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Violence Against Women Act's Future Remains Uncertain

Republicans, Democrats Struggle to Pass Historically Simple Reauthorization

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner’s move signals that the GOP would like to wrap up this women’s issue as the elections draw near because Democrats have used it for political purposes.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may have named conferees Monday to negotiate a final agreement on the Violence Against Women Act, but there was one glaring problem: Senate Republicans and Democrats have yet to agree to a conference.

In one of those only-on-the-Hill–type sagas, both parties are still struggling to find the time and resources to finish a bill that traditionally gets reauthorized easily and passed the Senate on a broad bipartisan vote earlier this year. But the move from Boehner at a minimum sends a strong signal that the GOP would like to have a potent women’s issue off the table as the elections draw nearer because Democrats have used it to pit Republicans against female voters.

“Completing work on legislation to renew and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act is critical in our efforts to combat domestic violence and sexual assault,” Boehner said in a statement. “The law has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers, and I’m announcing our negotiators today in the hopes that we can begin to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills. The House is ready and willing to begin those discussions, and I would urge Senate Democrats to come to the table so this critical legislation can be sent to the president for his signature as soon as possible.”

It’s not that simple, though. In May, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried to attach the Senate-approved language to the shell of a House-approved revenue bill in order to remove procedural obstacles to a conference committee, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked that effort.

Even if GOP Senators decide to allow the appointment of conferees, both chambers are scheduled to go into recess next week, and there are few legislative days left to act. Moreover, the legislation has become a political hot potato since dueling bills were passed by both chambers last spring, and both sides are betting that if they stick the other party with the blame, they can win a messaging battle that could be important in November.

The critical difference between the two competing bills is Senate language extending domestic violence protections to the gay and transgender community as well as to immigrants and undocumented women. Beyond GOP opposition to those provisions, extending emergency visas to abused, undocumented immigrants caused the procedural problem for Democrats. The provision would levy fees on new immigration visas. Any bill that generates revenue must originate in the House.

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