Editor’s Note: We asked FTS Programs Director Karen Stauss to examine the impact the election results might have on the U.S. government’s efforts to combat slavery and trafficking.
What does the election outcome mean for the current members of Congress who return to Washington soon for their final “lame duck” session?
Whatever your thoughts on the outcome of yesterday’s presidential and congressional races, one thing is clear. The U.S. government has several pieces of unfinished business before it closes shop for the current term. One of the most important human rights issues requiring immediate action is reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA or S.1301).
The TVPA was created more than a decade ago, but it must be renewed every few years. The TVPA is the central piece of legislation that created anti-trafficking crimes under federal law. It set standards for the way the U.S. engages foreign governments to improve their anti-slavery efforts. It authorized funding for key U.S. government agencies to prevent trafficking and protect its victims. The TVPA provides funding for FTS projects in India and Haiti.
The TVPA, originally enacted in 2000 under a Democratic administration and reauthorized three times by a Republican administration, still has a chance of renewal this year. So far, it’s been stuck in election-year gridlock.
Reauthorization should be a priority for current members of the House and Senate. It would mark a solid accomplishment for incumbent winners, as well as building a legacy for those who are leaving.
What do some of the election results mean for the future of U.S. efforts to end slavery?
Both President Obama and Governor Romney made combating slavery an explicit part of their party platforms. (Read the Democrat platform here and the Republican platform here)
President Obama’s victory gives him an opportunity to show that his moving speech about fighting human trafficking, given in landmark fashion in New York at the Clinton Global Initiative in September, was more than inspiring words on the campaign trail.
Watch the FTS blog for detailed recommendations to the president from the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) on how he can strengthen his record in his second term. ATEST is a U.S.-based coalition of human rights organizations, of which FTS is a founding member.
Support for anti-trafficking efforts in Congress has consistently been a bipartisan affair. That is unlikely to change with the Republicans retaining control of the House and Democrats holding on to the Senate.
With that said, the big news for anti-trafficking advocates in the House is the loss of Howard Berman (D-California), who was pitted against another Democrat after congressional redistricting. As ranking Democrat and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Berman has been one of the most important champions of the TVPA and other anti-trafficking legislation. Other leaders from both parties will need to step forward now.
In the Senate, bipartisan support for anti-slavery efforts saw the loss of Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts). He was one of the key Senate Republicans, along with Marco Rubio (R-Florida), to take the lead in introducing TVPA reauthorization.
However, Scott Brown is replaced by Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and women in the Senate have generally been consistent supporters of efforts to combat trafficking. Slavery is an issue that overlaps with the broader problem of violence against women. The new Senate will actually have a record number of women. Hawaii and Wisconsin will each send their first female Senators to Washington in 2013 – Mazie Hirono (D) for Hawaii and Tammy Baldwin (D) for Wisconsin.
In sum, the balance of power in Washington doesn’t appear to have shifted much between the parties. But that’s okay because fighting slavery has always been an issue that unites rather than divides. Both parties in Congress, along with the president, have an opportunity to make meaningful progress against slavery.