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President Obama is looking to cut a deal with Catholic leaders on a rule requiring religious employers to cover contraceptives, but it's not clear how the president will wiggle. Reports this morning hint at a potential compromise but also suggest the issue is far from being settled.

In today's New York Times, White House aides say the administration will look at ways to make the requirement acceptable to religious institutions "perhaps by allowing some employers to make side insurance plans available that are not directly paid for by the institutions." At the same time, the officials insisted "the president would not back down from his decision last month that employees at institutions affiliated with religious organizations receive access to contraceptives."

The Wall Street Journal reports that a compromise being floated is modeled after a law in president Obama's homestate. "Hawaii law requires health-insurance plans to cover contraception in the same way they cover other prescription drugs," reports the newspaper. "But it allows religious employers to enroll workers in a plan with a reduced premium, and allows employees who want contraception to pay for the coverage out of their own pockets directly to the insurer. The result is no employer funds go toward contraception, and employees don't pay more for contraceptive coverage than if they worked for an employer that did include it." 

Still, the report doesn't reconcile its scoop with a report by the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne last month saying that the administration "decided it lacked the authority to implement a Hawaii-style solution."

Politically, the president is walking a tightrope, notes Politico. Back-tracking could anger some women voters, "a group he must woo to win reelection," but refusing to compromise risks "inflaming Catholics, a critical swing bloc that he can’t afford to lose too badly ... The problem illustrates the complexities of Obama’s election-year calculus."
 
Interestingly, the female-Catholic divide that would play out in the electorate is similar to the one that played out within his own administration. Bloomberg reports this morning that Obama's female advisers including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, urged him to require Catholic institutions such as universities and charities to cover contraceptives despite warnings from the president's male Catholic advisers:

Vice President Joe Biden and then-White House chief of staff Bill Daley, also Catholics, warned that the mandate would be seen as a government intrusion on religious institutions. Even moderate Catholic voters in battleground states might be alienated, they warned, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

Below the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe discuss how the HHS decision played into Santorum's success last night.

 

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