimulus bill that included such language.
The final decision on the fate of the birth control provision is expected Wednesday. Though health-care advocates might be angry with Obama over his decision, the issue is not over for good.