A bill designed to help victims of human trafficking by providing more enforcement resources and establishing a victims compensation fund for financial assistance has fallen prey to the partisan divide over abortion. Manu Raju has the details
of the bill's undoing:
The cause of the row? Democrats didn’t read the 68-page bill to discover its provisions dealing with abortion, and Republicans didn’t disclose the abortion language when Democratic staffers asked them for a summary of the legislation.
The Justice for Victims in Trafficking Act, introduced by Republican Sen. John Cornyn Texas, started the week with plenty of bipartisan support, which quickly unraveled once Democrats realized a provision had been included that would restrict victims from using money from the compensation fund for abortions—ya know, because they should totally love that baby and want to keep it after being forced into prostitution, sexually exploited and traumatized.
In any case, federal funds (i.e. taxpayer dollars) have not been allowed to be used for abortions, except in cases of rape and incest, since the mid-'70s. The anti-abortion provision, routinely attached to federal spending bills, is known as the Hyde amendment. But money for the compensation fund in the human trafficking bill would have come from fines imposed on the traffickers. So Democrats adamantly opposed including the abortion restriction and saw it as an expansion of the Hyde amendment.
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The restriction had also not been part of the bill last year.
Once it was discovered, Democrats were furious — that a highly-charged issue such as abortion was included in the bill and that they weren’t notified of it in advance.
For instance, an e-mail exchange between two Judiciary Committee staffers obtained by POLITICO shows two staffers discussing the legislation. Republicans gave a list of seven changes from a different trafficking bill that stalled last year and the abortion provision wasn’t mentioned.
Republicans, on the other hand, were frustrated that Democrats hadn't fully read the legislation. But by the time the discovery was made, Democrats had already let the bill proceed to the Senate floor. As the minority party, that meant they couldn't get the 51 votes necessary to strip the provision out by amendment, a vote Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was willing to let them take. But McConnell also wouldn't allow a fresh vote on replacing the entire bill with language that omitted the abortion restriction—which might have drawn enough votes to succeed.
McConnell finally torpedoed the bill Thursday by filing for a cloture vote on it as is—likely to take place Monday—that seems certain to fall short of the 60 necessary to advance the bill.
“I don’t know why they decided to take the human trafficking bill hostage. It seems to be a dumb choice,” Cornyn fumed at Democrats. “Now that we have the majority they just want to make it as challenging as possible for us to get anything done.”
Remember how Republicans were always so helpful in passing things as a the minority party?
Senate Democrats said it would be hard to trust Republicans again after the episode. Republicans are “setting a new low standard for how bipartisan business is conducted in the Senate,” Reid said. “By saying Democrats should always assume that Republican partners are not being forthright, I guess it’s our fault.”
10:32 AM PT: UPDATE: Even some House Republicans are now turning on the Senate's inclusion of abortion restrictions in the bill.
Paulsen, GOP sponsor of House trafficking bill: “There is no reason it should be included in these bills." http://t.co/...