Although they’ve become famous for their use of obstruction and the filibuster to kill Democratic legislation in recent years, congressional Republicans increasingly appear to be using a different tactic to thwart Democrats: the political standoff.
It works like this: the Senate approves some key piece of legislation on a bipartisan basis, but House Republicans simply ignore the bill and pass a version of their own. The GOP then demands the Senate discard its own bill and pass the House version instead. It becomes a political game of chicken to see which side blinks first.
That’s what happened last month with a new federal transportation bill. With one of its most liberal members, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), working hand-in-hand with one of its most conservative, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate produced a truly bipartisan bill on an overwhelming vote of 74 to 22.
With the clock ticking down on an expiration of federal transportation funds, the House GOP ignored the Senate bill and approved its own, much more short-term version, and dared the Senate not to pass it. In that case, Republicans won. Senate Democrats caved and went ahead and agreed, over deep objections, to the Republican bill.
Now it’s happening again, this time with the needed re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The Senate approved a new VAWA bill which expanded access to help for more victims of domestic violence, rape and other crimes, regardless of where they live, or their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. The Senate bill overcame a filibuster, and all of the female senators — including the Republican women –voted for the bill.
However, rather than consider the Senate legislation, the Republican-led House this week approved its own version of VAWA which excludes many of the additional protections included in the Senate bill.
“I am disappointed that the House Republican leadership refused to consider the bipartisan Senate bill and insisted on ramming through an ill-conceived measure that would leave victims unprotected,” says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a chief architect of the Senate VAWA bill. “I am encouraged by those members of the House, Democrats and Republicans, who stood with the victims and rejected the destructive approach to roll back protections for victims of violence.”
However, Leahy’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), responds by trying to accuse Democrats of being the ones guilty of partisan posturing and says that if they care about the issue of violence against women then Senate Democrats should give up their bill and approve the GOP version instead.
“If Members choose to oppose this bill for political reasons, that’s their decision. A vote against this bill is a vote against common sense and a vote against helping abused women,” says Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Once again, as with the transportation bill, re-authorization of VAWA will come down on which side wins this game of brinksmanship and which side blinks first.
Watch a video here of Democratic senators, joined by women’s advocacy groups, urge House Republicans to stand up for women and pass the Senate’s bipartisan bill to protect all female victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse: