Senate Fails To Invoke Cloture On Defense Bill, DADT Repeal
Thanks both to Democratic parliamentary maneuvering and Republican unwillingness to cede ground on a hot button social issue, the Senate has failed to move forward on debate over a defense budget that includes repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
WASHINGTON — With Congress increasingly paralyzed by the partisan fury of the midterm elections, the Senate on Tuesday voted against taking up a major military bill that includes a provision allowing the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” regarding gay soldiers.
Senate Republicans voted unanimously to block debate on the bill — the huge, annual authorization of military programs — after the majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said he would attach a number of the Democrats’ election-year priorities to it while also moving to limit the amendments offered by Republicans.
The vote was 56 to 43, with Democrats falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and take up the bill. The Arkansas Democrats, Senators Blanche L. Lincoln and Mark Pryor, sided with all 40 Republicans present in opposing debate. Mr. Reid switched his vote to no at the last minute, a procedural maneuver that allows him to call for a revote.
Congress has approved the annual Pentagon authorization bill for 48 consecutive years, and it seems likely that the measure will be brought up again after the election in the relatively calmer — if somewhat unpredictable — atmosphere of a lame-duck session.
The House has already approved legislation allowing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the provision will likely be easier to pass in the Senate after Dec. 1 when a Pentagon study on the effects of ending the policy is due.
As it stands, the Senate measure would not allow repeal of the policy until after the study is completed and President Obama and top military commanders certify that ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” would not harm morale or impede battle readiness of the armed forces.
Among the amendments that Mr. Reid had pledged to attach to the bill was an immigration measure that would create a path to citizenship for certain illegal aliens who arrived in the United States as children.
That effort was viewed by Republicans as a naked political ploy to mobilize Hispanic voters in races across the country, including Mr. Reid’s own re-election campaign in Nevada.
While Democrats immediately sought to blame Republicans for obstructing both the immigration measure, known as the Dream Act, and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it is unclear how the measures, and the military bill itself, would have fared under less intense political circumstances.
The language allowing the Pentagon to end the provision, for instance, was approved last spring by the Senate Armed Services Committee, and at the time even won the support of one Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Top military leaders including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have called for the repeal.
There’s election year politics going on over this issue on both sides of the aisle, of course. After all, the Democrats could, and should, have kept the immigration bill separate from a bill dealing with the budget for the Department of Defense. Republicans, on the other hand, are resting their opposition to proceeding forward on repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on the phony issue of a Joint Chiefs of Staff study that is concerned not with whether to repeal the rule, but how that repeal will be implemented once it becomes law. Considering that the language of the repeal specifically says it doesn’t go into effect until after the study is completed, the objections of Senators like John McCain on that ground are entirely without merit.
So, it’s left to a lame duck session to determine the fate of a policy that should have been eliminated long ago. Perhaps the Pentagon study will provide enough Republicans with cover to vote in favor of an amendment that, according to the polls, most Americans support. Or, perhaps they will be so flush with electoral victory that they will simply let their narrow base of social conservatives dictate to them on this issue. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.