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February 28, 2015

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In a world of procedural rules, legislation languishes to help women victims of violence


Tom Williams

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun in his office in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Whether he’s angling to dispense with the filibuster or upending arcane rules on amendments, Sen. Harry Reid is always hyper-conscious of congressional procedure.

But now that House Republicans are charging that Reid broke the rules when the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act, Reid is dismissing such attention to procedural detail as “hyper-technical,” an “excuse” and a “fig leaf.”

At issue is something called blue-slipping, and it stems straight from the Constitution. (No matter that there’s an unofficial tradition between the two chambers to occasionally help each other skirt it.)

The Constitution mandates that “all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” If somebody in the Senate wants to introduce legislation for raising taxes or fees, they can only do so via an amendment to a House bill.

The Violence Against Women Act isn’t traditionally considered a revenue-raiser. But this year, Senate Democrats added a provision to allow 10,000 visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — paid for with an application fee.

Fees count as revenue, which means the bill is unconstitutional and cannot proceed through Congress.

Despite the seeming finality of the Constitution, that in itself wouldn’t necessarily kill the bill outright if the House were willing to play along — as it oftentimes does.

The Senate makes errors like this from time to time, and depending on what the issue is, the House sometimes comes to the procedural rescue by sending over a “vehicle” bill to overcome the procedural hurdle.

That’s the way things went a few months ago, when the Senate and the House were trying to hammer out a transportation bill.

It’s not the way things are progressing these days.

Republicans were under a lot of pressure not to let lapse transportation funding that supported millions of jobs. But they’re not under as much pressure to make sure the Violence Against Women Act gets reauthorized — even though many Republicans, including Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, have gotten on board with the Senate’s version.

Nevada Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei joined with their party to pass a Republican version in the House — but Democratic leaders there argue that bill moves women’s protections “backwards.”

Republicans also weren’t a fan of the provision that inspired the blue slip in the first place. Instead of allowing visas for domestic violence victims, they preferred giving them to any crime victim who was willing to help prosecute the perpetrator.

Finally, Republicans have been getting hammered by Democrats on the campaign trail in recent weeks over the “war on women” issue. With the Democrats’ bill rendered defunct, Republicans now have the only viable Violence Against Women Act bill — a point that will let them drive negotiations and point to any objections from Democrats as being unnecessarily dilatory.

Those campaign-driven overtones rang out loud and clear Monday afternoon.

“The truth is Republicans are looking for any excuse to stall or kill this worthy legislation,” Reid said. “And American women aren’t fooled.”

So is it the end of the line for the Violence Against Women Act?

Not necessarily. While the House hasn’t sent over a simple “vehicle bill” to the Senate to mark as its own, the House has sent over its own Violence Against Women Act bill that the Senate can work on if it wants.

Or the House can drop its “blue slip” slap and simply agree to go to a conference committee process where they can hash out the details.

But technically, the House Republicans don’t have to do any of that because, this time, procedure is on their side.

Until this is worked out, women will have to wait.

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  1. If it can said that the only thing that matters to Republicans is to make President Obama a one term President, it is equally fair to say that the only thing that matters to Harry Reid is to be sure that every issue can be played in such a way as to make Republicans look bad, no matter what the cost to the American people.