Before wrapping up their session on Tuesday night, Congress had a few things on their to-do list: Vote on the fiscal cliff bill, figure out what they were going to do about the farm bill, authorize relief for Superstorm Sandy victims — and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
That last item may seem like a no-brainer, even taking into account recent partisan battles that have been paralyzing Congress.
But House leadership chose to let the bill expire, balking at new provisions that would extend protections to undocumented immigrants, Native Americans and LGBT individuals.
This is the first time since the act was introduced in 1994 that the bill hasn't been reauthorized. VAWA has "improved the criminal justice response to violence against women," the White House says, and provides financing for programs that work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, as well as offer support to victims.
The last version of the law expired in Sept. 2011 — and that's when things got tricky. Even despite a late-stage intervention by Vice President Joe Biden, according to the Huffington Post, House leadership didn't advance the Senate's 2012 reauthorization of the bill.
"The House leadership would not bring it up, just like they wouldn't bring up funding for Sandy [hurricane damage] last night," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told the Huffington Post. Murray was a key backer of the Senate version of the bill.
"I think they are still so kowtowing to the extreme on the right that they're not even listening to the moderates, and particularly the women, in their caucus who are saying they support this," she added.
In April, the Senate passed a version of VAWA that protected three groups of domestic violence victims who hadn't been covered by the original law. The bill wasn't supposed to rankle anyone — it was cowritten by a conservative Republican (Idaho's Mike Crapo) and a liberal Democrat (Vermont's Pat Leahy), and passed in a 68 to 31 vote.
But since then, House Republicans insisted that the bill is too supportive of immigrants, the LGBT community and Native Americans, and chose to let the bill expire rather than approve a slightly expanded proposal.
Though the House did write their own new version of the law, many viewed it as a joke. It gained no support in the Senate and was threatened with a White House veto, the Maddow blog reported.
Supporters of the law hope it will be rewritten from scratch in the new Congress, which opened Thursday. But until that happens, there will be significantly fewer resources for state and local governments to combat domestic violence.