CommunityMy FDL

SLDN Conference Call wrap-up.

The Conversation started with Rep Meehan (D-MA) followed by Dixon Osburn, and Joe Solmonese.

In Rep. Meehan’s opening remarks he said that he will “be re-introducing the MREA tomorrow with more than 100 of the original sponsors including three republicans and eight members of the armed services committee.”  In the prior bill there were 122 sponsors including 7 Republicans.  The momentum for support of this bill is increasing in both houses.  He spoke mostly of the “uphill climb” and backed up his statements citing the 2005 GAO report, the 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission, and recent polls by Zogby, Gallup, and the Military Times.

I’ll touch on a few of the key points in Congressman Meehan’s statement.  A GAO cost report, commissioned by Rep. Meehan, submitted that there have been over 9,488 service members discharged under the
current policy between 1993 and 2004.  The number now is more than 11,000. The cost to taxpayers, estimated
by the Blue Ribbon Commission, $363.8 Million.  There were according to the GAO report, at least 800 [Rep Meehan said 750] of those had skills deemed `mission-critical’ by DoD,
including more than 300 linguists, of which at least 55 were proficient
in Arabic

In 2005 all components of the Army failed to meet recruiting goals by 1,936.  This has forced the army to lower its standards by raising the enlistment age to 42, and granting waivers to recruits with criminal backgrounds and increasing the number of waivers granted by 65 percent in the last three years thereby “endangering our armed forces.”  Gary J. Gates, of the UCLA School of Law estimates that lifting the ban could ease the military crisis and increase the number of new recruits by 41,000 in the active and reserve forces combined.  Rep. Meehan said, “Wasting taxpayer’s dollars by discharging competent service members makes no sense.”  He added that he’s “looking forward to an honest dialogue with congress and the general public.”

Recent polling done by Zogby which surveyed over 500 service members 23 percent said they were definitely aware of openly gay service men and women.  Also “[t]hree-quarters of those surveyed stated that they felt comfortable around gays and lesbians and four-in-five (78%) noted that they would join the military regardless of their open inclusion. Additionally, a majority (52%) reports having received some form of anti-gay harassment training, with Air Force personnel representing the highest level of training (62%) and the Marine Corps the lowest (34%).”  In 2005 the Boston Globe conducted a survey and reported that “79 percent of [Americans] said gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 57 percent in a 2000 Opinion Dynamics Poll.”  These poll statistics further underline the point about public support.

The next statements were made by Dixon Osburn, the Executive Director of the Service-members Legal Defense Network.  To summarize what was said would be appropriate because a lot of the same points that Rep. Meehan made were underlined.  He started by thanking and congratulating Rep. Meehan and then moving on to say “we all have to work together; we can’t work alone.”  February 28th being the 13th anniversary of when the Pentagon implemented “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that there are estimated over 65,000 GLB troops serving in our armed forces today.  He also mentioned in the last 13 years his organization has helped over 8000 of those discharged under the policy.

Joe Solmonese, of the Human Rights Campaign continued the discussion with thanks and congratulations to Mr. Osburn and Rep. Meehan and added that it’s very important to note the gap between support by the American public and those in Congress.  He also noted that the HRC has a responsibility and a commitment to the community to push this and other legislation through.

After that the Q&A session was opened.  The first question was about when hearings would take place in the committees regarding the bill.  Rep. Meehan said he wasn’t sure but he hoped to have them by April or May  at the latest.  As a follow up he was asked when and who would sponsor a companion bill in the Senate.  No one was sure who would sponsor or when but conceded that one would be introduced before the 2008 elections. 

My questions were based on some of yours.  I asked the congressman whether or not people discharged under the policy with anything classified as “less than honorable” would be allowed to appeal the military’s decision.  Rep. Meehan wasn’t sure but said he thinks so.  Dixon Osburn gave a more apt. response which was similar to one I made earlier.  The members would be able to appeal their discharge category following the existing rules if they meet all eligibility requirements.  He also mentioned that 90 percent of all discharges under the policy are classified as “Honorable.”  As a follow up I asked whether or not those discharged under the policy and denied benefits such as time in service towards a federal job would be allowed to recoup those benefits.  Rep. Meehan seemed unaware that anyone had lost such benefits but he would be more than happy to deal with those people on an individual basis.

The next question then fell to the particulars of the companion bill such as who in the Senate is supportive of introducing legislature.  The already knowns of Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, and sHillary Clinton were named as supporters.

While there is not as of yet a companion bill in the Senate, Dixon Osburn expects one this year but there has not been anyone named as of yet to sponsor such legislation.

The question was asked by one of the readers on here regarding continued support for the bill should Rep. Meehan accept a position with his former University.  Another reporter also had the same idea.  He said that while he was chosen as a finalist he did not apply for the position and no decision has been made yet on if he’ll accept.  He did ad that until his three main goals of 1) introducing the bill, 2) garnering support, and 3) introduction of a companion bill, he would not leave his position in the House.

Then the question was asked how much political capital would be put forth by the congressman and how the bill affects the Democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential race.  He said that there was some concern that Iraq should come first and all other’s second and while he conceded that made sense he said this was a priority for him.  He said that a lot of doubters overestimate the possible negative political reaction of people on the other side of the issue and that Democrats underestimate the political capital that would be earned with their support.  He said that first there needs to be hearings and second there needs to be education on the issue.

What about ENDA and the hate crimes legislation?  Joe Solmonese answered with “we’ve got more work to do with ENDA…there needs to be a nation wide educational campaign” but that he was enthusiastic about the passing of the hate crimes bill.

I asked the Rep. what he thought he chances were of support from the President and he basically didn’t have much of an answer other than it’s important to focus on the short term goals.  He also added with anecdotal evidence of a reform bill that was signed at 4 in the morning that we shouldn’t assume he won’t sign the bill should it pass in both Houses.  It’s also too early to tell if it will be passed before or after the 2008 elections.

As far as time to implement policy concerning transition.  The congressman asserted that there would be no such transition time necessary as currently 60 percent of all militaries our armed forces are serving with do not have such a ban and it has not caused us to be unable to do our jobs or lose unit cohesion.

As you can see the majority of the conversation covered not-so-new information.  And all questions seem to me to be answered by the upcoming text of the bill.  However, my questions tomorrow will be a bit more pointed and try to get some good answers out of Rep. Meehan.

The Live-Blog post will be up at 2:00pm EST.

Listen to the Audio of the conference call.  (Requires Real Player, and a fast and stable connection)

Previous post

Virginia Court Says Same-Sex Relationships "Analogous to" Marriage

Next post

Know Your Enemy