by Jeremy Leaming
More than a decade ago federal lawmakers had little trouble coming together to pass a piece of legislation aimed at improving the lives of some the country’s most vulnerable. It was 1994 when Congress in sweeping bipartisan fashion passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), extending government services to victims of domestic violence.
But reauthorizing that law is mired in what The Hill’s Russell Berman says is a “familiar Capitol dynamic – a political staring contest on stalled legislation that has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support.”
While Berman paints an evenhanded picture – both parties are obstinate, can’t work together – a strong argument can be made that what is really going on here involves the intransigence of the Republican Party. The party has moved so far to the fringe, has become so hostile to helping the nation’s most vulnerable that it should come as no surprise that it does not want to work with the Senate to reauthorize VAWA.
The reason is straightforward: today’s VAWA would expand services for victims of domestic violence.
The measure the Senate passed in April would bolster services for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, it would strengthen the ability of Native American authorities to prosecute domestic violence, and it would ensure help the LGBT community.
House Republicans and right-wing lobbying groups have opposed the new services. Longtime right-wing activist Phyllis Schafly, for instance, called the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization a “slush fund for the feminist lobby.”
When the House passed its reauthorization of VAWA in May it did not include the Senate’s call for extension of services, but also sought to cut existing services. At the time the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers blasted the House version for rolling back “existing law” and failing “to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of violence.”
Earlier this week Sen. Patrick Leahy, lead author of the Senate measure, warned that time was running out to reauthorize VAWA.
“There are only a few weeks left in this legislative session before election year politics take over and Congress comes to standstill,” Leahy said in a July 11 statement.
If Congress fails to act before fleeing the capital, services to combat sexual abuse and violence will remain underfunded and weakened.
“The legislation’s emphasis on increasing housing protections for victims and preventing homicides connected to domestic and sexual violence will not have an opportunity to help vulnerable victims across the country,” Leahy said. “Important improvements in campus safety and prevention programs for teens will not occur. Immigrant victims, Native women, LGBT victims will continue to remain without the services and protection they need and deserve.”
Leahy has been a longtime proponent of VAWA, and has fought this session for a strengthened version. But his pleas for Congress to take action before the session ends appear unlikely to move House Republicans who obstinately oppose extending government help to the nation’s needy.
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told The Hill that there is not much negotiating between the Senate and House over the differing VAWA measures.
[image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/]