This week the House considered H.R. 4970: the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2012. This law first passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice. In fact, when it was reauthorized in 2005, the bill passed the House with a 415-4 vote. Last month the Senate passed its reauthorization bill with a bipartisan vote of 68 to 31. Instead of taking up the Senate's version, the House instead took up its own measure, one that the President has already said he will veto.
Among other provisions, the 1994 VAWA allowed immigrants who were being abused to petition for their own independent legal status. This part of the law protected individuals who were living in the country legally as the spouse of a citizen or a lawful permanent resident. It gave them the ability to report the abuse and remove themselves from a dangerous environment without fear of deportation.
H.R. 4970 weakens that provision in an important way. It eliminates a requirement that abuser-provided testimony or evidence be corroborated before denying a petition for independent legal status. What does this mean? Currently, abusers who deny that they are inflicting harm must submit some evidence that they are actually telling the truth -- testimony from a family member, counselor or law enforcement personnel, something besides their own statement.
H.R. 4970 rolls back that provision. Instead of requiring some supporting evidence, this bill simply requires that the word of the alleged abuser be weighed against the word of the abused. Just on the basis of that, a petition for independent legal status can be denied. I want to be very clear; this has nothing to do with illegal immigration. Anyone covered by this provision is already here legally. There is no credible reason to weaken a part of the law that has been in place since 1994.
H.R. 4970 does not include provisions that would protect Native Americans who are being abused. Currently more than 50% of all Native American women are either married to or living with someone who is not a Native American. However, tribal courts do not have the authority to pursue charges against non-Native Americans. Instead, someone who is abused is forced to seek help through federal or state law enforcement. That help is all too often located hours away, creating a barrier when it comes to reporting abuse. The Senate bill would simply have given tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Native Americans who are accused of domestic violence against Native Americans.
H.R. 4970 also fails to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) victims. It does not include Senate-passed provisions that would prohibit VAWA-funded programs from discriminating based on sexual orientation. And it doesn't add LGBT victims to the STOP Grant program, which funds domestic violence support initiatives. Studies have shown that members of the LGBT community do face discrimination when seeking services, including being turned away from domestic violence shelters. These provisions are simply about equality. Sexual orientation shouldn't matter. Abuse is abuse and help should be there for everyone who needs it.
Over 100 organizations oppose the House version, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Women's Law Center, the American Bar Association, the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Congress of American Indians. I voted NO. H.R. 4970.
Today the House considered H.R. 4310: the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. This bill authorizes funds for Defense Department operations and programming. There are many provisions in this bill that I support, such as additional resources for our troops and their families. However, I couldn't vote in favor of it, for several reasons.
I am concerned about some of the language in the bill related to Afghanistan. H.R. 4310 directs the President to maintain a troop level of at least 68,000 through the end of 2014 and maintain "a credible troop presence" after that. This is too open-ended for me. I have been saying for some time now that we must end our engagement in Afghanistan and bring our troops home. For me, this language essentially delays that process.
The bill also continues the policy (first put in place by last year's National Defense Authorization) that anyone suspected of terrorism -- even an American citizen -- who is arrested in the U.S. can be held indefinitely without a trial. I firmly believe this part of the underlying bill is unconstitutional and it diminishes our civil liberties. An amendment to change this policy was offered by Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Justin Amash (R-MI), but it was rejected. I voted in favor of the amendment. Persons arrested in the United States have the right to due process, and we do damage to American ideals when we deny that right.
H.R. 4310 also contains language regarding Iran that concerns me. The bill states: "It shall be the policy of the United States to take all necessary measures, including military action if required, to prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies or Iran's neighbors with a nuclear weapon." The United States is right to keep a close eye on Iran. We don't know what Iran will do in the future and all options, including military action, should be on the table. However, this language could be interpreted to give the President the authority to engage in military action with respect to Iran at any point in the future without returning to Congress for approval.
The overall funding level of the bill is a problem too. It authorizes $554.1 billion in funding, which is $8.2 billion more that the level set in the Budget Control Act. Despite the deficit we are facing, this bill significantly increases defense spending which will mean even deeper cuts for non-defense programs. The Administration has also issued a veto threat for this bill. I voted NO. H.R. 4310 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:
Chelsea Street Bridge
On Monday I was very pleased to participate in the grand opening ceremony for the Chelsea Street Bridge. The new bridge not only helps improve traffic in the area, it also represents increased safety for the vessels navigating the Chelsea Creek. The old drawbridge was narrower, making it difficult for vessels transporting home heating oil and other supplies to pass through. This is one of the first transportation projects that I worked to advance upon coming to Congress and it is great to see traffic moving over the new bridge between Chelsea and Boston.
In my capacity as Ranking Member of the Financial Services Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, I requested last week that a hearing be held on the circumstances surrounding JPMorgan Chase's recent loss of more than $2 billion.
My goal in seeking this hearing is to learn more about the events leading up to JPMorgan's loss. What we learn about this situation can help inform Congress and regulators as rules are being finalized from the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It is my hope that the hearing will explore whether this impacts other financial institutions and credit ratings across the industry, and if other financial institutions are engaged in similarly risky activities.
The FBI and the Justice Department are both reportedly investigating this loss. My interest is in assessing whether existing regulations are adequate and if not, how they can be improved. I think it is important that the subcommittee of jurisdiction in the House examine what happened. Although Chairman Bachus has said that the Committee will hold a hearing, he has indicated there is no rush to do so. I find this position curious, particularly in light of the way MF Global was treated. Everyone agreed that hearings should be held quickly on MF Global, and they were. JPMorgan should be treated with similar urgency.