We don't blame abortion rights advocates for being disappointed that the Senate's version of legislation aimed at combating human trafficking includes anti-abortion provisions. That the federal government might limit medical care to victims of violence in any manner, particularly when it's financed not by taxes but from fines and penalties collected from perpetrators, is unfortunate.
But that wrong keeps getting compounded — first by Democrats who have decided they can't support the human trafficking bill as long as it includes the abortion language and now by Republicans who are holding up confirmation of Loretta E. Lynch as attorney general until the Senate passes what had been regarded as bipartisan legislation. It's classic Congress — brinkmanship over statesmanship.
Senate Democrats chose an odd time to make a stand over the abortion restrictions, given that they were approved unanimously in committee. They didn't notice them until abortion rights advocates like the NARAL Pro-Choice America took a stand? That suggests they either don't read the bills and amendments carefully enough or suffered a sudden change of heart at the behest of a special interest group. Either way, it's not exactly a leadership moment.
Republicans argue that the measure simply extends the provisions of the so-called Hyde amendment that forbids federal tax dollars from being spent on abortions unless it involves rape or incest or the mother's life is in danger. As much as we have long objected to that sweeping policy, they do have a point. The Hyde amendment has been in place for four decades, and it's not exactly shocking that conservatives would expect it to be applied to victims of human trafficking, even though they arguably are also victims of rape, just as it's been applied to others who are poor and powerless.
In more ideal circumstances, women would be free to make personal, private and legal health care decisions on their own without such interference from Congress. The House version of the bill doesn't contain the anti-abortion language, incidentally. But Senate Democrats can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good — the legislation provides law enforcement across the country additional resources to combat human trafficking and collects funds to compensate victims. To this point, it has had strong bipartisan support. The Democrats don't have the numbers to remove the offending provisions, only to filibuster the bill.
This is not some minor concern. What we refer to as human trafficking is simply a modern incarnation of slavery. Its victims, often children, are frequently forced into sexual service, domestic servitude, or farm or other commercial labor against their will for years at a time. In the U.S. alone, it's practitioners have earned billions of dollars using violence, threats or other forms of manipulation on their victims.
That Ms. Lynch's appointment has now been held up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell because of this conflict says as much about the GOP's preference for embarrassing President Barack Obama over getting bills passed. Republicans have already held up the nominee longer than far more controversial predecessors such as Eric Holder Jr. or Edwin Meese III.
First, Republicans tied the attorney general nominee to Mr. Obama's executive actions on immigration. Now they won't move forward because Senate Democrats refused to support anti-abortion language in the human trafficking legislation. What's next? In what other ways will Republican Senators seek to undermine federal law enforcement?
Small wonder that the latest Gallup survey shows Americans aren't impressed with either political party these days. Just 39 percent of U.S. citizens have a favorable view of Democrats, only slightly better than the 37 percent who see Republicans favorably, according to the survey conducted earlier this month and released Monday. It's the first time that the two political parties have had their approval ratings fall under 40 percent simultaneously.
The Senate needs to stopping messing around and pass both the Lynch nomination and the human trafficking bill. Democrats should be satisfied if they simply end up holding the line on Hyde amendment-type limits on medical care to victims. Republicans need to demonstrate that they can govern and stop inventing excuses not to bring Ms. Lynch's nomination — already approved by the chamber's judiciary committee — up for a final vote.