WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans, both eager to rouse their respective political bases in an election year, fought Thursday over President Barack Obama’s mandate that health insurers cover the cost of contraceptives. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney lent little clarity to the debate.
Senate Democrats scheduled a vote Thursday on a measure by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt that would allow employers and insurers citing moral or religious grounds to opt out of the requirement under Obama’s implementation of the new health care law.
Asked while campaigning in battleground Ohio if he supported Blunt’s measure, Romney said in an interview with Ohio News Network, “I’m not for the bill.” Later, he issued a statement saying: “Of course I support the Blunt Amendment. I simply misunderstood the question.”
Obama’s policy decision was rewritten last month under pressure from Catholic bishops and others. It now requires health insurers to cover birth control for employees even of religiously affiliated institutions whose beliefs conflict with contraception. As part of his original health care overhaul, the previous policy required employers providing health care insurance to their workers to cover contraceptives.
The Catholic bishops and many conservatives say that still infringes on religious freedom.
Shanksville remains aren’t in landfill, Air Force head says
WASHINGTON — The head of the Air Force on Wednesday disputed a report that some unidentified remains from the Sept. 11, 2001, plane crash site in Shanksville, Pa., had been disposed of in a landfill, casting more confusion on an episode that’s embarrassed the Pentagon and Dover Air Force Base, which handles the remains of the nation’s war dead.
A report commissioned by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and released Tuesday had found that some unidentifiable remains of victims from the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the United Airlines Flight 93 crash in Shanksville were “placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor.” The contractor eventually disposed of the remains in a landfill, the report said.
But during a breakfast with reporters Wednesday, Gen. Norton Schwartz, the chief of staff of the Air Force, said that those remains belonged only to victims at the Pentagon, not on Flight 93.
Syrian troops launch ground assault on Homs neighborhood
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A communications blackout descended over the besieged Bab Amr district in the central Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday as Syrian troops, backed by tanks, launched what appeared to be a major offensive aimed at wresting back control of the area from government opponents.
There were reports of at least one fierce battle on the outskirts of the neighborhood, and residents elsewhere in Homs described intense shelling there and in many other parts of the city. There were fears that the violence marked the start of an all-out attempt to crush resistance in the epicenter of the nearly year-long revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But with almost all communications to Bab Amr severed, including the satellite phones that activists have been using to transmit news and images of the fighting to the outside world, it was difficult to establish exactly what was happening.
Some activists said the government had blocked satellite transmissions; others said fuel supplies had run out for generators that besieged residents use to power laptops and satellite phones. In the first instance of its kind, opposition groups said they could not provide casualty figures for the day’s fighting in Homs because they could not reach their contacts.
Activists in other parts of Homs described widespread fear as the sound of explosions echoed across the city. One activist, who identified himself only as Abu Emad, said government ground forces tried to enter the Bab Amr neighborhood Wednesday morning alongside a sports stadium to the northeast but ran into stiff resistance from rebels of the Free Syrian Army.