Washington Briefs: Congress OKs Violence Against Women Act

While all the focus was on the sequestration federal budget cuts last week, the only major piece of legislation that actually cleared Congress was the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

While the name taken on its own makes it seem like a no-brainer, the bill passed the U.S. House on a 286-138 vote with a majority of Republicans voting against it.

All the Republican members of the Louisiana congressional delegation first voted in favor of a failed Republican version of the bill, but the delegation was split when it came down to the final vote on the Senate-passed bill that both Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., previously supported.

U.S. Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, voted in favor of the legislation while Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; John Fleming, R-Minden; and Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, opposed it.

The legislation opens up federal funding to protect and assist domestic abuse and sexual assault victims, while also helping to prosecute the crimes.

But many Republicans have complained the bill extends protections for gay and lesbian victims while also giving greater authority to tribal authorities. Some Republicans also have argued this is a state and not a federal matter.

Cassidy though said he voted against the bill because he is concerned about the Obama administration’s issues with the Roman Catholic Church.

In particular, Cassidy said the legislation maintains the administration’s policies of denying grants to nonprofit Catholic organizations on issues such as fighting sex trafficking. The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops was previously bypassed for a trafficking grant that it had received prior to the Obama presidency. The president and the Catholic Church differ on abortion and contraception issues.

“It’s a noble goal to protect women against violence,” Cassidy said, but he argued he could not in good conscience support the Senate version.

While Cassidy is not Catholic, he noted that Louisiana is a heavily Catholic state.

Ponzi victim bill refiled

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy last week refiled his legislation to provide victims of Ponzi schemes a quicker path to financial restitution, including those harmed in Louisiana by R. Allen Stanford and the Stanford Financial Group.

The bill with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., is the Improving Security for Investors and Providing Closure Act.

“It has been four years since the Stanford Financial Group was placed in receivership and its victims learned their savings were gone,” said Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, in the announcement. “Yet there are still victims who have not been given financial restitution. These are working men and women who cannot wait for the conclusion of a long, drawn-out legal process.”

The legislation allows the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, or SIPC, to offer individual Stanford victims a one-time payment of up to $500,000 to at least partially recoup their losses. Stanford victims who accept the offer would consequently exclude themselves from any further claims against the SIPC fund.

Megabank fight continues

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., continued his campaign with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to fight so-called megabanks from growing “too big to fail” and thus needing government bailouts.

For nearly a year, Vitter and the liberal Ohio senator have represented an odd couple partnership pressing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to increase the capital requirement savings of megabanks well above the requirements of other banks.

“There is growing bipartisan concern across the whole political spectrum about the fact — I believe it’s a fact — that ‘too big to fail’ is alive and well,” Vitter said at banking committee hearing, while agreeing with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Vitter and Brown then took to the U.S. Senate floor Thursday on the issue.

“It’s the intense concentration of power,” Vitter said. “And, as a conservative, I’m very suspicious and nervous about that, whether it’s when it’s in government or in the private sector. I think the sort of bipartisan consensus that perhaps we personify here on the floor is also growing outside Congress.”

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.