House, Senate can't agree on Violence Against Women Act

Progress on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has ground to a halt despite the passage of competing bills in the House and Senate.

Democrats had once made the bill a top priority, but Senate leaders were unable to send their bill to the House because they found it violated the Constitution by raising revenue.

House Republicans say they’ve yet to see any substantive negotiations on the legislation and are waiting for the Senate to fix their bill. Senate leaders, on the other hand, want the House to take up their version, which passed with bipartisan support and had the backing of most advocacy groups.

ADVERTISEMENT
The result is a familiar Capitol dynamic — a political staring contest on stalled legislation that has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

When the issue will get resolved is anyone’s guess. Lawmakers and aides say there is no timetable, and because there is no hard deadline to act, the Violence Against Women Act has taken a backseat to the student loan and highway bills that must be passed by the end of June.

The Senate in April approved a reauthorization written by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) by a vote of 68-31. Three weeks later, 216 House Republicans and six Democrats passed a different version that the White House threatened to veto because of provisions affecting the treatment of Native Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims of abuse.

The House bill would also close off a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who suffer abuse and receive special visas.

After the vote on the Senate bill, officials discovered it was unconstitutional because of a provision that would raise revenue through fees. Under the Constitution, legislation that raises revenue must originate in the House.

The bill’s backers want the House to use the Senate language anyway. Leahy and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wrote a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this month urging him to “swiftly allow for an up-or-down vote” on the Senate version.

“We are concerned that unnecessary political and procedural posturing is breaking the bipartisan consensus on an issue that should rise above such considerations, and is creating an unconscionable delay that further threatens victims of violence,” the senators wrote.

House Republicans say that isn’t happening.

“The Senate has possession of both bills, so it’s very hard for us to negotiate with the Senate when we don’t even have a bill,” the chief sponsor of the House version, Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), said this week.

Adams and other GOP lawmakers say the lack of urgency by the Senate Democratic leadership is evidence that Democrats were politicizing the issue from the beginning as part of their effort to paint Republican policies as detrimental to women.

“We passed a good bill that dealt with all the victims, and it went to the Senate, and there it sits along with the Senate bill — in the Senate,” Adams said. “So it is up to the Senate to make a decision whether they really want to pass a bill that is for victims, or whether they want to politicize it.”

Democrats say House Republicans rushed their bill to the floor with little consultation or debate so they could have political cover against attacks from the White House. The Senate version, one Democratic aide said, was “the advocate-backed, bipartisan, gold-standard bill.”

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said it was “totally facetious” for Republicans to cite the constitutional issue with the Senate bill as an obstacle to negotiations. The House, he said, had worked around similar problems in the past by sending over legislation to the Senate that could serve as a vehicle for a former conference committee.

He did not dispute the lack of progress, however. “There’s not a lot of negotiating going on right now,” Jentleson said.