Republican senators say their Democratic counterparts should have known about the controversial abortion provision.
Washington CNN  — 

Dysfunction and confusion struck the Senate again on Tuesday as Democrats threatened to derail a popular bipartisan bill to combat human trafficking. Top Democrats pointed fingers at Republicans, claiming they added abortion restriction to the legislation without their knowledge.

“The Republicans are trying to pull a fast one here on human trafficking bill, but it is absolutely wrong and honestly it is shameful,” charged Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a Democratic leader.

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Republicans said they were stunned Democrats didn’t know the provision was in the bill, since the text was made public in January and passed unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. They noted the measure has several Democratic co-sponsors.

“This idea that there has been some sort of ambush is just preposterous,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican and chief sponsor of the bill. “It’s just not credible.”

While Democrats – who just Monday unanimously agreed to begin debate on the trafficking measure – acknowledged they overlooked the controversial language, they insisted it was because Republicans weren’t forthright about its addition to a similar bill that was introduced in the last Congress.

“A list was sent to certain members saying, ‘here are the changes from last year.’ This provision was not listed among them,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said his party will block the bill unless the language is removed.

“You can blame it on staff, blame it on whoever you want to blame it on, but we didn’t know it was in the bill. The bill will not come off this floor as long as that language is in the bill,” he said.

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At issue is a section on page 50 of the 68-page Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act, restricting the use of federal money to pay for abortions. Cornyn explained said the provision is similar to the Hyde Amendment that has been included in federal spending bills since 1974.

“Democrats have supported legislation consistent with the Hyde Amendment for a long, long time,” he said.

In this case, it would prevent restitution funds to the victims of human trafficking from being used for abortions. Democrats complained this was an unacceptable expansion of the use of the Hyde Amendment away from funding bills.

“That we surprised them by including this restriction on taxpayer-funded abortion that’s been the law of the land for 39 years is patently ridiculous,” Cornyn said.

The House passed a similar legislation earlier this year to address human trafficking.

“Senate Republicans need to decide whether they want to be a majority party that works across the aisle to advance legislation, or if they want to use debates about some of the most vulnerable among us to advance their own political agenda,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

At a news conference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised “the bill will be open to amendment.”

But complicating matters for both parties are procedural hurdles that likely will require the 46-member Democratic caucus to get 60 votes to strip out the abortion language and the 54-member Republican conference to get 60 votes to end debate on the bill.

Without a compromise, neither is likely.

Democratic and Republican leadership aides were uncertain how the situation would play out. But they agreed the trafficking bill is a priority for every senator so an effort would be made to resolve the differences.