How the Human Trafficking Bill Finally Got Through the Senate

WASHINGTON – After six weeks of dickering and delay that had nothing to do with the guts of the legislation, the Senate finally got around to passing a bipartisan measure aimed at providing assistance to those who have faced abuse as a result of sex trafficking.

The bill, offered by Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, of Texas, breezed through in a 99-0 vote and now heads back to the House, which passed a slightly different version earlier. President Obama is expected to sign it once it reaches his desk.

Cornyn said passage constituted “a very positive step because what it demonstrates is that we have not fallen deaf to the cries of those who actually need our help, the victims of human trafficking.”

“This legislation will be instrumental in helping victims of sexual abuse and trafficking recover from a life in bondage and will provide stronger tools for law enforcement officials to track down and punish those who want to keep them in the shadows, who want to continue making profit from the pain and the anguish and involuntary servitude of typically young women between the ages of 12 and 14.”

Despite the near-unanimous support for the bill, it took a circuitous route to a final vote because of a dispute over a provision dealing with abortion.

Democrats initially wholeheartedly supported the original bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition on Feb. 26. But Democratic lawmakers subsequently discovered the measure contained a provision that prohibited money from a restitution fund from being used to pay for abortions.

Foes viewed the language as an unacceptable broadening of the so-called Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions.

By the time Democrats discovered the language, which was attached to the bill from the outset, it was too late to stop it from being sent to the Senate floor. The caucus was placed in the unenviable position of either ignoring the alteration and proceeding to a vote or mounting a filibuster in hopes of negotiating a change.

They chose the latter and, in fact, foiled the efforts of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, to bring it up for a vote five different times.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations occurred over several weeks. In the meantime, McConnell announced that Senate consideration of the nomination of Loretta Lynch, of New York, to serve as attorney general, succeeding Eric Holder, wouldn’t occur until after the sex trafficking dispute was resolved.

That drew protests from Democrats, who noted that the Lynch nomination has been hanging around since Nov. 13, 2014, a longer waiting period than that experienced by the seven previous attorney general nominees combined, and was unrelated to the dispute.