The Senate on Thursday handily passed a bill to renew the federal government's main program to prevent domestic violence, but many Republicans declined to support it because they said it was loaded up with too many new provisions that were unneeded or unconstitutional.
The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed 68-31 after an alternative Republican bill and two amendments failed.
The issue now goes to the House, where both Republicans and Democrats have their own VAWA-renewal bills.
During the Senate debate, Democrats said they didn't understand why some Republicans were objecting to new provisions ensuring victims' services and criminal justice for Native Americans, illegal immigrants and same-sex couples.
If someone sees a crime in process, "you don't ask for papers ... you help them," Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said in her lengthy defense of the new provisions for illegal immigrants.
Other Democrats defended new language allowing tribal councils authority to punish non-Indians for abusive behavior, and clarifying that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons are included in VAWA protections.
This bill has the "best balance possible to protect the most people possible," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who introduced the bill with Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Republican.
Democrats exhorted their Republican colleagues to vote for the bill.
"It's not about who gets the credit; it's about who gets help," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat.
"We know you care. Show it," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat. "The lives of women should be above politics," he added.
But Republicans viewed the controversial new provisions in the Leahy-Crapo bill with suspicion.
VAWA could have passed with broad bipartisan support, as it has before, but instead it's become an example of "cynical, partisan game-playing," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, who crafted a substitute bill with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican.
There are already fundraising letters circulating asking for donations to defeat the so-called Republican "war on women," Mr. Grassley said. But such a war is a "figment of the imagination of Democratic strategists," he said.
To suggest that one party wants to protect women and one wants to harm them "is ridiculous," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
What's really at issue are the "bad immigration policies"; unconstitutional provisions about tribal councils; inadequate penalties for sexual crimes, including child-pornography possession; and weaknesses in rooting out fraud and waste in the VAWA program, Republicans said.
The Republican substitute bill offered by Mrs. Hutchison and Mr. Grassley was easily defeated, as well as an amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, that would have accelerated the processing of rape-test kits. The current failure to examine these crime-scene tests means sex offenders are walking free, Mr. Cornyn said.
A similar amendment on rape-kit testing offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, was also rejected.
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Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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