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Violence Against Women Act in limbo

By Kate Bolduan, CNN
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Fri May 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Negotiations between House and Senate members has not yet begun
  • Both parties pointing fingers at each other for the delay
  • Traditionally, the law has had bipartisan support

Washington (CNN) -- After a high profile political battle this week over legislation to help victims of domestic abuse, its fate appears to be in limbo. And this policy-dispute-turned-election-year-brawl seems to be far from over.

The House and Senate have both passed different versions of a bill renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The next step would be for congressional leaders to appoint negotiators to hash out the differences between the two pieces of legislation.

That process, though, is now at an apparent standstill, with both sides pointing the finger at the other for holding up progress.

The Senate approved its version last month with bipartisan support. The vote was 68 to 31 with every female Republican supporting the measure. That bill would expand coverage for illegal immigrants and Native Americans who are victims of domestic abuse. It also specifies the inclusion of gay, lesbian and transgender victims.

House Republicans oppose those changes and stripped them from the Republican-backed bill that passed this week 222 to 205, largely splitting along party lines.

"We're eager to resolve our differences...This is an important issue for our country and it needs to be resolved," said House Speaker John Boehner at his weekly news conference Thursday. "I think the bigger question is whether Senator Schumer and his Democrat allies in the Senate want to come to an agreement on this bill or whether they want to continue to attempt to use it as a political weapon in this year's election cycle."

At the same time, Senate Democrats accuse House Republicans of seizing on an "obscure technicality" in order to drag their feet. "There is nothing blocking this bill from moving forward other than Republicans' apparent desire to do so," said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Boehner not only accused Senate Democrats of playing politics with the issue important to women across the country, he also blamed a technical error in the Senate-passed bill for stalling negotiations. That technicality, multiple aides confirm, involves a section of the bill that requires raising fees. The Constitution specifies that all revenue bills must be initiated in the House, not the Senate. While this may be a hiccup in VAWA's reauthorization, it should not be an insurmountable obstacle. Leaders in both parties and chambers use often complex parliamentary maneuvers on a regular basis to overcome such problems.

Though Democratic and Republican leaders are not yet talking to each other, and official negotiations have not begun, a senior Senate Democratic aide says talks have started at the staff level. Yet, renewal of a law that has enjoyed bipartisan support since it was first enacted almost two decades ago remains unclear. VAWA expired at the end of September 2011. The government has continued temporary funding of the law's programs while lawmakers worked to approve a 5-year reauthorization -- a goal both sides continue to say they support. However, this fight has turned into much more than a partisan debate over policy differences. It's now the latest example of a battle to win a key constituency in the 2012 election -- female voters.

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