House re-votes on amendment to protect against religious refusal to cover contraceptives

WASHINGTON — The House approved a Republican bill meant to protect religious freedom with a largely symbolic bill Wednesday and plans to reintroduce it on Thursday as concern mounts about Vice President Joe Biden’s nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) introduced the Freedom from Religious Discrimination Act, which allows federal contractors to refuse to provide employees with contraceptive coverage if doing so violates their personal beliefs. More than 100 House Republicans plan to sign on as cosponsors.

“A great deal of regulation is passed down from year to year by bureaucrats who can and should be held accountable for their decisions, but even if they can be, we must not make it harder for conscientious business people to do what is right instead of what is required,” Huelskamp said.

“Competing religious faiths are competing for the same customers and are competing for the same jobs. A court must always presume that while someone’s religious beliefs may be sincere, that a law, regulation, or policy is good and ethical because it serves a compelling government interest.”

The GOP-led legislation has faced little resistance in the past, but Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), ranking member of the House Democratic Caucus, described it as “an irresponsible vote, literally putting a very big ‘Read Me First’ sign on the federal government.”

“Nothing puts an economy at risk more than dealing in ideology,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “No Congresswoman of either party could believe or allow the administration to allow this ridiculous bill to become law.”

Biden is likely to move the Senate to pass a separate, more restrictive bill to stop the Obama administration from extending guaranteed birth control coverage to women who are members of religious organizations.

Biden plans to introduce the Health Choices Act on Thursday, which would ban the HHS from altering the definition of religious organizations to exclude any provision of health benefits. Republicans praised the proposed legislation, but his nomination has raised questions of whether it can get support in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“This is yet another attempt by the administration to impose its values on all Americans, and that is unacceptable,” said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), ranking member of the House GOP policy committee.

“A President who will not put any faith above his own ideology will obviously not be someone who will respect and uphold our faith and values. … We are determined to protect and promote the tenets of faith.”

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