Vice President Joe Biden seemed to go off message Thursday by announcing the White House’s controversial effort to regulate religious communities “got screwed up in the first iteration.”
Biden’s declaration of error will mute debate over whether the regulation’s primary purpose was to create a conflict over contraception that would take public attention away from President Barack Obama’s stalled economic policies, the nation’s ballooning debt and record unemployment rates.
The statement came during a question-and-answer session at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. That’s a critical swing state in the November election, and roughly three-quarters of the state’s voters are protestant or Catholic.
The policy, announced Jan. 10, used the Obamacare law to require religious communities to fund controversial medical services for their employees in their religious charities, schools, hospitals and universities. The edict has ignited a furious controversy and threatens to push swing-voting religious people in Midwest swing states away from Obama in November.
Some communities have objected to the required services — which include free abortion-drugs and contraception — but many religious groups have objected to the new mandate, which they say extends federal control over the health sector into religious activities.
Churches that pass a four-part government test can win a conditional exclusion from the progressives’ mandate, according to the regulation. (RELATED: More on Joe Biden)
On Feb. 10, President Barack Obama said he would “accommodate” objections in 2013 by directing health insurance companies to provide the service for free.
However, he did not change the text of the Jan. 20 regulation, which was enacted Feb. 10, and did not acknowledge any error.
A small group of left-wing religious activists accepted Obama’s promise of an accommodation. But many mainstream religious groups have since described the accommodation as a meaningless gimmick.
Biden’s “screwed up” comment came as he touted Obama’s promise of an “accommodation.”
“The conscience clause is being honored in its literal sense,” Biden told the audience.
“We have been able to provide what was hard to set up — it got screwed up in the first iteration — in that any hospital, no matter where it is, no matter who runs it, profit or non-profit, religious based or otherwise, has to provide insurance to its employees like everybody else in the country or pay a penalty.”
Obama, his press aides, Democratic legislators and their media allies have since argued that the controversy is an effort by the GOP and religious groups, especially the Catholic Church, to deny contraceptives to young, Democratic-leaning women.
The Democrats’ spin has spurred support for Obama’s flagging campaign among women voters.