The Republican-controlled House of Representatives this week, in the waning days of the 112th Congress, blocked renewal of the landmark Violence Against Women Act.
The reason? Republicans reject extending the law's protections for some 30 million women who are undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, LGBT, or students on campuses. Those protections are part of the renewal bill passed by the Senate in April with a 68-31 vote, including 15 Republicans. Sen. Barbara Boxer noted that the point of the bill was to make it clear that no woman should be excluded from protection under the Violence Against Women Act, known as VAWA.
But that was too much for congressional Republicans. They claimed that such measures were "controversial" and "political," and, said Florida Republican Rep. Sandy Adams, would "detract from VAWA."
The Violence Against Women Act, originally enacted in 1994, requires periodic reauthorization. Usually that happens easily with substantial bipartisan support. In 2005 it was renewed nearly unanimously. In 2012 it passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote. But the Republican-controlled House, on a party-line vote, insisted on passing a version that excluded the added protections as well as some existing ones. Among those voting for the exclusionary version were Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan,- MItt Romney's vice presidential candidate, and Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, whose ignorant comments about rape cost him reelection in November. This week, the House Republican leadership allowed the clock to run out on the lame-duck session without acting on the Senate bill, thus allowing the Violence Against Women Act to expire.
Each time VAWA has been reauthorized, the National Domestic Violence Hotline explains, improvements have been included. For example, the 2005 reauthorization added protections for immigrants; protected victims of domestic violence from evictions; provided new federal funding for rape crisis centers; added services for children and teenagers, and culturally- and linguistically-specific services for communities.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., notes today in a CNN opinion piece, "One reason the law has worked so well in protecting a broad group of women is that since its initial passage, every time Congress has reauthorized the bill, we have done so in a bipartisan way that extends the legislation's many protections to new groups of women."
She calls the Republican actions "inexcusable" and "purely ideological."
In mid-December, every Democratic woman in the Senate wrote to the Republican women of the House to appeal for their help in passing the Senate bill.
In response, says Murray, "one by one we heard from moderate Republican voices in the House who believed they should take up and pass the Senate bill. These members of Congress made clear that if House leadership would only bring up the bill for a vote it would pass the House and be sent to the president to become law."
But Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor "instead decided to side with the far right wing of their party by allowing the bill to expire," Murray says. Reportedly Cantor specifically refused to allow a measure that extended rights for Native American women.
House and Senate women Democrats and women's advocacy organizations say passage of an inclusive VAWA reauthorization is a top priority for the new Congress. "Every moment the House continues to delay is another moment vulnerable women are left without protections they deserve," Murray says. "In the next Congress one of our absolute first priorities must be passing an inclusive and bipartisan bill to extend protections to the millions of new women included in the Senate bill."
Photo: Steve Rhodes // CC 2.0