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Violence Against Women Act extension could complicate spending bill

The existing act has received bipartisan support, but Democrats want an expansion of the law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the Violence Against Women Act has arisen as a potential issue with the spending package. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the Violence Against Women Act has arisen as a potential issue with the spending package. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that a potential extension of the Violence Against Women Act has emerged as a bit of a complication to passing the spending package. 

“The Speaker is objecting to a modest extension of the Violence Against Women Act,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor.

The protections and programs under VAWA lapsed during the monthlong partial government shutdown, but were reinstated in January’s short-term deal to end the shutdown. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed commitment to maintaining the protections and programs under VAWA, but Democrats have pushed for an expansion of the law.

“We can’t let any unrelated, cynically, partisan plays get in the way of finishing this important process,“ McConnell said.

McConnell said that Republicans want VAWA extended through the end of the current fiscal year as part of the appropriations package.

It would allow the new chairmen of the relevant committees in the House and Senate to work out a new long-term deal, which means that House Democrats most likely want a longer deal included. 

“There are new chairmen this Congress of both the Senate and the House Judiciary Committees, and a modest extension of this authority would allow them to work on a longer-term reauthorization of this important law,” he said. 

Pelosi suggested earlier Wednesday morning that provisions to extend the act wouldn’t require separate legislation, but she was unclear of the mechanics.

The landmark domestic violence law was set to expire Sept. 30, but was extended through Dec. 7 under the first stopgap spending bill. It was extended again until Dec. 21 in a second short-term bill.

Republicans in both the House and Senate have suggested that reauthorization for a number of months would give lawmakers an opportunity to create a bipartisan reauthorization measure that addresses the shifting needs of communities.

“I believe we can strengthen this act in several ways by addressing changing circumstances since its last reauthorization five years ago by tailoring its language to better fit the needs of our communities. There are provisions we need to change and to work on, but we are not afforded that opportunity,” Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said on the Senate floor following passage of the short-term extension in that chamber last year.

Last summer, House Democrats introduced legislation to expand the scope of the law, to help victims of domestic violence and stalking stay in stable housing situations and to bar evictions based on the actions of an abuser.

The measure also includes an expansion of gun control laws aimed at prohibiting persons convicted of dating violence and stalking, and those under protective orders from possessing firearms. Some states already have so-called red flag laws in place, with the aim of preventing escalation of violence.

The gun provisions were a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled House, but Democrats have pledged to introduce a full reauthorization of the law in the new Congress.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats would like to include a broader reauthorization of VAWA in the deal but doesn’t know if it will happen.

“I think there’s still discussion about that,” Hoyer said.

Regarding other outstanding issues, he said, “There are some definitional issues, limitation issues that are still concerning people.”

Kellie Mejdrich and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. 

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