Republican House votes illustrate wrong-headed politics
Most House Republicans have been notoriously stubborn when it comes to passing bipartisan legislation. Many have bucked their leader, Speaker John Boehner, on bills he allowed to come to a vote. They dragged their feet on Sandy relief, and rejected Boehner’s own proposal to raise taxes on the very richest taxpayers.
They’ll tell you it’s about principle; never mind the fervent pleas of voters to come together and compromise in a meaningful way. Most seem willing to make perfect the enemy of the good. It’s hard not to see the hand of the tea party fringe once again sacrificing the common good for ideological purity.
The latest case in point: the vote last week to reauthorize funding for the Violence Against Women Act, a law that historically has had bipartisan support. The law is an important shield for women who need assistance escaping domestic violence. Appended to the law was reauthorization to help victims of human trafficking, women or children exploited for sex or labor — another law that for years drew solid support from both parties. But last week, out of 286 votes, only 87 were Republicans.
Reps. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.) and Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.) were the only Republicans in the New Jersey delegation to vote no. Smith said he objected to the low funding for the trafficking victims program. It took a one-third cut from 2008 levels, to $130 million. Irony alert: That was a cut that Senate Republicans insisted on, to bring that version out of committee. Still, it wasn’t just about the money.
A Catholic organization with high marks for providing services to trafficking victims was rejected for a federal grant because it could not provide the full range of reproductive health services — including contraceptives and abortion. Smith proposed a version of the trafficking bill with a conscience clause for religious groups, but it found no backers across the aisle or in the advocacy community. So he was willing to trash a worthy program for his point? Smith insisted that the program would have survived without the reauthorization.
But any program not authorized for funding is vulnerable in the current climate. We’re glad the bill passed. But the politics that dragged it out for two years is unacceptable.