Senate Democrats have filibustered the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, a bill with bipartisan support that would allow the direct use of fines collected from human traffickers to fund services to help their victims. It’s a good idea with broad support.
Yet some Democrats object to some of the language in the bill that mirrors the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old provision that bars the use of federal funds for abortion. The Hyde Amendment has been the law of the land for nearly 40 years, yet Democrats who oppose the Hyde Amendment are using this bill as a platform to voice their objections.
Many Democrats who voted for the measure in committee have joined the filibuster, insisting that Republicans had somehow “snuck in” the Hyde Amendment language to the bill after it had passed through committee. But Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, in a press release, pointed out that “this language (was) in the bill from the beginning,” including during committee hearings. Yet Democrats only seemed to have noticed it recently, so they have chosen to use this as a partisan football in the endless debate over abortion rights.
This is, to put it kindly, a misguided approach.
Of course, abortion opponents don’t see it that way. In opposition to this bill, Democrats have taken the occasion of this filibuster to rail against the Hyde Amendment, even though this bill would do nothing to change existing law on that subject. But many are missing the point. Should this bill pass, it would have no effect on federal funding for abortions, which is already prohibited, albeit with some exceptions. Conversely, if the bill were defeated, it would not repeal the Hyde Amendment provisions these Democrats find so objectionable.
Democrats are also using this filibuster to try to paint Republicans as obstructionists, since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to bring the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch to the floor until this bill gets an up-or-down vote. Yet the fastest way to get Lynch confirmed would be to drop what is essentially an empty symbolic exercise that is preventing a good bill from becoming law.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act would greatly benefit a number of the most vulnerable people in our society, and Democrats ought to allow it to come to a vote without further delay.