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Senate to Take Up Defense Authorization Bill with DADT Legislative Repeal

photo: afagen via Flickr

The LGBT community raised a great deal of concern that Congress would adjourn for the year without passing the defense authorization bill. While that would be an unusual occurrence in any year, because a signature gay rights initiative — the legislative repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy — was attached to the bill, it would represent a real betrayal for a community which has made gains by inches during the Obama Presidency. The President promised to end the policy throughout his campaign and in the State of the Union address in January. But with a tough election and a busy calendar upcoming, it was unclear whether the Senate would finish off the bill, which the House has already passed.

Harry Reid announced yesterday that he would bring the bill to the Senate floor as early as next week, however.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to bring the 2011 defense authorization bill to the floor next week.

Reid was scheduled to meet with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Monday afternoon to discuss his plans. The defense bill contains critical military policy as well as a provision that would repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.

Right now the Senate leadership is trying to figure out what can pass, and I would gather that the placing of the defense bill on the calendar suggests that the votes have been found to pass it. John McCain was last seen blubbering that the Senate shouldn’t dare take up the bill because he didn’t get his way in the committee room, but several Republicans, including DADT repeal supporter Susan Collins, Scott Brown (who has vowed not to obstruct the bill) and others, would likely help break any McCain-led filibuster.

The bill includes a legislative repeal of the DADT policy, with the ultimate repeal resulting after completion of a Pentagon study on implementing the changes, as well as sign-off by the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. All three of those individuals publicly support repealing the policy.

A couple points here. . . . [cont’d.] First of all, the decision to take up the defense bill certainly was helped along by Judge Virginia Phillips’ ruling of DADT as unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates used the ruling to put added pressure on Congress to find their way out with a legislative solution, and many supporters of repeal in Congress joined them. The threat of a protracted legal battle could also spur the principals to definitively repeal the policy by the beginning of next year, though the Obama Administration could make repeal the law of the land simply through the Justice Department opting not to appeal the ruling out of US District Court.

Finally, just because Reid scheduled the bill isn’t a guarantee it will pass, though I would put the prospects as likely. Furthermore, that’s not the end of the bill. The House and Senate versions differ, not on DADT repeal but in other key ways, and so the bill would either have to go through a reconciliation process or get ping-ponged back to the House. Then there’s the looming threat of a veto, over an unrelated part of the bill, the funding for a new engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Administration has vowed to veto if this funding, which the Pentagon says they don’t need, is included. The House inserted this funding into the bill, but so far the Senate’s version is clean. I would expect some action on the Senate floor on the F-35 engine. Republicans may see it as a win-win; either they secure some additional military industrial complex funding and stare down an Obama veto, or they stop DADT repeal by proxy.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Senate to Take Up Defense Authorization Bill with DADT Legislative Repeal

The LGBT community raised a great deal of concern that Congress would adjourn for the year without passing the defense authorization bill. While that would be an unusual occurrence in any year, because a signature gay rights initiative – the legislative repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy – was attached to the bill, it would represent a real betrayal for a community which has made gains by inches during the Obama Presidency. The President promised to end the policy throughout his campaign and in the State of the Union address in January. But with a tough election and a busy calendar upcoming, it was unclear whether the Senate would finish off the bill, which the House has already passed.

Harry Reid announced yesterday that he would bring the bill to the Senate floor as early as next week, however.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to bring the 2011 defense authorization bill to the floor next week.

Reid was scheduled to meet with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Monday afternoon to discuss his plans. The defense bill contains critical military policy as well as a provision that would repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.

Right now the Senate leadership is trying to figure out what can pass, and I would gather that the placing of the defense bill on the calendar suggests that the votes have been found to pass it. John McCain was last seen blubbering that the Senate shouldn’t dare take up the bill because he didn’t get his way in the committee room, but several Republicans, including DADT repeal supporter Susan Collins, Scott Brown (who has vowed not to obstruct the bill) and others, would likely help break any McCain-led filibuster.

The bill includes a legislative repeal of the DADT policy, with the ultimate repeal resulting after completion of a Pentagon study on implementing the changes, as well as sign-off by the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. All three of those individuals publicly support repealing the policy.

A couple points here. First of all, the decision to take up the defense bill certainly was helped along by Judge Virginia Phillips’ ruling of DADT as unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates used the ruling to put added pressure on Congress to find their way out with a legislative solution, and many supporters of repeal in Congress joined them. The threat of a protracted legal battle could also spur the principals to definitively repeal the policy by the beginning of next year, though the Obama Administration could make repeal the law of the land simply through the Justice Department opting not to appeal the ruling out of US District Court.

Finally, just because Reid scheduled the bill isn’t a guarantee it will pass, though I would put the prospects as likely. Furthermore, that’s not the end of the bill. The House and Senate versions differ, not on DADT repeal but in other key ways, and so the bill would either have to go through a reconciliation process or get ping-ponged back to the House. Then there’s the looming threat of a veto, over an unrelated part of the bill, the funding for a new engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Administration has vowed to veto if this funding, which the Pentagon says they don’t need, is included. The House inserted this funding into the bill, but so far the Senate’s version is clean. I would expect some action on the Senate floor on the F-35 engine. Republicans may see it as a win-win; either they secure some additional military industrial complex funding and stare down an Obama veto, or they stop DADT repeal by proxy.

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David Dayen

David Dayen