Op-Ed: Dem’s VAWA bill a “political messaging tool”

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By Rep. William Timmons

There are two kinds of bills that get introduced in Congress: substantive legislation and “messaging bills.” Substantive legislation is introduced to make thoughtful changes to our laws and is typically negotiated and vetted by both Congress and the White House far in advance of debate on either the House or Senate floor. Some recent examples include criminal justice reform, tax reform, and bills providing regulatory relief to small businesses. Messaging bills, on the other hand, are pieces of legislation that the sponsor introduces knowing they have no chance of becoming law. They are statements made by legislators to a specific community – most often a voting base – to let them know that they care about an issue. While substantive bills deserve our time, messaging bills are rarely productive and often a waste of increasingly rare floor time.

One of my biggest criticisms of Democratic Leadership is the unrelenting frequency with which they offer messaging bills for debate on the House floor instead of substantive legislation. After three months in Congress, few meaningful pieces of substantive legislation have been put forth for a vote. Even fewer will be signed into law.

Just this week, House Democrats will put another messaging bill on the floor, this time in the form of a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). At its core, VAWA is a federal grant program which provides support to state and local law enforcement to fight domestic violence. As a former prosecutor of domestic violence cases, this is an important issue to me, and this is a program that must be reauthorized.

Unfortunately, House Democrats have included a number of provisions in the bill that are largely unrelated, and perhaps antithetical, to VAWA’s core function. The Democrats’ version of VAWA provides new legal rights for transgender prisoners, deprives individuals of Second Amendment Rights without due process, severely restricts a prosecutor’s ability to compel victim testimony, and fails to provide religious liberty protections for faith-based organizations.

Putting aside the merit of any of these proposals, Democratic Leadership knows that their inclusion, in total, makes it nearly impossible for any Republican to vote for the bill and dooms it to failure in the Senate. The Democrats have turned VAWA into a social justice reform bill that amounts to nothing more than a progressive wish list to appease the far left. The main sponsor of the bill, Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), even called the Violence Against Women Act “gender neutral legislation.”

Domestic violence should never be a political messaging tool. That is why earlier this week, I cosponsored an alternative bill, authored by Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), that would provide a clean, one-year reauthorization of VAWA. I readily admit that this short-term reauthorization is not a perfect outcome. There are steps we can and should take to improve this program, but a short-term reauthorization would provide support and stability to law enforcement officials across the country while we debate this matter further.

Congress must spend more time fixing our biggest problems and less time trying to deliver political “wins” for our respective parties. The culture in Washington has to change. America deserves better.


Representative William Timmons is the United States Congressman for South Carolina’s Fourth Congressional District.

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