U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston), who criticized President Obama’s initial contraception rule, is backing the White House’s compromise as U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic candidate for Senate Elizabeth Warren battle over the issue via radio ads.
The Obama administration said in January that employee health coverage through religious groups and organizations must include contraception, before backtracking and saying they can be exempt.
“I’m comfortable with the compromise position,” Lynch, a conservative Democrat who opposes abortion, told the Reporter on Thursday. “I was one of those who thought the initial policy which required the Catholic Church to provide contraceptives was an overreach. I think the president’s compromise was a good one. I realize that it hasn’t made everyone completely happy, but that’s the nature of compromise.”
Lynch added: “I also think there are some on the far right that want to keep that issue alive. So I think they feel when the initial policy came out, it was a real gift. You know, in other words, here was [Health and Human Services] Secretary Sebelius with clearly an overreaching policy that violated religious freedom. And so they are loathed to let that go. And now even though the president has come out with a reasonable compromise, they would still like to keep that issue front and center if they could. I don’t blame them. I just don’t think the compromise is egregious in any sense. I think it’s reasonable.”
Brown, in a radio ad that started running today, said the Obama administration’s rule would force “religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against the teachings of their church.” Warren, in her own radio ad, said she backs the administration’s compromise and hit Brown for supporting a Republican proposal that, in her words, “threatens women’s access to contraception.”
Lynch’s comments came after a Thursday morning speech to the New England Council, a business-focused group. Lynch largely focused his speech on U.S. Postal Service reforms and took questions from the audience, including one on whether he agreed with Congressman Ed Markey’s call to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way to temper gas prices.
“I think he was firing a warning shot, so to speak,” Lynch said of Markey, a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and a fellow Massachusetts Democrat. “I think it’s premature right now. I’m not sure that the problem that we’re seeing will be fixed by a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. There’s some element of speculation and fear about what’s going to happen next in Iran and what’s going on in the region, and putting more oil into the market is not going to lower the fears that are driving that speculation. It’s not merely wild speculation, it’s based on some fact, so that’s driving up the cost.”
Lynch said he would like to see an analysis from the Congressional Research Service on whether releasing the oil from the reserves will mitigate gas prices. “There is a need to maintain that reserve and we can’t, every time there’s an oil spike, just simply say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this as a mechanism of reducing oil costs,’” he said.
Lynch also trained his fire on both the left and the right in Congress, calling it “silly season” in D.C. “It’s on both sides. You have the far right and some of the Tea Party folks who are saying, ‘Look, we’re open to anything except don’t raise taxes at all, especially on higher income people.’ They all signed a pledge and they’re against that,” he said. “And then you have the far left, who are saying, ‘Look, you can do anything but you can’t take a penny out of any single entitlement or public program as part of the solution.’ So obviously those counterpoints leave us in a tough place to try to negotiate any type of compromise. And so we need to try to come to the middle on both ends and figure out a way forward. And unfortunately with election season in full swing, it seems like people are more entrenched in their positions and it’s been very difficult to get basic agreement on some of the most, I think, common sense approaches to some of our most serious problems.”
Asked if he expected an easing of partisanship after the Nov. 2012 election, Lynch said, “We have to focus on America’s problems. We have to stop this, I don’t know, we have to stop this silliness of just throwing rocks at each other and bringing each other down.”
Pushing his proposed reform of the Postal Service, Lynch singled out members of Congress affiliated with the Tea Party for criticism. “There seems to be a nostalgia among that small group of Tea Partiers that there’s not more blood on the wall. It’s a good solution, there’s not massive layoffs, there’s not enough pain for some people. They want to see pain, they want to see layoffs. And it’s unfortunate because I think this is a good solution for everyone.”
Lynch added he was skeptical of potential savings from eliminating Saturday delivery of mail, adding that it could end up being lucrative for companies like UPS.
He said he hopes the bill will get to a conference committee soon with Sen. Brown’s help, and he’s looking at a timeline of 90 days for movement on the issue.
Lynch added that he will be headed abroad again, making his fourteenth trip to Iraq and his twelfth trip to Afghanistan in the spring. Lynch said Iraq is still seeing sporadic sectarian violence, but the situation continues to improve as the budget has gone from $10 billion a month to $6 billion a year.
Lynch appeared to veer off script at times, giving shout-outs to members of the audience, such as Marjorie Arons-Barron, president of Barron Associates Worldwide and an avid watcher of the Republican presidential debates.
“She has watched every single one. My condolences. Marjorie, you gotta get a life,” Lynch quipped. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. That’s part of your job and I understand. I’m glad it’s your job and not mine.”