WASHINGTON — The lead GOP sponsor of a sex trafficking bill that's stalled over abortion offered a new plan Tuesday to resolve the impasse, but Democrats immediately rejected it, leaving any resolution unclear.
The continued gridlock promised to prolong a months-long delay in confirming President Barack Obama's attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, since Senate Republican leaders have decided to hold up her vote until the trafficking bill is dealt with.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas proposed reworking a victims' fund in the bill, but Democrats said his approach didn't resolve their concern about expanding abortion funding prohibitions in existing law.
"That is a bridge we are not going to allow to be crossed," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Cornyn said Republicans were trying to accommodate Democrats' reservations. "I don't know how in the world they could possibly object when we're answering, responding to their concerns," he said.
Murray countered that Democrats have offered Cornyn nine different deals and he's shot them all down.
Still, the back-and-forth suggested a continued interest in resolving the issue as senators returned to Capitol Hill from a two-week spring recess.
The bill to help sex trafficking victims had been widely popular until it got stuck in a partisan dispute over the abortion funding provision, which Democrats claim they initially hadn't known was in the legislation.
Language banning the use of taxpayer funds for abortions has been included for decades in Congress' annual spending bills, but the trafficking bill would extend that to a new pot of money made up of fees paid by sex criminals. Democrats say they can't accept that.
Lawmakers of both parties have offered various ways out of the conundrum without success. Cornyn's latest idea involves funneling the criminal fees into the general treasury and using the treasury as the source for money in the victims' fund. Democrats say that doesn't solve their fundamental problem with the bill.