A Tale of Two Hearings
We've been watching the Sandra Fluke kerfuffle with a certain detached irony. It's certainly no surprise that the White House and Congressional Democrats want to make the 2012 campaign a referendum on "reproductive rights," depicting Republicans as prudes and Neanderthals who would deny women access to any form of contraception.
Of course, it's helpful to remember that "contraception" has become the new catch-phrase for anything remotely connected to the prevention of pregnancy, including abortion. "Contraception" tests much better with female and independent voters than a "woman's right to choose," or other code-phrases for abortion.
It is also unsurprising that Ms. Fluke became the poster girl for this manufactured controversy. The Daily Caller has done a nice job of tracing her activist past, including Fluke's academic interest in reproductive rights as a law student at Georgetown. However, the Caller's Caroline May misses an important point; Fluke was actually a "substitute" witness, after Democratic staffers decided she would present a more sympathetic image than Barry Lynn, Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In fact, Fluke was a last-minute replacement for Lynn, submitted at 4:30 pm on the day before she was scheduled to testify. The deliberate switch prevented Republicans from properly vetting the witness and pointing out her activist past.
Naturally, the Democrats jumped on the GOP for challenging their witness change. And El Rushbo didn't exactly help matters when he referred to Ms. Fluke as a "prostitute" and a "slut." As the father of three daughters, I'm a bit sensitive to that type of language, even if it seems to contain an element of truth. After all, Sandra Fluke told Congress that a female student must pay an average of $3,000 for contraception during three years at Georgetown Law, a sum that apparently jeopardizes their financial future. That's why women need free contraceptive care, even if that coverage goes against the moral beliefs of their employer.
Never mind that Ms. Fluke's claims are demonstrably false. There are plenty of places where a struggling college students can obtain contraception, some within a few minutes of the Georgetown campus. And, there's the little matter of how much protection a student needs and how much it costs (assuming they don't want to go the "free" route). A month's supply of generic birth control pills can be purchased at Wal-Mart for $4. Total cost for three years at Georgetown: $144.
Or, if a student prefers condoms, they're readily available and affordable as well. In fact, the "contraception cost" cited by Ms. Fluke could cover a swingin' weekend at the Kennedy compound, or for mere mortals, enough protection for five sexual encounters a day for three years (emphasis ours). We've heard that law profs try to "bore their students to death" during year three; looks like Ms. Fluke (and her fellow students) have found a new way to beat the boredom during their final semester at good ol' Georgetown.
But that isn't the real irony of Ms. Fluke and her contraception plight. That was provided in another hearing room, on another subject, military health care. While the MSM media was atwitter over Ms. Fluke, they largely ignored the latest revelations on healthcare fees for military retirees. Appearing before the House Budget Committee, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta affirmed that out-of-pocket costs for TriCare (the health plan covering military dependents and retirees) will continue to rise.
Just how much? According to California Congressman Buck McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, some military retirees will see their TriCare fees increase by as much as 345%. Supporters of the fee hike note that TriCare went more than 15 years without an increase. Critics note that the average military retiree leaves the service as an E-6, with a monthy pension of roughly $1600 (after taxes). While the revised system will be means tested (so higher-ranking retirees pay more), any increase will have a major impact on service members who retire at lower grades.
Of course, that means little to members of Congress (most of whom never served in the armed forces), or the Obama Administration, which is equally lacking in military experience. They have no problem in raising health care fees for military retirees and dependents, while pushing for free, unlimited contraception for those young-skulls-full-of-mush on campus.
Did we mention that the retirees actually earned their benefits, through decades of service and sacrifice? Or that they were promised free, on-base healthcare for life at the time of their enlistment? But then again, retired military members aren't viewed as a crucial "swing" voting block in this year's presidential election.
That's one reason that Democratic lawmakers are more concerned about Sandra Fluke's access to free birth control than the impact of rising TriCare fees on a retired Navy Petty Officer First Class. You know, the man (or woman) who served the nation honorably for at least 20 years, and is now trying to keep their family afloat on a household income that will be far less than Ms. Fluke's starting salary as a lawyer. You see, Sandra Fluke may be a useful dupe, but she's far from stupid. That Congressional appearance will likely open some doors with Democratic law firms, think tanks and Capitol Hill committees that might otherwise pass on a rookie lawyer with a thin resume.
We're still waiting for some Democratic Representative or Senator to introduce the "Sandra Fluke Access to Free Contraception Act" (paging Barbara Boxer). Unlimited contraception for everyone (who's likely to vote Democratic). And they can pay for it with more cuts to TriCare!