February 7, 2013

The Senate today began voting on Violence Against Women Act amendments, with a final vote scheduled for Monday. They kicked it off with Democrats and some Republicans defeating a substitute from Chuck Grassley by a solid 65 to 34 margin. The coast is clear for final passage out of the Senate. And then it will go back to the Republican House, where it died last year.

What will House Republicans do? They could take up the Senate bill and just pass it. They might decide to not act at all. They could pass their version, and then try to go to conference and cut a deal, even if it isn’t an ideal one for them. Or they could do what they did last time: pass their preferred bill and then just insist on it, and wind up getting blamed (again) for blocking a very popular bill.

Beyond the substantive importance of getting VAWA reauthorized, this bill is an excellent test of Republican efforts, as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal advocates, to “stop being the stupid party.” Whatever the merits of the GOP objections to specific provisions of the bill — objections that prevented passage last year — it’s simply not a viable political position to be stuck opposing a law that tries to prevent violence against women.

And yet that’s where the Republican House was all through the last Congress. What happened, to review, is that the Senate passed one version, the House passed another, and the House simply refused to budge. The differences didn’t appear on the surface at least to be particularly large, or of critical interest to GOP-aligned groups. The House just wouldn’t move, either because of a general hostility to compromise or because of an inability to correctly assess their political situation. Smart political parties figure out how to work out things like this. They don’t get hung up on the details; if they have a losing hand, they find a way to cut a deal or, if necessary, to lose and move on.

The Republican House totally failed that test in 2011 and 2012. Have they learned anything over the last two years? We’ll see.