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Blue Slip Issue Leads to Democratic Conundrum on Violence Against Women Act

House Republicans believe that a technical error in the Senate’s handling of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act allows them to reject that bill, giving them a tactical advantage as the long-running skirmish nears an endgame.

Brian Beutler reports that the House GOP determined that the Senate version of the bill had a “blue slip” problem, which would mean that it would have to pass the bill all over again to get to a conference committee.

“The Senate’s passed a bill, but they haven’t sent it over because it has a blue slip problem,” said House Speaker John Boehner at a Thursday press conference. “Our bill’s over there. It’ll be up I think to the Senate to request a conference.”

He’s referring to an obscure practice the House uses to kill Senate-originated legislation, if the measure raises revenue. The Constitution’s Origination Clause requires revenue raising bills to have their first reading in the House — not the Senate. A provision in the Senate’s VAWA bill generates revenue by imposing a fee for visas that go to immigrant victims of domestic abuse.

Normally, the Senate can work around this requirement by amending House bills or by using House-passed revenue bills as vehicles for their own legislation. Senate Dems didn’t regard the visa fee as a revenue provision and have thus fallen into a trap. For all intents and purposes they don’t have a bill to bring to a conference committee with House Republicans. They can and may attempt to relegislate VAWA in a way that fulfills the origination requirements — but out of deference to Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could significantly delay or completely block such an effort.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed this in a speech on the floor of the Senate today. he accused Republicans of blocking progress on reauthorization by “refusing to go to conference”:

Their excuse – a hyper-technical budget issue called a blue slip – isn’t much of a fig leaf to hide their blatant obstruction.
The truth is Republicans are looking for any excuse to stall or kill this worthy legislation. And American women aren’t fooled.
If Republicans really want to give police the tools they need to prosecute domestic abusers, they will drop the facade.
If Republicans really care about protecting women and families, they will abandon their hyper-technical objections and join us in conference. The differences between the House and Senate-passed bills could be worked out easily.

Actually, the differences between the House and Senate bills are pretty profound, which is the reason this has attracted such heights of legislative maneuvering. The House bill does not expand protections for domestic violence victims to LGBT couples, undocumented immigrants, and tribal communities, while the Senate bill does. This is at the heart of the dispute, and despite Democrats trying to capitalize on Republican obstructionism by fitting it into their “war on women” critique, Republicans in the House passed their limited version of the bill anyway, which also rolls back some protections from the original VAWA, particularly for the undocumented.

Now, instead of talking about that, Senate Democrats must try to deal with this procedural matter. Senate Republicans are almost certain not to let the Democrats off the hook here by simply passing a new bill, even though they helped the first one pass with 68 votes. They will ask for a price, probably related to those expanded protections. Democrats believe that the House GOP is misreading the blue slip process in looking at the visa fee as a revenue-raiser, but outside of stomping their feet, it’s unclear whether there’s a way around that. So either VAWA doesn’t get reauthorized, or Democrats find a way to get a bill on the issue to conference. You can see by Reid’s speech that he doesn’t have much of a hand to play here.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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