Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Women Figure Anew in Senate's Latest Fight

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Women Figure Anew in Senate's Latest Fight

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- With emotions still raw from the fight over the contraception-coverage mandate in President Barack Obama's health law, Senate Democrats are beginning a push to renew the Violence Against Women Act, the once-broadly bipartisan 1994 legislation that now faces fierce opposition from conservatives.

The fight over the law, which would expand financing for and broaden the reach of domestic violence programs, will be joined today, when Senate Democratic women plan to march to the Senate floor to demand quick action on its extension. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has suggested that he will push for a vote by the end of March.

Democrats, confident that they have the political upper hand with women, insist that Republican opposition falls into a larger picture of insensitivity toward women that has progressed from abortion fights to contraception to preventive health care coverage -- and now to domestic violence. "I am furious," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. "We're mad, and we're tired of it."

Republicans are bracing for a battle where substantive arguments could be swamped by political optics and the intensity of the clash over women's issues. At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch Tuesday, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski warned her colleagues that the party is at risk of being successfully painted as anti-woman -- with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall.

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

"I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee.

"You think that's possible?" he asked facetiously. "You think [Democrats] might have put things in there we couldn't support, that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?"

The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but it would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. …

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