By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate leaders announced a deal Tuesday to move forward on a stalled human trafficking bill, clearing the way for a vote on President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominee within days.
The deal unveiled on the Senate floor aimed to solve a dispute over abortion that had stalled the once-popular trafficking bill for weeks. Attorney General-designate Loretta Lynch was caught in the crossfire, infuriating Democrats, because Republican leaders decided to hold off on her confirmation vote until the trafficking bill was resolved.
“I’m glad we can say there is a bipartisan proposal that will allow us to complete action on this important legislation so we can provide help to the victims who desperately need it,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He said he anticipated a vote on Lynch, who will become the nation’s first black female attorney general, “in the next day or so.”
“Let’s get out of this quickly,” said Democratic Leader Harry Reid. “Let’s get Loretta Lynch confirmed.”
Lynch was nominated last fall and Democrats have become increasingly agitated about the delays in confirming her to replace Eric Holder, even though they controlled the Senate for part of that time and failed to call her nomination up for a vote. Obama on Friday called the delays “embarrassing.”
The trafficking deal aims to address Democratic concerns that the legislation would expand existing prohibitions on spending federal funds for abortions. The legislation envisions a new victims fund made up of fees paid by sex criminals, and Democrats asserted that applying abortion spending prohibitions to that new source of non-taxpayer funds was an expansion they could not accept.
Republicans had to be satisfied that abortion spending prohibitions were not curtailed.
The final language, agreed to by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., solves the problem by establishing two sources of money for the new victims’ fund. Money collected from the fines assessed on criminal perpetrators would be used for services such as legal aid, but not health or medical services, and therefore language on abortion would not be relevant. Money already appropriated by Congress for Community Health Centers — and already subject to abortion spending restrictions — would be available for health and medical services.