Defense Bill – Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Dream Act – Stalls on Procedural Vote
A Republican-led filibuster on Tuesday blocked efforts to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, shelving an Obama administration priority at least until after the November election.
The measure repealing the military policy banning gays from serving openly was part of the 2011 Defense authorization bill. Democrats tried to bring the bill up for consideration but failed to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome determined GOP-led opposition. Supporters voted 56-43 in favor of starting debate on the Defense bill, short of the 60 needed.
Democrats control 59 votes in the Senate.
By blocking the bill, Republicans also held up passage of the so-called Dream Act, which was to provide a route to citizenship for youths who were in the country illegally but had attended college or served in the military.
Supporters of repealing the don’t ask, don’t tell policy vowed to try again.
“This ain’t over,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who authored the repeal of the military policy on openly gay service members, said even before the vote. “It’s long past time to repeal this policy.”
The outcome was all but set earlier Tuesday when Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a key Republican who supported repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” signaled her unease with the limited floor schedule for debate.
Collins had been the only Republican to support the repeal in an earlier committee vote. Activists, including musician Lady Gaga, rallied in Collins’ home state of Maine on the eve of the vote to encourage Collins and fellow Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe to vote to advance the bill.
No Republicans voted to advance the bill, and two Democrats from Arkansas, Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, voted no. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, voted no in a procedural move so he could bring the bill back to the floor in the future.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican who was waging a write-in campaign after losing her primary election, did not vote.
Republicans complained that Democrats were using the bill as a vehicle to tack on election-year issues that would motivate Democratic voters to go to the polls, even though Republicans had similarly added provisions to past Defense bills.
“Why are we now trying to jam this thing through?” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who led the campaign against the provision. “It is all about the battle-effectiveness, the morale, of the men and women who are serving in the military.”
But Democrats argued that Republicans were unwilling to allow the debate to open, even when promised a chance to offer an amendment to strike the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy from the bill.
The Defense bill includes a 1.4% pay raise for the troops as well as funding for the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip, also vowed to bring the Dream Act back for another vote.
Both political parties have used the authorization bill in years past to advance other legislative goals, so the failure of the military spending plan was seen as unusual. But the process had grown politicized, especially in the limited time remaining before Congress was to adjourn to campaign full time.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, enacted in 1993, has been targeted by President Obama for repeal, and a federal judge in California this month declared it unconstitutional. Under the proposed legislation, repeal would take effect 60 days after completion of a Pentagon report on steps needed to ensure military readiness. The report is due in December. The House passed the repeal in the spring.