Republicans successfully filibustered the nation’s defense authorization bill hours ago, edging close to gridlock history. If scotched this year, the bill will be the first of its kind in 48 years to fail to pass. Republicans objected on procedural and philosophical grounds. They resented Majority Leader Harry Reid’s including two controversial amendments with the bill: the immigrant youth “path to citizenship” DREAM Act and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy repeal that would allow gays in the military to serve openly. Many Republicans also believed the two amendments would make bad law.
Yet as Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet told state reporters this afternoon on a conference call, the vote today was procedural. Republicans voted as a bloc not against the substance of the bill but merely against debate on the bill.
“We’re allowing politics on both sides to get in the way of full-throated debate on real problems. The American people deserve and have a right to hear what we think.”
Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a sponsor of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, was similarly rankled by the filibuster.
“I know that repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is contentious, but it’s been used as an excuse to sink this important bill,” he said in a release. “[DADT] is [an] outdated policy that undermines the strength of our military and the fairness of our great nation, and we owe it to our troops and all Americans to have an open debate on it here in the Senate.”
The release pointed out that the DADT repeal provision would not infringe on the study presently being conducted by the Pentagon on how best to repeal the law. It is intended only to ensure that repeal is the goal and that subsequent lawmakers could not retreat on the issue.
Gay soldiers serve openly in countries around the world and top U.S. brass have backed a repeal of the law that forces gay American soldiers to serve under a veil of secrecy. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the spring, Admiral Michael Mullen said repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the “right thing to do.”
Government accountants have estimated that the Clinton-era policy has cost the country more than $200 million since its implementation. More than 14,000 service members have been discharged in the last decade. Udall has said discharges under the policy squander costly training.
The National Defense Authorization Act filibustered today funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It includes military pay and benefits and also funding for health programs, including a mental health program written by Udall that ensures soldiers can get treatment throughout their service– before, during and after tours of duty — and national security programs, such as nuclear nonproliferation. Democrats needed 60 votes to break the filibuster and looked to moderate Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to move the bill onto the floor. Democrats missed the mark by three votes.
Openly gay Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, who is also a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, lamented what he called the “double blow” delivered to Americans by Senate Republicans.
“I am disappointed to see that despite the concerted efforts of the Administration and House of Representatives, the Senate was unable to end [Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] which requires members of our military to lie to their commanding officers. That Congress, which should be working hardest to support these brave men and women, failed is a sad state of affairs. A proposal to delay this vote for even another month is cold comfort to our gay and lesbian troops who are risking their lives every day. Ending DADT is no longer a question of if; it is a question of when. As Congress has failed to act, it is now up to the President to uphold his promise to end DADT by not appealing California Federal District Court Judge Virginia Phillips’ recent ruling.”
Phillips recently ruled that DADT was unconstitutional, saying it violated First Amendment rights to free speech and Fifth Amendment safeguards on due process.
Polis also railed against the Senate’s indefinite postponement of the debate on the DREAM Act.
“The failure to pass the DREAM Act for the 5th straight Congress is indicative of how extremists have hijacked the debate surrounding immigration. The DREAM Act is a commonsense first step to addressing an issue that all Americans acknowledge must be fixed immediately. The young Americans who would benefit from this bill were brought to this country through no fault of their own. They have waited long enough for the opportunity to follow the American dream by serving in the military or attending college. It is time for Congress to show true leadership and pass the DREAM Act as well as comprehensive immigration reform.”
The DREAM Act seeks to allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to follow a pathway to full citizenship by in part completing two years of college or military service.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly angered Republicans by severely limiting the number of amendments lawmakers could submit in the weeks before Election Day in November. According to the Washington Independent, however, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Reid had softened that stance. Reid said last Thursday that he is “willing to work with Republicans on a process that will permit the Senate to consider these matters and complete the bill as soon as possible.”