The American bishops have, with alacrity, rejected President Obama's proposed "accommodation" on the contraception mandate in no uncertain terms. Their response came before the sun had set on the very day of his announcement.
Noting that the "proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions," the Catholic hierarchy virtually guaranteed more political hemorrhaging for the White House.
The bishops indicated that they were not consulted in advance of the President's announcement and had just received information about it "for the first time this morning [Friday]."
"The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services," stated the bishops in their statement released through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCB).
President Obama's proposal for an "accommodation," not a compromise, claimed to shift the costs of the contraceptive services to the insurance carriers of the religious institutions as if they would provide such services for free for an indefinite period of time.
The proposal is really no accommodation at all since, as the Wall Street Journal opined in a lead editorial ("Immaculate Contraception," February 11-12, 2012), prices will eventually find an equilibrium, i.e., the carriers will eventually price their policy premiums accordingly which, in turn, means their customers, the religious institutions, will still be footing the bill.
"So you almost have to admire the absurdity of the new plan President Obama floated yesterday: The government will now write a rule that says the best things in life are 'free,' including contraception," wrote the Journal. "Thus, a political mandate will be compounded by an uneconomic one -- in other words, behold the soul of ObamaCare."
As the bishops stated, "coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer's plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This too raises serious moral concerns." (Emphasis in the original.)
There are no free contraceptives just as there are no free lunches. The White House is performing a sleight-of-hand trick, or shell game, to disguise the commandeering of resources from religious institutions to pay for the mandated services.
The bishops also noted that "it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate." Seeing and raising the President, they pointed out that his proposal does not have any "clear protection for key stakeholders -- for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals" -- which "is unacceptable and must be corrected." (Emphasis in the original.)
So what does President Obama do now? Does he rebuff the bishops and guarantee a complete and total mobilization against him on a subject that is not only about contraception and abortion but also implicates fundamental issues of religious liberty and the First Amendment while contributing to the escalating controversy over his entire health care plan?
Or does he rescind the HHS mandate and risk the wrath of Planned Parenthood, feminists, and major donors in Hollywood and Manhattan?
Eugene Robinson, columnist for the Washington Post, articulated a Machiavellian analysis on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last week. Maybe the White House wants a controversy on a high-profile social issue to help Senator Rich Santorum, at the expense of Governor Mitt Romney, since the contraception debate seems to energize the Senator's supporters. Given that there is no daylight between Santorum, Romney and Newt Gingrich on this subject, Robinson's analysis is more like whistling past the political graveyard.
Alienating the Catholic hierarchy and community on a matter that cuts to the heart of the Church's historic and consistent understanding of itself and its mission for over 2000 years is politically foolhardy at best, suicidal at worst. Stalin once asked, "How many divisions does the Pope have?" The President is about to find out.
President Obama, a denizen of Hyde Park in Chicago, will come to regret not listening to that savvy, Irish politician from another part of town, Bill Daley.