Deal on VAWA Far From Done

Posted June 26, 2012 at 6:13pm

Senate Democrats and House Republicans are blaming each other for stalling progress on the Violence Against Women Act, a bill with bipartisan support but poor prospects.

For now, the hang-up is over the bill’s revenue provisions.

Specifically, the Senate bill contains a provision that would give battered undocumented women temporary visas to encourage them to come forward. The current cap for U visas, given to crime victims, is 10,000, but that could be increased to 15,000 by using visas unclaimed since 2006.

The illegal immigration provision, which charges a fee, violates a portion of the Constitution requiring revenue-raising bills to originate in the House. The constitutional provision essentially allows the House to kill the Senate bill and force it to pass it again without the offending proposal.

Senate Democrats argue that the House GOP is just looking for an excuse not to oppose the Senate measure and is using a strategy to force Democrats to drop one of three provisions not included in the House bill before even sitting down and negotiating.

“They are trying to win on one of the three issues before we get around the conference table,” a Senate Democratic aide said. The aide said if GOP leaders wanted a deal, they would move the process forward by naming negotiators and going to a conference committee.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said at a Tuesday briefing she would not compromise on provisions allowing Native American courts to prosecute non-Native American perpetrators of domestic violence. The Senate bill, which passed 68-31 in April, included the provision.

The Senate bill also includes language extending protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and the language protecting undocumented women.

The Republican-run House passed its own version of the bill last month, but its proposal did not include the Senate’s Native American, LGBT or immigrant provisions.

Murray indicated that if she is faced with a choice of no bill or a compromise without those provisions, she would prefer no bill.

“I am not willing to pass a Violence Against Women bill into law by throwing out the provisions and throwing under the bus Native American women, LGBT members and immigrants who have stood up and fought hard” to be included, Murray said.

What happens after the current fiscal year, when the authorization for the current VAWA programs expires, is an open question. It is unclear whether Congress will pass the fiscal 2013 spending bill that funds VAWA programs before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. It’s not unusual for programs to continue to be funded after their authorizations expire, and Murray said that could be the path forward while Democrats continue to fight for their reauthorization.

At the press conference Murray, joined by other Senate Democrats and crooner Michael Bolton, who said he has been advocating for “at risk” women and children for more than 20 years, stressed the importance of the Native American provision.

“The Senate included Native American coverage for the first time ever,” Murray said. “In doing so, we have shed a light on an issue that has remained in the dark for a very long time. That is why I have said today I am not going to vote for a Violence Against Women Act that shuts that door again. We have to leave it open.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who was also at the briefing, said the provision is needed because “there were people falling through the cracks, getting beaten up, that no one was looking out for.”

Under current law, “tribal courts do not have jurisdiction over non-Indian defendants who abuse and attack their Indian spouses on Indian land even though more than 50 percent of Native women are married to non-Indians,” Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, said.

“Prosecution of domestic violence crimes in Indian country often fall through the cracks since federal and state law enforcement and prosecutors have limited resources that may be located hours away from tribal communities,” Klobuchar continued.

Republicans argue they want to pass a bill and lament what they believe is the politicizing of the bipartisan issue of providing aid to victims of domestic violence.

“I don’t know why so many people want to make the reauthorization a political issue, which it should not be,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.

Cornyn is head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Murray is head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

GOP aides said Democrats don’t want a solution, claiming they want to use the issue for campaign trail fodder.

“I agree,” Cornyn said.

Murray dismissed the charge and noted that abuse is not a partisan issue.

“This is a bipartisan bill … out of the Senate with all Democratic and Republican women voting for it.”

A House GOP aide said, “The ball is in the Senate’s court.”