Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Would Renaming Violence Against Woman Act Decrease Gridlock?

As Congress debates renewing the Violence Against Women Act—a bipartisan measure that easily passed in 1994—the law is raising concerns of what our country’s political system stands for if it can’t pass such no-brainer legislation as this (at least for Democrats). On the other hand, I think this act and its objectives show how strategically naming bills and inserting certain legislation in re-approval measures might be exacerbating current gridlock.

The measure, which would broaden the reach of domestic violence programs and continue existing grants to law enforcement and battered women shelters, has received widespread support among liberals. Meanwhile, every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee recently struck down the measure when it came to a vote. How could such a bill—which Vice President Joe Bidensaid is not “even a debatable issue” and has incited impassioned op-eds like this one from Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), who was molested and raped in her youth—become victim to gridlock?

But the blame should not be placed entirely on “immoral” Republicans, which is how some Democrats have attempted to frame this debate. There are legitimate reasons for opposing parts of the bill. The legislation expands immigration avenues by creating new definitions for immigrant victims of violence, and opponents argue that it does not adequately ensure that grants geared toward domestic violence are well spent. Additionally, it protects new groups, like same-sex couples, which is naturally contentious.

Instead of initiating compromise on some of these measures, however, this polarized debate has incited anger among the general population. From a public relations point-of-view, it is very hard to be against something titled “Violence Against Women,” because it immediately paints that candidate as someone advocating for domestic violence. I would argue that this quality of the bill’s name has increased gridlock by further angering liberals, who can easily overlook the Republicans’ rationale behind their opposition and instead frame them as womanizing politicians.

Though I can certainly understand why supporters would choose this name for the bill—as it essentially forces people to support the bill—this intent certainly backfired. Thus, would renaming bills like this to give them more neutral titles possibly prevent future gridlock? 


  1. Bill names are such a great place to begin the study of framing and general political heuristics. This isn't only an issue for Republicans opposing the Violence Against Women Act. Think of No Child Left Behind - even Democrats couldn't support "leaving children behind".

    If the problem is that the bill is *too broad* for its name, the problem isn't naming, per se - I think perhaps we would benefit from rules of procedure that encourage narrower focused bills. Maybe we should introduce the immigration-related parts of the VaWA as different bills, so that we can avoid confusing issues. On the other hand, one could argue that bigger omnibus-type bills encourage efficient legislation and compromise because politicians have to abandon certain projects in order to get others passed.

  2. I agree with Nikki in the problem is not the name of the bill. The Violence Against Women Act was so easily passed in 1994 because it wasn't controversial. Fast forward to today's political climate, add in a few amendments expanding the rights of immigrants and homosexuals, and you have a recipe for a dead bill. I like the suggestion that we should outline rules and procedure to encourage more narrowly focused bills. At least then, the important legislation in bills like the Violence Against Women Act, won't have to suffer the consequences of political stagnation.

  3. I would disagree with the suggestion that a different "naming" procedure may help reduce gridlock in Congress. Strong titles create two outcomes. First, I think it may sway those on the fence about a bill to a favorable position. Second, a strong title like "The Violence Against Women Act" makes complaints, like spending and expansionary policy implications, seem like little more than petty, misguided arguments. At the end of the day, someone must be either "for" or "against" this language, and they will have to deal with the election repercussions of that statement. This is only adding fuel to the fire of the media propelled Republican "War on Women." Republicans will have to begin making decisions on whether to pass bills like these, thereby decreasing gridlock, or live with trailing the Democrats by 18% for women voters.