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Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill: Boehner and House GOP Give Middle Finger to Victims

After a thorough routing at the conclusion of the fiscal cliff negotiations, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his GOP allies scuttled two important pieces of legislation: the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The senate previously passed both.

For a party that collectively suffered a crushing defeat last November, this display of obstructionism is highly questionable. Why Speaker Boehner chose to condemn the residents of the Northeast, many of whom are still struggling without food, water, clothing, shelter, or power in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, defies explanation. Though the move elicited bipartisan outrage, many prominent conservatives, such as New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie and Representative Peter King (R - N.Y.), were among the most vocal. King himself harshly rebuked Boehner and his allies, going so far as to suggest he could leave the Republican Party over this treachery. But after a private meeting with Boehner, King softened his rhetoric, stating, "What's done is done." Facing mounting pressure, Boehner eventually capitulated and promised a vote on Friday, though why exactly he opted to stall is, unfortunately, unclear.

The logic underpinning the VAWA coup, meanwhile, is somewhat easier to explain. The House GOP allowed this bill, originally passed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton and commandingly reauthorized with bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005, to die without a vote largely because it benefits immigrants, the LGBT community, and Native Americans.

Far from jamming unwanted pork into a previously acceptable bill, the senate, which reauthorized VAWA with a 68-31 vote, merely extended the scope of its coverage. For example, the Senate version provides temporary U-visas to victimized undocumented immigrants, who are often silenced by their attackers with deportation threats. A recent CNN op-ed summarizes the modest alterations nicely:

"The Senate bill extends protection to members of the LGBT community and Native Americans; prevents children from being denied benefits because they have grown too old during the long application process; expands the pool of U-visas and adds stalking to the list of covered crimes. It also strengthens protections for foreign fiances and spouses of U.S. citizens through amendments to the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act."

Importantly, VAWA survived judicial scrutiny in United States v. Morrison (2000). Despite the legal challenge, most of its provisions were unchanged after the ruling.

Violence against women is appropriately topical in the aftermath of the attack on Pakistani activist Malala Yousufzai and the horrendous gang rape in India, but even in the United States the problem is acute: one-third of the murdered women per year are killed by partners; women are disproportionately trafficked; and millions endure sexual harassment and/or assault annually. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) NCVS Victimization Analysis Tool (NVAT) Report, in 2011 alone 208,987 women were victims of rape/sexual assault.

The crucial consideration here is what kind of party is the modern GOP actually is. Indisputably, Republicans believe in smaller government, and I agree that there are things that government should not do. But in the span of 24 hours, Republicans in the House refused to help the blameless victims of a terrible natural disaster and essentially disregarded the interests of an entire gender while simultaneously entrenching its increasingly visible hostility towards immigrants, the LGBT community, and Native Americans. This is not fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and certainly not compassionate conservatism.

And from a purely political perspective, these actions — or rather inactions — will do little to endear the party to those increasingly important demographics, all of which the GOP lost in 2012.

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