WASHINGTON — The federal reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has fallen victim to political bickering, with the House of Representatives and the Senate refusing even to consider the versions passed by each other.
Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, a sponsor of the Senate version, said it was pure gridlock, and he’s not sure how the standoff will be resolved. “I think there’s a bit of a stare-down going on there with the House leadership and the Senate leadership,” Crapo said in an interview.
The gridlock is another sign of Congress’ inability to do much of anything but bicker this year. This is the third time the Violence Against Women Act has been up for reauthorization since 2000 and it’s never been controversial before. The landmark 18-year-old law includes measures to help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence; among other things it provides short-term housing for abused women and grants for law enforcement staffing and training.
Crapo sponsored this year’s reauthorization bill along with Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who put in new provisions that are at the heart of the fight. Those include: an expansion of the law to assure protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people; authority for tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence on reservations; and an increase in the number of visas allowed for illegal immigrants who are victims of abuse and help police prosecute the offenders.
Crapo said he continued to support the bill despite misgivings about the expansion of immigrant visas and constitutional questions over the expanded authority of tribal courts. But many of his fellow Republicans turned against the measure, especially in the GOP-controlled House.
The House passed its own version last week stripping out the new provisions, drawing a veto threat from President Barack Obama, who said it didn’t do enough to protect battered immigrants, Native Americans or gays. The White House said in a statement that the House version took "direct aim at immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault" and jeopardized victims by placing them "directly in harm’s way.”
The House now refuses to negotiate over the Senate version of the bill, saying it includes fees associated with visas for immigrant abuse victims and that a clause in the Constitution requires all bills that raise revenue to originate in the House.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was up to the Senate to negotiate over the narrower House bill. That would give the House much more say over what the final bill looks like. The Senate doesn’t appear willing to do that. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this week that the Republicans who controlled the House were engaged in “blatant obstruction” of the bill.
“The truth is Republicans are looking for any excuse to stall or kill this worthy legislation,” Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor. “And American women aren’t fooled.”
Boehner said at a news conference last week, just before the House left for a weeklong recess, that it was the Democrats who were using the reauthorization as a weapon against Republicans.
“We’re eager to resolve our differences. . . . This is an important issue for our country and it needs to be resolved,” Boehner said.
The Violence Against Women Act expired last September, and its programs are surviving on temporary funding while Congress squabbles over the five-year reauthorization.