Eight female senators took to the Senate floor on Thursday to push for passage of a bill expanding programs against domestic violence, as Republicans accused Democrats of picking a fight on a bipartisan measure in a cynical bid to hurt the GOP with female voters.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act renews lapsed authority for funding for a series of domestic-violence programs. It also takes various steps to broaden the programs, such as including gay couples and undocumented immigrants.
Republicans insisted the measure can pass easily with bipartisan support, but Democrats -- who argue they scored a political victory by defeating a GOP proposal to let firms opt out of providing insurance coverage for contraception -- were quick to link the measure to other social fights.
“This is part of a larger effort to cut back on rights and services to women,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, “It’s hard to believe we’re having a debate in 2012 about protecting woman from violence.”
Citing “reports that Republicans in Congress will oppose reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a fundraising request to supporters on Thursday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans voted against the measure in February, arguing the expansion of the bill dilutes its purpose. Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he is concerned about a provision that will allow some illegal immigrants who help investigations of domestic violence to gain citizenship.
“The Violence Against Women Act program has strong bipartisan support in the Senate,” Grassley said in a statement on Thursday. ”It’s a shame that the majority party is manufacturing another partisan, political crisis, because in actuality, there is no concern that the VAWA will go away. The law is being funded, and VAWA programs are running as they have since the reauthorization actually ran out last year.”
Republicans noted that Congress has continued to fund programs covered by the bill, despite the expiration of authorization, leaving no deadline for passing a reauthorization bill. They questioned Democrats’ motives for pushing the bill now; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he hopes to pass it in coming weeks.
“They are doing everything they can to not talk about jobs,” a GOP leadership aide said.
Republican aides said the measure has bipartisan support. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who joined Democratic senators on the floor, urged Democrats to compromise with Republicans on the measure. Murkowski has warned Republicans against letting Democrats depict the GOP as being in opposition to the bill.
“Some of my colleagues have some concerns, and we need to take those concerns into account,” Murkowski said in a floor speech.