The Violence Against Women Act was first signed into law in 1994, championed by then-Senator Joe Biden. In 2000 and 2005 it was renewed with bipartisan support. No muss, no fuss – politicians from both sides of the aisle accepted its worth and passed it with no problems.
That was then, this is now:
Back in April, the Senate approved VAWA reauthorization fairly easily, with a 68 to 31 vote. The bill was co-written by a liberal Democrat (Vermont’s Pat Leahy) and a conservative Republican (Idaho’s Mike Crapo), and seemed on track to be reauthorized without much of a fuss, just as it was in 2000 and 2005.
But House Republicans insisted the bill is too supportive of immigrants, the LGBT community, and Native Americans — and they’d rather let the law expire than approve a slightly expanded proposal. Vice President Biden, who helped write the original law, tried to persuade House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to keep the law alive, but the efforts didn’t go anywhere.
It’s hard to be shocked by this, considering the current make-up of Congress, and while supporters of the law hope to revive it with the 113th Congress set to take charge, the make-up of the House has not changed enough to make a difference, and now that the bill has expired, the chances of it simply falling through the cracks are fairly high.
The expiration of this bill is an indication of the joke Congress has devolved into, that they can’t put their heads down and pass one of the simplest pieces of legislation. It’s embarrassing and it’s shameful, as are their reasons for trashing it:
One in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetime. Indeed, they face the highest rate of domestic violence out of any group in the country — three and a half times the national average. Still, this is one of the new VAWA provisions to which Republicans have voiced particular opposition. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said that “any American” could be imprisoned by tribal courts. In actuality, the provisions allow tribal members to prosecute non-tribal people who commit domestic violence and who either live or work on a reservation, or are married to a tribal member. In terms of protections for undocumented immigrants, Republicans seem opposed to the fact that the bill would raise the cap on the number of visas that could be extended to undocumented victims. As for LGBT provisions? The expanded VAWA would make it so that shelters cannot discriminate against LGBT victims. Realistically, there’s little to object over. The bill saves lives, and it helps people. If it is expanded to a few more victims, all the better. In the mean time, Republicans should realize that a war against victims of domestic violence is no better than a war against women alone.
It’s pretty easy to look at this failure of lawmakers and just throw your hands up in disgust. There’s no excuse for it, no reason for it, except the fevered paranoia of extremist members who have held any kind of meaningful legislation hostage for the last two years in the utterly useless 112th Congress.
They’re an embarrassment to the country.