Domestic violence bill stokes social issues fight
Sen. Patty Murray on Washington spoke on the Senate floor March 15, 2012, in support of reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. / P Photo/Elaine Thompson
(AP) Democrats in the U.S. Senate opened a new line of attack on Thursday in their quest to win critical support from women voters in the Nov. 6 elections, calling for quick renewal of a program aimed at protecting women from domestic violence.
The call came from six female Democratic senators, accompanied by moderate Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. The normally bipartisan issue has gotten entangled in election-year tensions that have Democrats and Republicans squaring off on nearly every piece of legislation.
The domestic violence bill, which could come up for Senate debate this month, is the latest in a series of fights that have erupted in recent weeks on social issues centered on women.
The issues have taken on new weight as the two parties delineate themselves in a quest for voter support before presidential and congressional elections. Democratic political analysts consider independent women voters as key to the election success of either party.
Last month, the Senate spent weeks debating whether to exempt employers such as Roman Catholic hospitals from a controversial Obama administration rule requiring free birth control coverage in workers' healthcare plans. A Republican proposal allowing employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage for anything to which they morally object failed in the Senate.
Efforts to advance a similar proposal have since sputtered in the House of Representatives as Republicans there try to figure out the best way to frame the debate around religious freedom rather than women's rights. Public opinion polls show conflicting voter views on the birth control issue depending on how it is framed.
The contraception issue has also resonated in the Republican presidential race, with candidates accusing Democratic President Barack Obama of imposing government controls that trampled religious freedoms.
Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said women's issues had become a "volatile" ingredient in this year's political campaigns. "It's an early stage but one in which both sides are trying to push the issues in their direction before a hard narrative forms," Hess said.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray urged renewal of the Violence Against Women Act that expired last September. "This one shouldn't be about politics. Protecting women against violence shouldn't be a partisan issue," she said in a Senate speech.
The 18-year-old law, first pushed through Congress by Senator Joe Biden, who is now Obama's vice president, had until recently enjoyed deep bipartisan support in Washington.
But the latest renewal of the bill faced a wall of opposition from Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans as Democrats broadened the bill, including expanding visas to illegal immigrants who are attack victims and adding protections to same-sex couples.
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats argued the visa expansion was designed to give law enforcement officials more time to investigate crimes.
Senator Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the Judiciary panel, said that while his party's leaders did not plan to block the legislation, he wanted to tighten the Justice Department's oversight of grant programs under the law.
Grassley said alternative ideas needed to be considered to ensure "more money goes to victims rather than bureaucrats and helps root out more of the well-documented fraud in the program."
Republicans point out that while the law expired six months ago, its programs are still funded at least through Sept. 30, 2012, by separate legislation.
A Senate Republican aide also cited concerns over the proposed expanded visas and the bill's failure to address immigration fraud .
A senior Senate Democratic aide countered that the legislation had not changed significantly, but "the Republican Party has shifted dramatically to the right."
Democrats might see political advantage in pushing the legislation on the heels of the contraceptives fight.
In the 2010 congressional elections, Democrats and Republicans split the women's vote. But polls in recent months showed women favoring Democrats in the wake of what has been seen as Republican efforts to restrict reproductive rights.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey found that 51 percent of women favored Democratic control of Congress, compared with 36 percent wanting Republicans in charge.
Popular in Politics
- FBI: Surveillance info helped reveal subway, stock exchange bombings 195 Comments
- Jesse Jackson Jr. asks to serve jail sentence before wife
- Obama: "Very easy to slip-slide" into deeper Syrian involvement
- Obama on NSA programs: Americans "not getting the complete story" 248 Comments
- IRS scandal: Is partisanship overshadowing facts? 166 Comments
- Snowden: U.S. gov't destroyed my chance for fair trial 299 Comments
- Supreme Court strikes down Arizona voting law 920 Comments
- Former critic McCaskill pushes for Hillary Clinton 2016 bid