An ongoing dispute on Capitol Hill over renewal of the Violence Against Women Act — once among the most noncontroversial measures in Congress — is heating up ahead of an expected House vote Thursday.
The pending House action to reauthorize the law that protects women from domestic violence comes after the Senate last week easily passed its own version on a bipartisan 78-22 vote. But that bill — unlike the House version — specifically extends protections to gay partners, illegal immigrants and victims on American Indian lands, provisions House Republican leaders say are either redundant, unnecessary or potentially unconstitutional.
And with neither side willing to budge, a showdown that has boiled between the chambers since last year isn’t expected to subside anytime soon.
House Republican leaders have said reauthorizing the bill, which initially passed without much controversy in 1994 and has been renewed twice, is a priority. But they say their goal is to focus the legislation on the people it was designed to protect: battered women.
“While House Republicans continue to work hard to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Senate Democrats have made it crystal clear they are more interested in protecting political issues than protecting women from domestic violence,” said Megan Whittemore, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
“It’s time for Democrats to stop their manufactured ‘War on Women’ and join us in our efforts to end violence against all women.”
The House measure has come under heavy fire from Democrats and advocacy groups representing women, gays and American Indians, who say it leaves several groups of people vulnerable. The White House also said it doesn’t support the House bill.
“I am tired of the foot-dragging, the delays, the gutting of the Violence Against Women Act that was passed in the Senate,” said Rep. Gwen Moore, Wisconsin Democrat. “As a woman and a woman of color, I am filled with rage about what has happened. This is so unproductive what the House GOP is doing.”
Ms. Moore said if the House bill passed, Democrats — due to the wide bipartisan support in the Senate for its bill — would be in a strong position to demand the Senate’s provisions are included in a final version hammered out in negotiations between the chambers.
Another sticking point is the Senate provision to give American Indian authorities more power to prosecute outsiders who attack their Indian partners on tribal lands. Some House Republicans have proposed a compromise to allow defendants to request their case be moved to a federal court if they felt their constitutional rights were being violated. Democrats, thought, say that’s unacceptable because tribal lands often are hundreds of miles from the nearest federal court and that case backlogs would prevent victims from receiving timely justice.
The reauthorization showdown is a repeat of last year, when the Senate and House passed bills to renew the law similar to their 2013 versions. The effort died after the two chambers were unable to reconcile their differences.
The bills provide grants to states and localities for housing and legal help for domestic-violence victims. Although the most recent authorization of the law has expired, programs covered under the act are still in place. But without renewal, they cannot be expanded or improved.