Morning Action: Religious Freedom Should Matter to Everyone

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. The Supreme Court will hear an oral argument on two HHS contraceptive mandate cases to decide whether private businesses’ religious freedom should be protected (sub. req’d):

The long-running legal and political debate over the 2010 health care law’s contraception mandate will get a public airing at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with the justices set to evaluate whether the federal government may require private businesses to offer their female employees free birth control in violation of the company owners’ religious beliefs.

In two similar cases that will be consolidated into a single oral argument, the justices will examine the health care law’s requirement that large, for-profit businesses offer their workers insurance policies that cover certain contraception methods, such as the “morning-after” pill, without co-pays or other forms of cost-sharing for the employee. The requirement was set out in a rule from the Health and Human Services Department.

In the new cases, two private, Christian-owned companies — the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores and a Pennsylvania-based cabinet manufacturer named Conestoga Wood Specialties — contend that the contraception mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that created a multi-part, statutory legal test for the government to overcome before it may require Americans to act in violation of their religious views.

Under that law (PL 103-141), the government “may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling government interest, and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” The bipartisan measure won enactment with little opposition after a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that the government interest had to serve only a “valid” state purpose.

The Heritage Foundation explains why this case should matter to both conservatives and liberals and why every American should believe in religious freedom.

The issue in these cases gets at the heart of what religious freedom is and who will get to determine where one’s faith is lived out. Throughout the creation and implementation of the mandate, the Obama administration essentially has argued that faith should remain a private affair: You can practice your beliefs in the four walls of your home or house of worship, but your religious freedom ends when you go into business.

You don’t need to agree with the Greens or Hahns about abortion to recognize that government shouldn’t coerce these families into paying for coverage of potentially life-ending drugs and devices.

Shapiro notes: “Americans understand intuitively that the essence of religious freedom is that government can’t willy-nilly force people to do things that violate their religious beliefs.”

In fact, polling shows that nearly 60 percent of likely voters oppose the Obamacare mandate that is trampling on families’ ability to live and work according to their beliefs.

UKRAINE.  Today, the Senate resumes consideration of a Ukraine bill (sub. req’d):

The Senate resumes consideration of a bill (S 2124) that would provide loan guarantees and $150 million in economic assistance to Ukraine. The bill also would impose sanctions and guarantee the International Monetary Fund has the resources to assist Ukraine. 

The Heritage Foundation notes Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 13% is facing a revolt from Republicans for attempting to add controversial IMF language to the aid package for Ukraine.  The opposition is being lead by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) 94%:

The controversial provisions, which have support of the Obama administration and liberals from both parties, would increase U.S. financial support to the International Monetary Fund.

A growing number of Republicans warn that attaching the IMF language would reduce U.S. power while expanding Russia’s influence on the global stage in the wake of its annexation of Crimea.

DOC FIX.  Congress will soon decide whether to permanently address the “dox fix” or to enact another short term fix (sub. req’d):

Provider groups are still holding out hope for a bipartisan, bicameral agreement that would repeal Medicare’s payment formula, the sustainable growth rate, and replace it with new payment systems. But disputes over how to pay for the legislation’s cost have made it highly unlikely that lawmakers will be able to clear the legislation within the next week.

If Congress fails to act by March 31, Medicare providers will see their payment rates cut by about 24 percent. House lawmakers are now looking at passing a short-term patch, or “doc fix,” so that discussions can continue on the permanent replacement legislation, according to an aide. The length of the patch, and how it would be paid for, still have not been determined.

UI. This week the Senate is pushing ahead on a deal to extend unemployment insurance (sub. req’d):

Senate Democrats are forging ahead with a bipartisan bill extending emergency unemployment insurance benefits, despite Speaker John A. Boehner slamming it as unworkable.

And the bipartisan nature of the Senate bill sets up a Republican-vs.-Republican dynamic, given that Democrats appear unified on the issue. It pits the likes of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) 28%, against Boehner.

An aide to Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich said he hasn’t taken a position on the legislation, but said the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services “agrees with the sentiment in the letter” from the NASWA.

An aide to Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) 55%, who helped author the measure, said Friday that the Nevada Republican expects the Senate to pass the negotiated proposal in the coming week and hopes the House takes up the measure or passes its own proposal to conference with the Senate. Heller is one of five Republicans and five Democrats who hammered out the deal over months of talks.

GOP BUDGET.  House Republicans are allegedly looking for additional savings for their 2015 budget through deeper entitlement cuts (sub. req’d):

House Republicans are likely to find additional needed savings in their fiscal 2015 budget resolution through deeper or accelerated cuts to entitlement programs, tighter constraints on discretionary spending, and some new policies, according to lawmakers and budget experts.

The new cuts would be aimed at gaining an additional $1.2 trillion in savings beyond the reductions called for in last year’s House GOP blueprint to eliminate the deficit by the end of the 10-year budget window. Republicans have ruled out new tax revenue so those savings would have to come from spending cuts.

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