One of the most effective moments for President Obama in Tuesday's debate (transcript, here) at Hofstra University came after Candy Crowley elicited a response from Mitt Romney on "pay equity, Governor." Following the ex-governor's uninspiring response, Crowley asked Obama to "get in on this quickly, please." The President referred to his support for the Lilly Ledbetter bill, then continued
Now, there are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace: for example, their health care. (Inaudible) — a major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making. I think that's a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured, because this is not just a — a health issue; it's an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family's pocket.
Governor Romney not only opposed it; he suggested that, in fact, employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage. That's not the kind of advocacy that women need. When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care. They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country.
Eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood is truly a radical idea, and it is one unabashedly advocated by Mitt Romney. He claimed "I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not," but supports the Blunt Amendment, which would allow employers to opt out of the requirement that they provide employees with contraceptive coverage if it violates their "religious beliefs or moral convictions," a loophole the size of the Grand Canyon.
Following the debate, Chris Matthews asked Eugene Robinson and Joan Walsh why Romney "can't bring himself" to say simply that women deserve equal pay as men. Romney has no problem with employers deciding to pay women the same as men. Or more. Or less. Or perhaps nothing at all. In Mitt's world, employers should not be forced to do anything they don't want to do. They shouldn't be coerced into even hiring qualified women. Rather, there are going to be so many jobs in a Romney administration, "employers in the new economy.... are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women," perhaps from those "binders full of women" Mitt had in Massachusetts. Presumably, if jobs aren't plentiful, those employers can choose to shut women out of consideration entirely.
Obama could have improved on his answer by adding that his support for widespread access to birth control is the is the best deterrent to unwanted pregnancies. But quibbling would be unfair; it was a good answer, and a good night on Long Island.