The strategic shift came against the backdrop of a heated campaign trail battle for the votes of women. Democrats had been hammering Republicans for the objections, citing it as the latest example of GOP hostility to issues important to women.
Republicans countered that Democrats had inserted politically charged issues into what had been a bipartisan domestic violence program, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced he supported reauthorizing the law.
The differences between the competing bills will have to be worked out in coming months. Those negotiations will probably feature a battle of finger-pointing, in which both parties seek political advantage while accusing the other of politicizing the sensitive issue of domestic and sexual violence.
Senate Democrats note their legislation was written in consultation with victims advocates and was introduced with the support of a filibuster-proof 61 senators, including eight Republicans.
“It is a shame that we have gotten to this point, to have to stand here to work to pass legislation that has consistently received broad bipartisan support,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said.
The legislation reauthorizes a series of grants that provide funding to local law enforcement to combat domestic and sexual violence, as well as shelters and advocacy programs that assist victims.
Originally introduced in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized with little controversy in 2000 and 2005 and has been credited with raising awareness about the problems of domestic abuse.
The new legislation would consolidate some programs. It would also slash funding authorized for the measure by nearly 20 percent — to $659.3 million — a cut agreed to by members of both parties that has distressed victims’ advocates.
Three provisions have proven controversial with some Republicans. One would add new language barring discrimination in programs funded through the act on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Another would allow law enforcement to issue as many as 5,000 more visas annually to illegal immigrants who cooperate in prosecutions of major crimes. That would expand a program initiated in 2000 that allows up to 10,000 visas each year to encourage immigrants to report crime without fear of deportation.
Another section of the law would give federal courts new authority over non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on tribal reservations, a proposal some Republicans believe is constitutionally problematic.