The 112th Congress's failure to renew the legislation shows why the Senate and House should better reflect the people of the United States.
In Washington, the new year isn't necessarily a fresh start—this January, it's a nagging reminder that time has run out for the 112th Congress, the most "do-nothing" group of legislators in decades, to accomplish some of their most important legislative priorities. In the last days of 2012 and the first hours of 2013, lawmakers rushed to find short-term solutions to scale the "cliffs" they created for themselves, and the rest of their unfinished to-do list remained undone. That's where the landmark Violence Against Women Act went to die.
VAWA, which has been reauthorized without fanfare since then-Senator Joe Biden spearheaded its passage in 1994, strengthens the criminal justice system's ability to address domestic and sexual abuse and expands services for Americans who have been victims of those crimes. But it expired in October of 2011 after conservative lawmakers balked at the addition of expanded protections for undocumented immigrant, Native American, and LGBT victims of sexual assault. The two chambers have butted heads over the bill for the past year—in May, the Republican-controlled House passed a watered down version to strip the protections for diverse populations, and subsequently refused to cede any ground to the Senate. The beginning of 2013 means the 112th Congress has officially failed to ensure protections for rape survivors. VAWA expired on its watch, and there's no more time to remedy that mistake.