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Washington Digest: Heller, Reid vote to renew measure

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted last week to renew the federal domestic violence law.

Senators voted 78-22 to update the Violence Against Women Act. Created in 1994, the law funds anti-abuse programs and establishes a framework to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual assault and stalking.

Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the bill.

One of the debates over the bill was a segment giving tribal courts more authority to investigate and prosecute non-Indians for domestic abuse crimes committed on the reservation.

Supporters said the provision would close a loophole that has allowed the abuse of Native American women. But others said the provision raised myriad legal questions, including whether it was constitutional.

“Native women in this country experience domestic abuse at a shockingly high rate,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in defense of the bill. “A recent study found that nearly three in five American Indian women have been the victim of a domestic assault.”

But Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said it was “not clear that Congress can constitutionally delegate to tribal courts the authority to try non-Indians.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sought to strike the tribal language from the bill. It failed 31-59.

Reid voted against the amendment. Heller did not vote.

DEFENSE NOMINEE DELAYED

Senate Republicans banded together to force a delay in the confirmation of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to become secretary of defense.

GOP senators said they wanted more time to gather information on Hagel, whose performance at a confirmation hearing two weeks ago generally had been panned as uninspirational.

Some Republicans also used the Hagel vote as leverage to force more information from the Obama administration on the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, accused Republicans of an unprecedented filibuster against a defense secretary nominee, and that they had no good reason to reject him.

But a test vote on Hagel was 58-40, short of the 60 needed to force the nomination forward. A new vote was scheduled for Feb. 26, when Republicans said they will be ready to move forward.

Heller voted to delay a final vote on Hagel. Reid supported Hagel but switched his vote to no in a procedural move that allowed him as majority leader to reschedule the vote.

FEDERAL PAY RAISE REJECTED

The House voted 261-154 to block a 0.5 percent pay raise that was scheduled to be paid in April to federal employees. It would have been their first raise in almost three years.

A pay raise for members of Congress already had been frozen for the year.

Supporters of the Republican-written federal worker pay freeze said the raise would cost $11 billion over 10 years. They argued it comes at a time when many federal programs are facing spending cuts and as private sector workers have endured pay and benefit cuts.

Opponents said the continuing pay freeze would hurt recruiting and keeping the best workers.

Democrats argued federal workers already contributed $100 billion to debt reduction.

“No other group of Americans has contributed more to reducing the deficit,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., voted for the federal worker pay raise. Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted to block it. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., did not vote.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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