Top Senate Republicans and Democrats negotiated a conclusion to the impasse that had delayed the passage of a anti-human trafficking bill and a vote on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Justice Department.
“I’m thrilled we were finally able to come together to break the impasse over this vital legislation, and I look forward to swift passage in the Senate so we can ensure victims of human trafficking receive the resources they need to restore their lives,” Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas), the lead sponsor of the human trafficking bill, said in a statement to National Review.
The legislation stalled last month when Senate Democrats, several of whom voted for the bill when it passed unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee, unexpectedly filibustered. They claimed not to realize that a fund created for victims of human trafficking, and financed by fees and penalties levied against criminals, would not cover abortions. Republicans noted that the ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is a standard provision of law that Democrats were currently supporting in the context of other legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) refused to hold a vote on Lynch’s nomination until Democrats dropped the filibuster. In the end, they brokered a deal that uses tax dollars to pay for the victims’ medical treatment, barring abortions, while using the money obtained from criminals to pay for other services for the victims.
“After weeks of pointless stalling on the bipartisan human trafficking bill, our Republican colleagues have finally agreed to a path forward,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) tweeted of the deal.
But Reid also agreed to a path forward, which was a significant departure from his previous position, when he was demanding that Republicans rewrite a bill to include a change that his Democratic minority didn’t have the votes to add into the legislation through an amendment.
“I support this legislation, but we’re not going to have an abortion provision in the bill,” Reid told reporters in March.
The final deal still contains the “abortion provision” — the Hyde Amendment language that bars taxpayer funding of abortion. The key for Democrats is that this language only pertains to the fund for medical services, which the bill uses tax money collected by the IRS to pay for. The money collected from the criminals is not subject to the Hyde Amendment, which Democrats contended would have meant an expansion of Hyde precedent because it was not, strictly speaking, taxpayer money. But practically speaking, the money cannot be used for abortions, which is the intent of the Hyde Amendment.
#related#“They kind of just took the issue off the table by saying we’re just going to have this money apply to non-medical stuff,” says one Senate GOP aide. “In some ways, [Democrats] just got to save face because they realize that they just voted for the same language in the [doc-fix] bill.”
The doc fix legislation, which pertains to Medicare reimbursements for doctors, was drafted by House lawmakers through a negotiating process that saw House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) undermined Reid’s position.
Lynch’s confirmation vote is expected to take place later this week.
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review Online.