A Look Back at the 112th Congress
September 25, 2012 by Andrea Levario, Senior Public Policy Advocate
Last week, the sharply divided 112th Congress left Washington until after the November 6th election, leaving behind few legislative accomplishments advancing LGBT equality. With backing from anti-LGBT Republican leaders in the House numerous anti-equality amendments seeking to roll back gains from the 111th Congress were approved. Additionally, Speaker Boehner spearheaded the House’s leadership in taking up the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) after President Obama declined to do so. Our Senate allies were successful in defending historical gains made in the prior session, e.g., repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," and expanding healthcare for all Americans.
What was accomplished? In the Senate, where pro-equality leaders were in control, some important progress was made. The nominations of J. Paul Oetken and Alison J. Nathan, two fair-minded and openly-gay judges, were approved for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The chamber also passed legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which included provisions to strengthen essential services for LGBT victims of domestic violence. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ranking Minority Member Susan Collins, once again, approved the bi-partisan Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (DPBO), legislation that would allow the domestic partners of federal works to receive health and retirement benefits. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-IA) held a hearing where, for the first time, a transgender witness testified about the critical importance of passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. With the leadership of Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing and voted to approve the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation which would repeal DOMA.
In the House, anti-LGBT Republican members brought up several measures to turn back the clock on gains made last Congress. Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Steve King (R-IA) and Tim Huelskamp (D-KS) all had amendments accepted to different appropriations bills to prohibit any federal funds from being used in “in contravention of” the Defense of Marriage Act. Rep. Huelskamp also had an amendment accepted to the FY 2012 Department of Defense Appropriations bill, prohibiting the use of funds in the bill for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal training materials developed for military chaplains.
Additionally, throughout the 112th session, HRC fought along with other supporters of LGBT equality to ensure that critical health reforms enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act were not rescinded by the House. Thanks to strong leadership from our allies, those provisions have been retained, along with the funding required for implementation. On the appropriations front, the budget deal reached in August 2011, lead to new fiscal constraints, and hampered attempts to obtain additional money for HIV/AIDS and other programs critical to the LGBT community.
Most importantly, there were successful efforts at bipartisanship in both chambers, as moderate Republicans joined with Democrats to champion key LGBT initiatives such as the Respect for Marriage Act, the Uniting American Families Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Much of this success is due to allies like Sens Susan Collins and Mark Kirk, Reps Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Judy Biggert, Richard Hanna and Nan Hayworth to name a few.
Congress will return for a Lame Duck session after the election. With expiring tax cuts and the “fiscal cliff” looming, expectations are low for action on any other priorities.