Senate Democrats are blocking a bipartisan bill to combat human trafficking by claiming that Republicans snuck in Hyde Amendment language.
The 1976 amendment, which regularly surfaces attached to appropriations bills, blocks the use of specific federal funds to pay for abortions.
The Senate today continued consideration of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which was introduced by Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) in January and unanimously passed out of committee in February. It has 31 co-sponsors including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
The bill enhances training and programs to identify victims of human trafficking and go after offenders. It expands the definition of child abuse under federal law to include human trafficking and child pornography production.
The legislation integrates the Hyde Amendment, Cornyn said, by maintaining “the status quo by making sure that this Crime Victims Compensation Fund, that the funds available from that fund are constrained by the same constraint that exists under all other federal law.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told reporters outside of a Democrats’ policy luncheon yesterday that the bill “should be about protecting women from truly horrific acts of violence and about fighting against human slavery” and “will not be used as an opportunity for Republicans to double down on their efforts to restrict a woman’s health care choices.”
“The Republicans are trying to pull a fast one here on human trafficking bill, but it is absolutely wrong and honestly it is shameful,” Murray said. “I know there are a whole lot of us who are going to fight hard against any attempt to expand the Hyde amendment and permanently impact women’s health.”
Durbin, who voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee, claimed “there’s a representation made that the provision, the controversy or provision was not included in this bill.”
“It turns out that it was,” he said. “I don’t know how that happened or who was the author of it, but the fact is the bill that is on the floor today has a provision in it which we were told would not be included.”
“Yeah, a list was sent to certain members saying ‘here are the changes from last year.’ This provision was not listed among them,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added.
Cornyn said those claims are ridiculous.
“Democrats have supported legislation consistent with the Hyde Amendment for a long, long time. As I’ve said, it’s been the law of the land for 39 years,” he said on the Senate floor. “All the Democrats, every single Democrat, voted to support Obamacare, which contained the same restriction on taxpayer funding for abortions.”
“In other words, our Democratic friends have voted time, and time, and time, and time again for the exact same language they now say they’re going to filibuster on the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Language they said they weren’t aware of when they voted for it. They didn’t read. Their staff didn’t tell them about it,” Cornyn continued.
“My hope is this: that members of the United States Senate will rise above this – this agreement, this posturing, this attempt to try to play gotcha at the expense of these victims of human trafficking.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor Wednesday morning that Republicans must pull the Hyde language or the bill will fail.