Violence Against Women Act hits snag in Congress

A bill to protect victims of abuse, with bipartisan support, still has trouble getting passed in this bitter Congressional climate.
CBS News

The bitter climate in Congress is even holding up a measure on which both sides agree. Democrats and Republicans say they're in favor of extending the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. It protects victims of abuse. But does it go far enough? CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports from the Capitol.

The debate on the issue has been raw and emotional. Some female members have put their personal and painful histories on the record to try to try to make their case.

Democrat Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Republican Sandy Adams of Florida share a history of being abused by men they trusted.

Moore said she was attacked in her 20s by a friend who gave her a ride: "He decided to take a detour behind some buildings to rape me and choke me almost to death."

Adams fled an abusive marriage when she was a new mother barely out of her teens: "The man I married had a penchant for drinking and was very violent when he drank."

But the two women find themselves on opposite sides of a fight over the Violence Against Women Act. Democrats say the bill needs to be modernized and their version expands protections to cover illegal immigrants, lesbian, gay and transgender Americans, and Native Americans -- groups whose abuse complaints often get overlooked.

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But House Republicans, like Adams, say that's an election year stunt, singling out groups for special treatment.

"Turning this re-authorization into a political issue is not only wrong, but it is dangerous. It is dangerous," Adams said.

The Democratic version passed the Senate with some bipartisan support. The Republican version passed narrowly in the House. And now the two sides are at an impasse.

"This is a direct assault on women's lives," said Moore. "Three women a day die from victimization."

House Speaker John Boehner could not say how the conflict will be settled.

"How do you reconcile these two bills? Is this going to turn into a fight over gay rights?" Cordes asked him.

"Well, we're eager to resolve our differences between the House and Senate on the issue of domestic violence," said Boehner.

This law allocates more than $600 million a year to help women who have been victimized and to go after their attackers. Part of the reason why the fight over the law has been so bitter is that both parties are trying to prove to women voters that they are on their side in an election year.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.