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DADT Repeal Could Be In The Budget Because It Has A Budgetary Impact

I’ve gotten a bit of pushback for pointing out that the repeal of the military’s don’t ask don’t tell policy doesn’t appear in the FY2011 budget package. On a conference call just now, OMB Deputy Director Rob Nabors said that DADT “does not have a budgetary impact,” and is therefore not addressed in this budget. However, he said, the President will have a lot to say about repealing the policy in the coming weeks. In general, he didn’t want gay rights advocates to read anything into the issue.

Observers have been eyeing the DoD budget as a possible place for DADT repeal for a while. This would be the most effective way to ensure that repeal passes Congress.

One Capitol Hill veteran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, added that a Pentagon endorsement could hold particular sway in the Senate, the most problematic chamber. “If it’s in the DOD authorization, not a single Democratic senator has said they would vote to take it out,” said the source. “I’m hard-pressed to believe that Democrats would vote with the GOP to strip it out.”

But if ending the gay ban is not in the Pentagon’s original bill and repeal has to be added as an amendment, the source suggested that could shift how senators view the vote. “That’s a whole different dynamic — then it becomes not a vote to support the administration, but a vote to go against the Department of Defense.”

And contrary to Mr. Nabors, repealing the policy would have a budgetary impact. A University of California study showed that discharging gay service members cost the government $363 million dollars over a ten year period from 1994-2003.

Discharging troops under the Pentagon’s policy on gays cost $363.8 million over 10 years, almost double what the government concluded a year ago, a private report says.
The report, to be released Tuesday by a University of California Blue Ribbon Commission, questioned the methodology the Government Accountability Office used when it estimated that the financial impact of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was at least $190.5 million.

“It builds on the previous findings and paints a more complete picture of the costs,” said Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., who has proposed legislation that would repeal the policy.

That’s a pretty clear-cut assessment of budgetary impact. And there are items being touted by the OMB today – part of the terminations, reductions and savings portion of the budget – that have a smaller annual impact than repealing DADT. For example, there’s the DEpartment of the Interior’s Challenge Cost Share Grants (p. 13), saving only $19 million annually; or funding for peanut storage (p. 17), saving $2 million; or eliminating the EP-X surveillance and
intelligence-gathering aircraft, saving $12 million; or any of several dozen more.

Furthermore, given that the military budget will reach an astonishing $741.2 billion this year (almost $80 billion more than last year), you would think that the White House would be looking for savings on that side of the ledger wherever they could get them. It’s simply not the case that DADT repeal is not relevant in this regard. Aside from being a morally forthright policy in terms of ending discrimination in our armed services, it flat-out saves money.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t the only one looking to the budget to see if DADT repeal would be included. As Joe Biden has often said, budgets are about priorities. If Obama is serious about repeal, there’s no question he could have made it a priority in his budget.

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David Dayen

David Dayen