We’re trapped in a legislative conundrum stemming from Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as head of the Department of Justice. As we get closer to that landmark vote, that will probably turn out to be an easy ride, anyway, complicated only by weeks of digging in heels over legislative minutiae, Democrats and Republicans are working to wrangle themselves into positions of power for any potential compromise.
Two weeks ago, the Justice for Victims in Trafficking Act had strong bipartisan support and it looked as though the bill would pass quickly, ushering in a few affiliated bills that would directly impact the way law enforcement handled victims of sex trafficking. The VTA itself created a sort-of “slush fund” of cash to fund victims services and law enforcement efforts, collected from the fines levied on traffickers during the judicial process. While Republicans apparently meant “victims services” to mean actual victims services, Democrats decided that “victims services” meant free abortions and so, it all fell apart.
An anti-human trafficking bill that just two weeks ago had broad, bipartisan support was filibustered and stalled Tuesday by Senate Democrats upset over anti-abortion language they claim was subtly inserted into the measure.
The Justice for Victims in Trafficking Act fell five votes short of garnering the 60 needed to advance in the chamber. The legislation would create a federal fund for victims’ services and law enforcement tools financed by fines levied on convicted traffickers.
Democrats objected to a section of the bill that nodded to the Hyde Amendment – a nearly four-decade-old legislative provision that bans taxpayer-funded abortions. Language in the trafficking bill prohibited funds raised by the fines to be used for abortions.
“The partisan provision embedded in the Senate version of this bill is not something the survivors of human trafficking are asking for,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Tuesday.
The horrendously partisan provision “embedded” secretly into the bill was the Hyde Amendment, which is typically attached to bills that can be read as forming funds for medical care to ensure that American taxpayers are not forced to pay for abortions on the sly. Republicans also claim that, while Democrats are rather perturbed by the amendment’s sudden appearance, the only reason it snuck up on them was because they finally read the bill (or, alternatively, a staffer or victim’s rights NGO with a liberal ideological bent read the bill), something they are clearly unused to.
But regardless of what happened, the “ardently pro-life” Senate minority leader Harry Reid derailed a bill to help victims of sex trafficking because it didn’t also give everyone free abortions. Which sort of lays bare the caucus’s priorities.
This will, ultimately, and to the Republicans’ benefit, delay Lynch’s confirmation vote, which gives Lynch’s opponents time to whip support for compromise measures. Maybe they should consider a couple of Hyde Amendment expansions while they’re at it.