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By Attorney Robert Franklin
July 27, 2012

It seems that not a day goes by without Senate Democrats publicly anguishing over congressional failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. They bemoan the fact that the bill is “stuck” and that “gridlock” rules the Congress. Of course, those words are election-year code for “See, Republicans are stonewalling again.” And when those words refer to bills about violence against women, the none-too-subtle context is Democrats’ favorite specious claim - the Republican “War on Women.” Republicans don’t care about violence against women, the story goes, so they’re stonewalling VAWA.

Whatever the efficacy of that rhetoric, the actual facts about just how VAWA came to be mired in a Congressional backwater don’t support the Democrats’ preferred narrative. Put simply, VAWA is stuck because of Democratic blundering and hopes of scoring election-year points at the expense of the safety of domestic violence victims.

Back in April, the Senate version of VAWA reauthorization passed by a vote of 69 – 31. Three weeks later, the House passed the Republican version and sent it to the Senate. Under normal circumstances, a committee would be appointed to hammer out a compromise bill that would then be voted on by the two houses and, if passed, sent to the President.

But the circumstances surrounding VAWA reauthorization are anything but normal. That’s primarily because Senator Pat Leahy (D – VT), who authored the Senate bill made a mistake. The Senate bill he wrote and shepherded through the Judiciary Committee he chairs is clearly unconstitutional as written. It’s unconstitutional because it raises revenue via a charge to immigrants who seek visas based on claims of domestic violence in their home countries. The Constitution clearly states that bills to raise revenue must originate in the House of Representatives. Why the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and apparently every other Democrat in the Senate didn’t know that simple fact is anyone’s guess.

So as things now stand, the Senate has a House bill it doesn’t like and a Senate bill that can’t become law. If you’re a Democrat, what do you do? Well, there are a number of ways Senate Democrats could move things forward to a vote on a bill that both houses could approve and the President could sign. But it’s been over two months and they’ve done none of them. What they’ve done instead is decry congressional “gridlock” and hope voters will draw the “right” conclusion – that it’s all part of the Republican “War on Women.”

Seemingly the easiest thing would be to simply strike the portions of the Senate bill that call for raising revenue. After all, the amounts can’t be much - $30 per person for visa applications based on VAWA claims. Axing that fee seems like a small cost to get VAWA reauthorization back on track, but Democrats have refused to pay it. If they changed the bill, it would require a re-vote, but surely Leahy has no realistic fear that it wouldn’t pass. So what gives?

Well, one problem is that, after the Senate vote in April, Senators Grassley (R – NE) and Hutchison (R – TX) submitted their own VAWA bill that was never voted on. That bill still awaits action, and it’s beginning to look like Leahy doesn’t want to risk the possibility that his bill and the Grassley-Hutchison bill would be debated as alternatives. After all, that could publicly raise some issues about VAWA that Democrats don’t want aired. One such issue is the Grassley-Hutchison bill’s attack on the fraud waste and abuse that’s beset VAWA spending since its inception in 1994.

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But whatever their reasons for keeping it there, the VAWA ball is squarely in the Democrats’ court. Two bills are before the Senate; the House bill could be voted on tomorrow if the Democratic leadership chose to do so and the Senate bill could be amended just as quickly. Neither has been done and there’s no sign of Democratic action in either direction.

The lesson couldn’t be clearer. In this election year, Democrats prefer inaction on what Vice President Biden calls his “signature” piece of legislation to a public airing of the many deficiencies in that law. That may or may not make electoral sense, but it definitely raises the question “Whose War on Women?”

� 2012 - Robert Franklin - All Rights Reserved

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Robert Franklin has been a licensed attorney in Texas since 1980. He’s on the Board of Fathers and Families, the largest and most effective organization in the country fighting for family court reform. He writes and edits the Fathers and Families blog. He’s published journalism, essays and op-eds in a wide variety of online and print media including the Toledo Blade, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times and World Net Daily. His legal writing has appeared in the Houston Law Review and he’s published poetry in several journals including the Concho River Review and an anthology of Texas poets.

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Seemingly the easiest thing would be to simply strike the portions of the Senate bill that call for raising revenue.