Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2015 / 09:19 am
After six weeks of gridlock, members of both parties in the Senate bridged a disagreement over abortion funding in a new human trafficking bill by dividing up funding streams for the new project.
"The fund really is supposed to be about shelters and housing and victims' services and also, of course, law enforcement," said Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.), to NPR. Klobuchar has, along with party leaders, contributed to the legislative solution after facing pressure for not bringing the funding controversy to light earlier.
"When I looked back on speeches, that's all we talked about. We didn't talk about health care."
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which was passed 99-0 by the Senate, sets up a new fund for victims of sex trafficking to pay for counseling, care, and other necessities after rescue.
Earlier in 2015, debate over a common provision against abortion caused division over the bipartisan bill.
Republican leaders wanted to apply the limits of the Hyde Amendment – a legislative provision often added to appropriations bills that bars taxpayer funding of abortion except in the case of incest, rape and danger to the mother's life – to the whole of the human trafficking bill, barring any funding of abortion procedures under the legislation.
Some Democratic lawmakers objected, saying that non-taxpayer funds should not face these restrictions.
The resulting conflict lasted for six weeks, but with other decisions on the docket, lawmakers were eager to move on.
Funding for human trafficking victims and survivors will now come from two sources. The first major funding base will come from fines levied against perpetrators of trafficking-related crimes, which will go towards the general fund of the U.S .Treasury. This aid can be used to cover legal aid, law enforcement, shelter, counseling and other fees for victims.
Further funding for health care and medical expenses will come from tax money already allocated for Community Health Centers, which is already subject to the Hyde Amendment and thus cannot be used to sponsor abortions.
Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Texas), lead sponsor of the bill and pro-life senator said he was "thrilled we were finally able to come together to break the impasse over this vital legislation."
President Barack Obama has not commented publicly on whether he will sign the bill, though press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters April 22 that the compromise was "encouraging."
The bill's passage also opens the Senate's schedule for another long-awaited vote: the confirmation of a new Attorney General to replace the retiring Eric H. Holder Jr.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who sets the Senate's schedule, had said previously he would not schedule the confirmation vote for nominee Loretta Lynch until the trafficking bill was passed.
After waiting more than five months – longer than any other cabinet secretary nominee in the past 20 years – the Senate has announced that a vote will be held April 23.
Currently, Lynch serves as the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York.