The issue: Republicans see no point in further alienating female voters
It took just a little over a year, but Congress finally reauthorized and expanded the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark 1994 law that expired in 2011 and whose future at times seemed in doubt in a deeply divided Congress.
THE LAW, WHICH funds programs to help prosecute sexual assault and domestic abuse cases, was not only extended for five years but expanded to include gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered.
And it gives tribal courts the power to try non-Native American men accused of crimes against women on Indian reservations. House Republicans, who tended to oppose expanding the law, argued that the tribal court provision was unconstitutional and it likely will face a court challenge at some stage.
The law is funded at nearly $660 million a year for the next five years, 17 percent less than the last time it was reauthorized but still a healthy show of support in a time of budget austerity.
The House Republicans might have been content to see the Violence Against Women Act sit in limbo as another example of liberal meddling in areas traditionally state and local responsibilities, but the November election changed all that.
Democrats took 55 percent of the female vote and Mitt Romney trailed President Barack Obama among women by 11 percentage points. And additional pressure was put on the House when the Senate in January passed the bill with every Democrat, every woman and more than half of the Republicans voting for it.
HOUSE GOP LEADER Eric Cantor introduced a compromise measure, taking into account the objections of Republican conservatives, but it was defeated Thursday, 166 to 257.
The House then passed the Senate version, 286 to 138, with 87 Republicans voting for it and 138 against. This did not further endear House Speaker John Boehner to the more hard-core members of his caucus because it was the third time since December that the speaker had allowed legislation to move — the other two were the “fiscal cliff” bill and Hurricane Sandy relief — that did not have the support of a majority of his Republicans.
Passage of the bill is being hailed as a victory for Obama and the Democrats, but it is also a victory for Boehner and the cooler, wiser and politically better attuned members of the House GOP leadership, who saw no point in further alienating female voters.